It is the opening ball of the latest edition of the most-attended cricket league in the world.
The bowler, Deepak Chahar, marks his run up as he gets ready to face-off against one of India’s premier batsman, Rohit Sharma. Sharma looks up to take a quick glance around the stadium, while the camera pans to the spectators. It zooms in on one fan. Face covered in paint; the fan starts grinning from ear to ear when he finds out he’s on the big screen. He lifts up the banner in his hand which reads “Love you Hitman”, an ode to Sharma’s explosive shot-making abilities. The camera shifts its attention back to the game once more. As he sees the incoming delivery, an outswinger at a length, Sharma’s eyes light up like a cat’s in a room full of yarn. He proceeds to duly put the ball away in between cover and point as Chahar watches on in bemusement. As the ball races away to the boundary, the iconic trumpet tune that cricket fans all over the world have come to adore, blares out around the stadium, whilst the glamorous cheerleaders break out into a little jig on the edge of the boundary. The restless crowd behind them goes wild.
This year, players were welcomed into a different set of conditions as everyone adjusts to the new norm of social distancing.
All eight teams have been placed in a strict, ‘bio-bubble’ which aims to keep the teams relatively isolated from the outside world, so as to minimize the risk of the COVID-19 infection.
All players and officials were tested for COVID-19 prior to entering the bubble. They will be quarantined in the bubble itself and will have access only to the venues and their respective hotels. The players will not be permitted to physically interact with family, friends or fans who are outside the bubble.
Recap: Quality of the games has been very high
With the aforementioned caveats, cricket fans could still be forgiven for diminishing their expectations of the current season prior to its opening.
However, what this year’s IPL has lacked in the high-octane atmosphere off the pitch, it has more than made up for in the thrilling quality of the games played on the pitch thus far:
– Game 1: Chennai Super Kings’ Sam Curran proved his versatility in the opening game of the season between his team and the Mumbai Indians, a repeat of last year’s final. Having been selected primarily as a bowler in the side, it was his batting prowess that took the limelight as he came to the crease with CSK still requiring 29 runs off of 17 balls. His quickfire 18 runs off six balls from that point on, all but sealed his team’s first win over their biggest rivals in five attempts.
– Game 2: The second game of the season turned out to be another nail-biting affair, as the Kings XI Punjab took on the Delhi Capitals. Needing one run off of three balls, and with opener Mayank Agarwal batting at 89 off of 59 balls, it should have been impossible for the Kings XI Punjab to lose this game. And somehow, they did. Marcus Stoinis, who excelled with the bat in the Capitals innings, came up huge again as he defended the run with two wickets and a dot ball in the next three deliveries, allowing for Kagiso Rabada to take over in the super over and take the Capitals over the finish line.
– Game 9: The Kings XI Punjab found themselves in another nip-and-tuck encounter; this time against the Rajasthan Royals. Promoted to number four, when Rahul Tewatia came to the crease, the Royals still required 124 more runs from 66 balls after Punjab put up a mammoth total of 223 for two in the first innings. Eight overs later, this tactical decision looked to have backfired on the Royals as Tewatia was struggling having scored only 17 runs off of 23 deliveries. With the asking rate at 17 runs an over and Sanju Samson being recently dismissed having scored 85 runs off 42 balls, the game looked all but over heading into the 18th over. Tewatia then proceeded to hit five sixes in Sheldon Cottrell’s over to help the Royals complete the highest ever IPL run chase and rewrite the headlines.
As the IPL adjusts quickly to similar issues currently faced by many different sports leagues in the world, one observation can be clearly made after the culmination of the first few games of the season: The show, as they say, must go on.
With that, the Indian Premier League (IPL) is officially back for its 13th edition, or so it seems.
In reality, the rumbling atmosphere that just welcomed fans back watching from all around the world, is in fact largely an illusion, for there are no fans present in the stadium due to COVID-19 restrictions. What viewers are hearing is actually pre-recorded crowd noise that tries its best to replicate the “stadium feel”, in a made-for-TV IPL season. To reduce the number of people on the ground, even the dancing cheerleaders that are tasked with entertaining the crowds are doing so virtually this year. Unlike previous editions, there was no gala opening ceremony either as a part of the precautionary measures taken.
With this IPL season being largely devoid of its customary glitz and glamour, the game of cricket is once again tasked with being the sole attraction to retain the masses.
Moreover, this season is not taking place in India, as the country continues to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. The short-form extravaganza usually begins its season domestically in March, but due to the current unprecedented circumstances, it was postponed and moved to the United Arab Emirates, far from its home fans. The news still came as a welcome relief to ardent fans who feared the Twenty20 tournament wouldn’t take place at all this year.
It’s a new normal for players as well.
In the past, from showing up to airports and hotel lobbies, IPL fans have left no stone unturned to show their undying love and support for their favourite players and franchises.