The IPL 2021 will be a tournament with a difference. The cricket extravaganza which earlier used to have a glamorous image with cheerleaders and after match parties involving Bollywood celebrities will now be enveloped in an atmosphere of puritanical discipline. All because of the presence of the dreaded Coronavirus. Many restrictions were seen last year in the UAE but this will be the first time in India.
All teams will have to uncompromisingly maintain the rules and lead a strict life inside the bio bubble. Nobody can afford to commit any blunders. A careless slip up or thoughtless act can jeopardise the further progress of the tournament and also result in losses of hundreds of crores. Last year the BCCI reportedly spent about Rs 10 crores (1.3 million USD) for COVID-19 tests and the figure is likely to be at least the same this time around.
However, despite all the precautions, former India wicket keeper Kiran More who is now part of the Mumbai Indians set up and players Axar Patel, Devdutt Padikkal, Daniel Sams and Nitish Rana have tested positive. The fact that these persons were affected after doing everything that they needed to do, shows that the virus has the penetrative ability and potential to ruin the show.
Even before the tournament began, some players had begun to feel the pinch of the bio bubble. Australian all rounder Glenn Maxwell who will be representing Royal Challengers Bangalore, said in a video on the RCB website that constantly being confined inside the bio bubble seems to be like being stuck in a never ending nightmare. He has stated that he and his fellow cricketers are leading a “difficult lifestyle” nowadays. Another Aussie Josh Hazlewood has pulled out by his own choice.
Understandably it is difficult for people who are outgoing in nature. They would like to have a way to relax by speaking and interacting with their friends. Teammates are not always the right persons to mix with, after a hard match. Often the stress in the matches creates friction even among teammates. So staying inside the bio bubble means that there is no break from the mental and emotional strain that is generated by the intense competition.
The battles on the field are expected to be as intense as ever. While Mumbai Indians have been touted as the favourite once again, Hyderabad fans will be hoping that Sunrisers will once more lift the title this time. The team has a good blend of batting and bowling strength and has tremendous potential. David Warner is an experienced 34 year old captain and can marshall his resources on the field with aplomb.
In 2019 Warner scored an unbeaten 335 against Pakistan which is the second highest score by an Australian. For Australia Warner has been an outstanding player in T20 internationals. Moreover the presence of Jonny Bairstow, Jason Roy and Kane Williamson give the Sunrisers batting line up a formidable look. Kane led New Zealand to the final of the 2019 World Cup and is known to be a steady batsman who is a reliable player when the situation becomes difficult.
In the fast bowling department there are Jason Holder, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and T. Natarajan who are top calibre bowlers. Holder is a player with a lot of experience. The tall cricketer from Barbados has led West Indies and was the first captain to take 100 wickets in ODIs. Later he took his 100th Test wicket against India in 2019.
Spinner Rashid Khan too has proved himself on many occasions. He is a bowler with remarkable talent. Besides Sunrisers Hyderabad, he also plays for Adelaide Strikers in Australia, Lahore Qalandars in Pakistan and the Band-e-Amir Dragons in his native Afghanistan. His countryman Mujeeb ur Rehman could be the surprise package if given the opportunity to turn his arm over.
The BCCI meanwhile is leaving no stone unturned to keep everyone safe. The board has approached the government to allow separate check in and security check for the teams which are participating in the IPL. Because while bio bubbles may have been put in place at team hotels and stadiums to isolate the participants and peripheral staff from the general public, the airports are the places where the bubble may be breached.
It is likely that the central government as well as the respective state governments will spare no efforts to see that the tournament goes off smoothly. The IPL being a prestigious tournament involving plenty of overseas players, the eyes of the media all over the world will be on India till the mega event ends. So India’s organisational ability is under the scanner.
When India conducted the Asian Games in New Delhi in 1982 under the leadership of Mrs. Indira Gandhi, it gave a big boost to India’s image across the world. The same happened each time India hosted a big event. Although India has conducted IPL tournaments in the past, this time the event has assumed greater significance because the pandemic has created major hurdles. Many countries have cancelled or postponed sports events. So if India pulls it off, it will be a feather in India’s cap.
However if the tournament is riddled with problems and has to be curtailed or cancelled, it will show India in a poor light. Also the forthcoming ICC men’s T20 World Cup tournament which is scheduled to be held in India in October will be under a cloud. So it is imperative that this season’s IPL should be successfully conducted. It will give a boost to the image of India and its ability to efficiently conduct complex international sports events in difficult times.
Abhijit Sen Gupta is a seasoned journalist who writes on Sports and various other subjects.