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After months of chaos due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the popular Indian Premier League’s delayed season will start off with a clash between defending champions Mumbai Indians and Chennai Super Kings in the United Arab Emirates on Saturday.
The 2020 edition of the biggest Twenty20 league was originally scheduled to commence in India on March 29 but had to be postponed indefinitely by the country’s cricket board (BCCI) because of the deteriorating pandemic crisis.
The cancellation of the IPL would have meant a possible sales loss of $534 million, prompting the board to relocate the tournament from India, the second worst afflicted country in the world with more than 5 million cases of coronavirus infections.
The postponement of this year’s Twenty20 World Cup in Australia because of the pandemic also helped. It offered a window for the eight-team league, which is attended by most of the best players in the world, on the international cricket calendar.
The matches will take place in bio-secure bubbles in Dubai, Sharjah and Abu Dhabi in front of empty stands, but organizers are planning to allow some spectators during the tournament’s later stages, which will end on Nov. 10.
Although creating the usual carnival-like atmosphere in the stands would not be possible, BCCI leader Sourav Ganguly felt planning the event was an effort to restore normality to the life of people in India who were battered by the virus.
“Crowds will watch it on television … they (broadcasters) are actually expecting the highest rating of IPL this season because they believe if (people) don’t turn up in the ground, they will be actually watching on their television sets,” former India captain Ganguly said.
“There is a positive in everything.”
It won’t be the first time the competition has had to take place outside of India.
The 2009 edition took place in South Africa as it coincided with India’s general election, and five years later, for the same reason, the UAE hosted the early matches of the eight-team competition.
But selecting a host country was not the only obstacle for the influential Indian board in organising the IPL, as the tournament lost its title sponsor a month before its scheduled launch.
Smartphone manufacturer Vivo pulled out of this year’s version in the middle of an increasing uproar against Chinese companies in India and a weak business climate following the pandemic.
Fantasy gaming corporation Dream11 comes in as a substitution, costing the league 50 per cent less than Vivo, which won the rights for nearly $293 million in 2018-2022.
“When you encounter such challenging times and the tournament faced such impediments, you are bound to lose on certain revenues,” BCCI treasurer Arun Sigh Dhumal told Reuters.
“Looking at the overall picture, one should be happy that at least something is happening in this environment.”
At this year’s event, there will, however, be some noticeable absentees.
Chris Woakes and Jason Roy’s English duo, Sri Lanka pace spearhead Lasith Malinga, and Suresh Raina and Harbhajan Singh’s Indian pair have all pulled out of the tournament citing personal reasons.
Chennai, led by their super talented captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, will have to find a way to pay off for the absence of experienced Raina and Harbhajan if they are to win a fourth title and match Mumbai as the most successful side in the IPL.
Captained by India’s skipper Virat Kohli, Royal Challengers Bangalore remain one of the three established franchises who never won the tournament but seem to have their bowling woes tackled to balance the batting force.