IPL 2021 | Star-studded, bio-bubble sheathed cricket caravan returns to India

A second straight season behind closed doors, BCCI will hope COVID-19 doesn’t hamper plans; focus will be on CSK’s recovery, Kohli’s helming of RCB and mighty MI

Updated - April 08, 2021 10:37 pm IST

Published - April 08, 2021 10:28 pm IST

The last time high-profile cricket was ushered into Chennai’s M.A. Chidambaram Stadium while the Bay of Bengal whispered to the nearby shores, there was applause from the stands and an Indian triumph over England was witnessed. That second Test, which concluded on February 16, now looks far due to the latest coronavirus-influenced circumstances.

Much has changed over the last few months and when the Indian Premier League gears up for its 14th season with the first match pitting reigning champion Mumbai Indians against Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) here on Friday, fans have been kept away as a strict bio-bubble is in place. The Yellow-Den as the venue is fondly referred to by the Chennai Super Kings’ (CSK) followers, has turned neutral as all IPL games this year will lack the home-flavour.

M.S. Dhoni will be missed in these parts while he and his fellow-CSK players ply their wares in cities ranging from Mumbai to Kolkata. While Mumbai Indians has scaled new heights and has five titles in its kitty, CSK suddenly hit a trough and finished seventh in the last edition in the United Arab Emirates. A steep fall for an outfit that won the trophy thrice!

Reconfigured unit

What Dhoni and his reconfigured unit do will be watched and, in a converse way, RCB too will draw attention, especially as its skipper Virat Kohli has had success leading India while inexplicably faltering when it comes to the IPL after promising much. Skippers are as good or bad as their teams but they are also supposed to propel their men forward.

Rohit Sharma, the Mumbai Indians’ leader, is sitting pretty right now, having guided his troops regularly to the high-table. After winning the last two editions, a hat-trick beckons and that will inflate the pressure.

Meanwhile, Sunrisers Hyderabad headlined by David Warner and also featuring Kane Williamson, the uber-cool cricketer, has enough fire and ice.

Pant, the toast

Among the others, Delhi Capitals, a franchise known to constantly alter personnel besides tweaking its nomenclature once, will deflect some limelight to its captain answering to the name of Rishabh Pant. The wicket-keeper batsman has become the toast of international cricket after his exploits in Australia and in the home series against England.

Punjab Kings, that bundles together K.L. Rahul and Twenty20’s eternal gun-for-hire Chris Gayle, is capable of punching above its weight, while the Eoin Morgan-led Kolkata Knight Riders, also featuring Andre Russell, has a history of two titles.

At the other end of the spectrum, Rajasthan Royals, IPL’s inaugural champion in 2008, took a punt on Sanju Samson and appointed him as its leader and has the incandescent Ben Stokes within its stable.

The latest IPL staged at neutral grounds while bowlers rue the lack of a slender home-advantage should throw up surprises.

The organisers, though, will fervently hope that the virus doesn’t scupper their best-laid plans as the league aims for a gripping summit clash at Ahmedabad on May 30.

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