IPL in times of coronavirus: New season, tougher challenges

By: |
April 11, 2021 4:00 AM

The IPL is necessary for the nourishment of India's cricket economy. It must go along trouble-free

Two Mumbai Indians batsmen graduated to international cricket by dint of their performance in the last year’s IPL.Two Mumbai Indians batsmen graduated to international cricket by dint of their performance in the last year’s IPL.

On April 8, India reported 780 Covid deaths, the highest fatalities in a day since October 18, 2020. Nearly half the deaths, 376, were from Maharashtra. By 9 am on April 9, India detected 1,31,968 new cases of the novel coronavirus in a new daily high. Maharashtra alone had reported 56,286 new Covid cases on April 8, as the state government enforced a complete lockdown on weekends to curb the spread of the virus. Mumbai, along with Delhi, Kolkata, Ahmedabad and Chennai, is one of the venues for the 14th edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) and for the next one-and-a-half months, everybody related to the IPL would be walking a tightrope.

The IPL is necessary for the nourishment of India’s cricket economy. This is the tournament that fills the BCCI coffer and a big chunk of the money is spent to nurture talent at the grassroots and develop infrastructure. Last year, the Indian cricket board had earned Rs 4,000 crore as revenue from hosting the tournament despite closed-doors matches.

“We earned Rs 4,000 crore during the pandemic time. Our TV viewership went about 25 per cent higher; we got the highest-ever opening game (Mumbai Indians versus Chennai Super Kings) viewership. Those who doubted us came and thanked us for hosting the IPL. Had this IPL not happened, cricketers would have lost one year,” BCCI treasurer Arun Dhumal had said after the last year’s IPL that was shifted out to the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The Indian board deserved credit for pulling off an impressive logistical and organisational feat in the middle of a pandemic.

By January this year, Covid caseload had reduced considerably in India, prompting the BCCI to even allow a limited number of spectators for the India versus England Tests. With vaccines rolling out, it felt like the virus was behind us. The second wave has caught everyone off guard. Even before a ball was bowled in this year’s IPL, 36 people associated with the tournament got infected. In hindsight, maybe it would have been wiser to relocate the IPL to UAE this year also.

But now the show has begun and it would be imperative to ensure that it goes along trouble-free. The IPL has contributed immensely to the growth of Indian cricket. Over the last few months, especially during the Test series in Australia, the world saw the strength and depth of Indian cricket and the IPL’s contribution to make the young players international cricket-ready has had been immense. “What a Test match! The depth of Indian Cricket is scary,” South African legend AB de Villiers had tweeted after India’s memorable Test series win in Australia.

This is the ICC T20 World Cup year and India will host the event in October-November. From that perspective, this year’s IPL is an audition for a lot of players. Chainman bowler Kuldeep Yadav’s decline has intensified the demand to bring Ravichandran Ashwin back to the limited-overs fold. Leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal, too, is going through a form slump.

“If I were the chief selector (now), I would have brought Ashwin back (to the white ball set-up). Why not? Because he is such an experienced bowler and he has variety. As they say, spinners mature late and he has done so well over the years. He is in terrific form in red ball cricket. I think it will suit the team if he is brought back,” Dilip Vengsarkar told The Indian Express last month, after the Indian spinners were taken to the cleaners in the second ODI against England.

A good performance for Delhi Capitals, on the heels of his exploits in the Tests against Australia and England, might bring the senior off-spinner firmly back into the T20 World Cup contention. The likes of Washington Sundar, Axar Patel, Rahul Chahar, Rahul Tewatia, Krunal Pandya and Varun Chakravarthy will leave no stone unturned to make a mark, with T20 World Cup spots up for grabs. For Kuldeep, if he gets enough game time for Kolkata Knight Riders, he should aim redemption. He is only 26 years old and a bowler of his talent cannot become bad overnight. Kuldeep needs to regain his confidence and quickly hit his straps.

As for pace bowling, Navdeep Saini will look forward to regain his form, while Prasidh Krishna will be striving to improve even more. The KKR seamer has already made his ODI debut and this season should be about building on a good start.

Two Mumbai Indians batsmen graduated to international cricket by dint of their performance in the last year’s IPL. Suryakumar Yadav made such a serious impression that India captain Virat Kohli decided to open the innings with Rohit Sharma in a T20I, keeping the newcomer’s slot at No. 3 unchanged. Yadav now gets a chance to enhance his reputation, while Ishan Kishan would like to further strengthen his case. And new talents will emerge this year as well, adding to Indian cricket’s embarrassment of riches.

Once again, Mumbai Indians will be the team to beat, for they have arguably the most complete squad in the IPL. But Chennai Super Kings (CSK) are unlikely to take their last year’s failure lying down. CSK chief executive Kasi Viswanathan has spoken about how he doesn’t see this year being MS Dhoni’s IPL swansong. And as long as Dhoni is in charge of the team, writing off the three-time champions would be a mistake. Expect the great captain to walk the extra mile to bring his team back to winning ways.

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