The Indian Premier League (IPL) is seen as the glitzy high of the cricketing season, with its daily share of short bursts of thrills stretched across the summer. Since its launch in 2008, the IPL became a seasonal fix as inevitable as soaring temperatures and the reflexive craving for ice creams. The Twenty20 tournament seemingly brooked no resistance while the purists leant on the classical air that permeated Test cricket. Even in 2009 and 2014 when the Lok Sabha elections clashed with the IPL’s schedule, the Board of Control for Cricket in India solved the logistical nightmare. South Africa played host in the first instance while the United Arab Emirates (UAE) conducted the initial set of matches in 2014. But 2020 has been a difficult year for humankind with the relentless spread of the coronavirus pandemic. Since March, sport with its social-gathering moorings had to pause: the Olympics was postponed and Wimbledon cancelled. The IPL was rescheduled too from its original start-date of March 29, before a window opened up for the event to be held in the UAE. Saturday night’s inaugural contest of the IPL’s 13th edition at Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Zayed Stadium, that pitted defending champion Mumbai Indians and last year’s runner-up Chennai Super Kings, dished out a last-over climax with the latter stunning the former.
The lay-off from the game and the attendant rust was evident in the way the rivals fielded while the artificial crowd sound infused into the live telecast, reflects these fraught times of empty stadiums and bio-bubbles. Because of the constraints imposed by the virus and the cancellation of domestic cricket in India for now, the IPL at the Emirates, has turned out to be the season opener for the national players while also offering an opportunity for overseas stars to have a biff in the park. Eight teams playing 60 matches in 53 days across Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah, with a summit clash on November 10, will present its own set of challenges. The organisers have set stringent protocols even as a few tested positive in the lead-up to the championship. The players have to watch their health-parameters while helping cricket find its feet, an endeavour that England did first with remarkable efficiency by hosting the West Indies, Pakistan and Australia. It is a template worth emulating as fans starved of action wait to catch live moving images of M.S. Dhoni, Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Steve Smith, Kane Williamson, AB de Villiers and other icons. Cricket in the Indian context has made a start and a lot is at stake as this IPL also offers a stage for Kohli and company to prepare for the coming tour of Australia.