The crowdless IPL

After a delay that must have felt like infinity for the cricket mad Indians, the thirteenth edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) finally got under way in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) last Saturday.

The tournament usually takes place in April and May every year.  Like many sport tournaments the world over, the IPL had to be postponed because of the Covid-19 pandemic.  But at least it was not cancelled for 2020.

As it became more and more evident that it would not be possible to host the tournament in India, the organisers decided to move the cricket spectacle to the UAE.  They should be commended for it.  The IPL is an annual, global showcase for cricket.  It is generally regarded as one of the premier sports tournaments in the world, in the same league as Champions League football in Europe, cycling’s Tour de France and National Football League in America.  The IPL is important for the global promotion of cricket; it is therefore terrific that it can be staged this year despite all the challenges.

The IPL will be played in three bio-bubbles – Sharjah Cricket Stadium, Dubai International Cricket Stadium and Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi. For now, no spectators will be allowed at any of the matches.  But the organisers are hoping towards the conclusion of the 53-day cricket feast, limited numbers of spectators will be allowed to attend.

An IPL in empty stadiums, devoid of all its razzmatazz, is a strange concept.  But the organisers believe it will inevitably lead to bigger television numbers.  The assumption is simply that if fans cannot attend the games, they will watch it on the small screen.  Time will tell whether this is true…

To protect the players against possible infections they must adhere to strict Covid-19 protocols at their hotels, the stadiums and transport between the stadiums and hotels.  During the tournament more than 20,000 Covid-19 tests will be conducted on the players, coaches and officials.

The fear of contracting the disease and an unwillingness to live in a bio-bubble for almost three months have lead to the withdrawal from the IPL of a number of players, among them the Indian stars Harbhajan Singh and Suresh Raina.

There are eleven South Africans in this year’s IPL:  AB de Villiers, Chris Morris and Dale Steyn will play for Royal Challengers Bangalore, Faf du Plessis, Imran Tahir and Lungi Ngidi for Chennai Super Kings, Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortjé for Delhi Capitals, Quinto de Kock for Mumbai Indians, David Miller for Rajasthan Royals and Hardus Viljoen for Kings XI Punjab.

The final will be on 10 November.  Closer to the time the organisers will decide which of the three venues will have the honour of hosting the final. 

Francois Brink

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