It’s April and the Indian Premier League (IPL) is back to its regular slot in the calendar after the Covid-19 pandemic saw the 2019 season moved to the United Arab Emirates in the last quarter of the year. The mercury is rising and so is the demand for air-conditioners, smart television sets and Bluetooth speakers as fans create their own mini-stadiums at home.
The delayed 2020 edition, which began on September 19 and ended with the final on November 10, turned the high-profile league into a blockbuster on the small screen. The characters from last season will return, a few of them in different roles and jerseys, to chase the million-dollar trophy again. But they are better prepared this time around with the resumption – more of less – of international cricket.
World Cup prep
This IPL will be a blueprint for the T20 World Cup that is scheduled to be held in India in October. International players will maintain a notebook and pass on the relevant information to their national teammates. And if the IPL Governing Council allows spectators in the stands for the knockout stages, the tournament will be the perfect dry run ahead of the World T20.
“The IPL is fantastic because we will be playing in stadiums where we are likely to play the World Cup games. That experience is invaluable. Not all the players from New Zealand are here. Being one of the players in the IPL, I can provide feedback – about the conditions and what worked and what didn’t,” New Zealand fast bowler Lockie Ferguson, who plays for Kolkata Knight Riders, said in an exclusive chat with Sportstar . “You have the wealth of knowledge from all the players in the teams. You have the English captain, Eoin Morgan, as our captain. Dinesh Karthik has played 196 games in the IPL. Youngster Shubman Gill will see the game differently. You have all different ideas and I can take that knowledge back to New Zealand stating this worked at the Eden Gardens or that worked in Delhi.”
There will be no home or away games for the second season in a row as the entire 2021 tournament will be played in just five cities — Chennai, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Kolkata and Ahmedabad. Though the players will be relieved to return to familiar wickets, playing at neutral venues in India may seem a little odd to the franchises, which have large fan bases.
The return of Raina
IPL superstar Suresh Raina, who missed the last season because of personal reasons, is back with Chennai Super Kings (CSK). The tournament’s all-time second-highest run scorer (5,368) had joined the bio-bubble in the UAE last year, but he returned to India before the season began to address a family matter. It was evident that CSK missed him as the three-time champion limped through the league stage to finish seventh, missing the playoffs for the first time in the history of the IPL. Back in the fold, Raina will be hoping to turn the tide for the Yellow Army.
Uncapped stars in the big league
The mini-auction – where the franchisees tend to spend more as they have fewer options to choose from – in February threw up a string of surprises. The franchises dug deep into their pockets for Chetan Sakariya from Saurashtra (₹1.2 crore), M. Shahrukh Khan from Tamil Nadu (₹5.25 crore) and Mohammed Azharuddeen from Kerala (₹20 lakh). It is a dream gig for domestic cricketers who have been doing the hard yards for the past few years.
No soft signal
The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has revised the playing conditions, stating that each team will have to bowl its 20 overs within 90 minutes. A fourth umpire will monitor the revised over-rate rule and warn teams if they exceed the time limit.
Also, the soft signal will not have a bearing on the third umpires’ decisions. “The on-field umpire giving soft signals while referring the decision to the third umpire will not be applicable,” the BCCI stated in an email to all the franchises.
The matter made the news after Suryakumar Yadav’s dismissal in the fourth Twenty20 International against England in Ahmedabad on March 18. The batsman was caught at deep by Dawid Malan off a Sam Curran delivery. It wasn’t clear if Malan had pulled off a clean take, but third umpire Virender Sharma maintained the “soft signal” citing a lack of conclusive evidence.
The BCCI has also modified the short-run call by the on-field umpires after Nitin Menon erred in judgement during the game between Kings XI Punjab (renamed Punjab Kings ahead of this season) and Delhi Capitals last year. Punjab’s Mayank Agarwal and Chris Jordan had completed two runs off Kagiso Rabada’s bowling, but Menon believed that Jordan had not completed the first run though he was well inside his crease.
The third umpire can now check the on-field umpires’ calls on short runs and have the power to overturn their decisions.
The Tendulkar factor
The Mumbai Indians franchise is known for handing debuts to young, untested players over the years. That’s how Team India earned a promising all-rounder in Hardik Pandya, a tearaway quick bowler in Jasprit Bumrah, a leg-spinner in Rahul Chahar and a destructive top-order batsman in Ishan Kishan. Since the franchise has bought Arjun Tendulkar, the son of the legendary Sachin Tendulkar, it will be interesting to see if the bowling all-rounder gets into the playing XI at some stage of the tournament. But one thing is for sure: He will definitely raise the TRPs.
Delhi Capitals the favourites
Shreyas Iyer’s shoulder injury during the One-Day International series against England ruled him out of IPL 2021, and Rishabh Pant will lead Delhi Capitals in his absence.
Delhi has been a consistent unit for the past two seasons. Last year, the side reached the final but couldn’t get the better of the powerful Mumbai Indians. This could be the Capitals’ IPL.
The next IPL season is scheduled to be held 12 months from now – and not five months after the previous edition, as is the case with the 2021 tournament. The Covid vaccines will hopefully create a better – and safer – world by April 2020. Till then, let the adrenaline rush of this season help you to forget the troubled times we are living in.
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