Indian Premier League (IPL) is set to get underway in the UAE this weekend. The league has been in the news for a lot of things in recent times, but the BCCI along with the franchises have been successful in establishing a bio-bubble in the foreign land. While the tournament is to be played across three cities of Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah from September 19 – November 10, the season for the first time since its induction, will be void of its beloved fans.
The most successful teams in the IPL, Mumbai Indians, Chennai Super Kings and Kolkata Knight Riders would all be raring to have a go at the title. The Sunrisers from Hyderabad and the underdogs Rajasthan Royals have won a title once before and would also be looking to add another trophy to the cabinet. It would also be more interesting to see if the renewed Kings XI outfit or the newbies Delhi Capitals shot their claim for the title this year or if the ever-so-waiting franchise of Royal Challengers Bangalore finally have their ‘Ee Saala Cup Namde’ moment. Rest assured, there exists a lot to look forward to in this edition of the IPL. Here’s a look at few of the most intriguing things to follow this season:
1Coming out of a long break:
Most players have had no professional cricket since March. Except for the select players from England, Australia and West Indies, others are yet to make a return to cricket post pandemic. The restart might well mean a new chance for the franchises to re-establish their case. It will also be a test for the captains and how they manage their available resources considering the conditions and the bio-bubble restrictions. The approach of Shreyas Iyer and KL Rahul who are still into their early-phases as captain, will be one to look out for. The latter of the two in fact, is already being considered as one of the successors to Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma.
If there is anyone likely to get most affected by the break, it’d be the senior players. Managing one’s physique, technique and coordination gets tougher with age. The prolonged break from cricket doesn’t help the rhythm much either. Players have been vocal about how tough it is not touching the sport at all for the last six months. Many have also gone on record stating it to be a cause of mental fatigue as well.
2Managing the heat and Fitness this IPL:
UAE is known for its unrelenting sun and the scorching heat. So much so that even the nights at times can get difficult to tackle. Playing a sport for 4 straight hours is therefore a cakewalk by no means. In a tournament as long as the IPL, maintaining one’s fitness is of paramount importance. Of all the times and places IPL, or even cricket, has ever been played at, UAE is one of the toughest challenges of all. All of it makes the responsibility of the physios, conditioning coaches and the management overall even more crucial.
The players have been quite vocal about it as well. AB De Villiers in a recent interview was quoted saying:
“ I believe the biggest challenge for all teams will be adjusting to the prevailing hot and humid conditions in the UAE. I am not really used to these kinds of conditions to be honest. It’s very hot. When I arrived here I checked the weather conditions of a few months and it seems to be getting better. It is definitely going to play a part. You have to make sure you have the energy for the backend of the innings or the last 5 overs of your bowling spell.”
3Playing against the spin and on a slow surface:
The pitches in the UAE are expected to be on a slowish side, especially in the later half of the tournament. Unlike the Indian characteristic wickets where an average score ranges to around 170, UAE will find matches running close even with a 150. The real challenge for the players lies in getting used to the pace of the wicket. It is often said that a T20 is a batsman’s game to win. However, the saying might find an opposite exception this season where bowling will remain a key.
The spinners and the bowlers with an ability to take pace off the ball will therefore come in handy. The inclusion of Daniel Sams in Delhi or Adam Zampa for RCB as replacements is also a fine example of how the franchises are going about this season. The other way of looking at it would be that despite the ball not coming on to the bat or skidding through the surface, the batsmen will have extra time to play their shots. While most Indians are sound through their legs and against spin, the approach of the foreign big hitters is one to look forward to.
4Performance of the youngsters:
It wouldn’t be an understatement to say, “IPL is driven by the young and talented individuals that come to the fore every year.” The number of international cricket stars that the league has given, not only to India but to world cricket overall is immeasurable. Amidst all the newer challenges that the sport faces this season, performance of the youngsters is the one most sought after. The likes of Yashasvi Jaiswal, Devdutt Padikkal and Ravi Bishnoi who are set to make their IPL debut will have a few eyeballs following their journey.
The young promises in Nitish Rana, Prithvi Shaw, Shubhman Gill will also play a key role for their team this year. A fruitful IPL might well help them fix their spot in India’s white ball team that has undergone a few revamps in recent times. All in all, a good IPL season would get the youngsters a step closer to their perennial dream of representing the country.
5IPL without the crowd support:
Fans are an integral part of the tournament. A success of the tournament is defined by the crowd that turns up at the stadium. IPL especially has strived for a packed crowd throughout it’s journey, even in the foreign lands of South Africa in 2009. For players like Virat Kohli, Keiron Pollard and others, it is a source of energy and a way to pump up their adrenaline on the ground. The absence of live spectators on the ground might have an effect on the intensity and performance of the players. Having said, everyone is keen on getting game time and also looking forward to playing to their best even behind closed doors.
“All of us have thought about playing in front of empty stadiums. It would be a strange feeling, I cannot deny that. At the end of the day, you understand why you started playing the sport. You now have a chance of showing how much you love the game. Crowds are an amazing part of any sport but that is not something you play the sport for. This time around we have an opportunity to bring joy to so many people, our intensity and passion levels will not drop just because there is no crowd.”
6Return of Dhoni:
It’s been 406 days since MS Dhoni last stepped onto a cricket field and more than a month since he announced his retirement from international cricket. If there is one individual that the entire world is eagerly looking forward to playing in the IPL, it is ‘Thala’, Mahendra Singh Dhoni. It remains next to impossible to decode the brains of the Indian maestro. Therefore, as long as Dhoni graces the cricket field with his presence, the joy of the supporters will not cease to exist. Taking the field as the captain against Mumbai Indians in the opener, MS Dhoni is sure to have more than one question to answer.
For all we know, he would once again take the world by storm with his bat. And if the net sessions are by any means a sign to go by, we might also witness the MS Dhoni of olden times.
7IPL Women’s T20 Challenge:
According to the reports, if not for the pandemic BCCI was keen on fielding a full-fledged Women’s IPL this year. A curtailed version of it, the Women’s T20 Challenge is on cards nonetheless. The three teams led-by Mithali Raj, Harmanpreet Kaur and Smriti Mandhana will feature a few of the world’s top players. Though the 4-match series is scheduled to overlap with WBBL in Australia, both boards are expected to find a way out.
Women’s cricket have been on their way up in India for a while now. The previous iterations of the tournament have also blessed the Indian side with talented youngsters. To name a few, Jemimah Rodrigues, Shefali Verma and Richa Ghosh have found spots in India’s international cricket team. This year as well, the world looks forward to the Indians making it big in the Women’s T20 Challenge. Who knows, it might well prove a breeding ground for yet another international superstar.
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ICN360 Team Previews:
Royal Challengers Bangalore, Mumbai Indians, Delhi Capitals, Rajasthan Royals, Kings XI Punjab, Kolkata Knight Riders, Sunrisers Hyderabad, Chennai Super Kings.