It all looks like a repeat of 2020, doesn’t it? The second wave of COVID-19 is well and truly here in India, with cases rising rapidly throughout the country. There are cases within the Indian Premier League too. Players like Nitish Rana, Axar Patel, Devdutt Padikkal and Daniel Sams have been affected. Mumbai Indians scout Kiran More, groundsmen at Wankhede stadium in Mumbai too are in the list.
But unlike last summer, the Indian Premier League is determined to go on as scheduled. Unless there is a massive twist to the tale, the tournament will get started on Friday (April 9) at the MA Chidambaram stadium in Chennai. Whether or not it’s the right thing is an entirely different debate, but the organisers would hope the bubbles stay intact for the next two months. There were COVID-19 cases inside bubbles before IPL 2020 too, but the tournament went smooth. BCCI would hope they would be able to do what UAE did last year.
Now to the actual cricket, which should hopefully overshadow everything else once the action starts. As was the case last year too.
Like 2020, IPL 2021 too will be a first of its kind one. After a brief tour to UAE, the tournament returns to India, but it’s still a different one as only six venues – Ahmedabad, Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore and Kolkata – are playing hosts. And there will be no crowds. Most interestingly, and rightly, no team will have home advantage.
So, how will that play out? Teams will have to rejig their strategies and dig deep into their squads to have players who can do the work in all conditions. Chennai Super Kings, for example, are a traditionally spin heavy side but play a bulk of their matches in Mumbai, Kolkata and Bangalore. Royal Challengers Bangalore got Glenn Maxwell hoping for big sixes at M Chinnaswamy stadium but they’re set to play in Chennai and Ahmedabad. On the other hand, Sunrisers Hyderabad will welcome their schedule as they play their first nine matches in spin friendly Chennai and Delhi – just what they’d have wanted.
Irrespective of grounds and conditions though, one thing doesn’t change. Mumbai Indians are once again the team to beat. A quick glance at the Indian T20I team that played against England recently is enough to show MI’s strength. They showed last year that they’re well and truly a league above their competition, and a hat trick of titles is a real possibility. It will take a brave person to not include MI in the list of pre season favourites.
Right up in that list will be Hyderabad. Nine matches of Rashid Khan in Chepauk and Delhi. Need we say more? Add a resurgent Bhuvneshwar Kumar and in form Jonny Bairstow to it, and the squad looks deadly in spin friendly conditions. They’ve been in the playoffs for five consecutive years, this could be the year they take that one step extra.
And then come the runners up from 2020. Delhi Capitals are a team on the rise but have been hit by an important injury blow – captain Shreyas Iyer out with a shoulder dislocation. However, they’ve got an exciting leadership replacement in an in form Rishabh Pant. Will it free him up further? Or will it affect his batting? Despite Iyer’s absence, the Delhi Capitals are set to have another great season.
What about the Royal Challengers Bangalore? Virat Kohli has been under pressure to deliver an IPL title, but it has somehow always evaded him. They’ve made some big buys in the auction, but their primary concerns are still very much around. That Kohli will open the batting is an excitement factor, as is Glenn Maxwell’s presence. Only a title win will satisfy their fans, and silence their critics.
And it’s perhaps another season where Chennai Super Kings don’t start as favourites, but as underdogs. 2020 was the first time they didn’t make it to the playoffs in IPL; they couldn’t revamp their side before 2021 but have made some interesting additions like Moeen Ali and Robin Uthappa, while welcoming back Suresh Raina. Was 2020 a one off? Or will CSK’s slide continue? Most importantly for them – will this be MS Dhoni’s last year?
The likes of Kolkata Knight Riders, Rajasthan Royals and Punjab Kings (formerly Kings XI Punjab) have over the last few years performed below potential, blowing hot and cold through the tournament. For the sake of the tournament, one would hope they have good seasons, at least so that the likes of Mumbai Indians don’t go unchallenged.
For the jokes have already begun – who will play Mumbai Indians in the IPL 2021 final on May 30? Whoever it is, the IPL will be a huge success if it gets that far without any incidents.