By Yajurvindra Singh
The postponement of the T20 World Cup gave BCCI the opportunity to conduct their most popular ‘cricketainment’ tournament — the Indian Premier League (IPL). Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has made it impossible to stage cricket’s premium show in India. The BCCI have, therefore, opted to hold it in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) with the blessing of the Emirates Cricket Board.
The IPL is much more than just cricket entertainment when Indian cricket and cricketers are concerned. The financial gains that the BCCI derives from it is what keeps Indian cricket blossoming at home and also makes the BCCI into a powerful cricket body internationally. It brings in the stability that the BCCI requires to keep it as the top cricketing body in the world.
For the international and domestic cricketers, IPL is a wonderful opportunity to earn a living. The established ones require it to save for their future, whereas, for the youngsters it helps them get their life in order. This is very important in a cricketer’s life as with the advent of professionalism that has crept into cricket, the chance of skilling oneself in any other profession has become extremely difficult.
The IPL is just in its 13th year and it has already become one of the prime sporting events on the world sports map. The cricket starved fans will finally see their heroes back on the cricket field. The IPL will be just the entertainment they were looking for, especially as the coronavirus has subjected everyone to keep indoors.
The mushrooming of the fantasy league gaming sites, wherein, the options of selecting ones team of players through a wager has made T20 cricket even more interesting to watch. This has brought an interest to many people who through these sites can bet and maybe claim a big win in return. Gambling is one of the foremost reasons for the success of the shorter format of the game, as with a definite result and with plenty of permutations and combinations to choose from, especially in the T20 version, the opportunities to try out one’s luck are plenty.
The BCCI, on the other hand, has an enormous task in organising the IPL in the UAE. The league was played on two occasions outside Indian shores with a full-fledged version in South Africa in 2008 and a few of the initial matches in the UAE in 2012. But on both these occasions nothing more than the facilities to host the game were necessary.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic has made the situation entirely different with the IPL teams and the support staff cocooned in a bio-secure bubble. This, therefore, will be a completely different ball game not only for the players but also for the administrators. Although England did manage to successfully organise three Test matches against the West Indies recently, however, for the BCCI to do so with eight participating teams, will definitely be a huge challenge.
One does not see a major change as regards cricket being played on the ground. However, the important ingredient missing will be the screams and shouts of the spectators and from the die-hard local fans.
The IPL 2020 will need to get its unique identity as to the way in which it will be projected to the fans and followers. The entertainment would have to have a touch of innovative creation. One is, therefore, looking forward as to how Star Sports, the IPL sponsors and the franchises will create their own bubble of not only keeping their loyal fans alive but also keeping them active if their team is not faring well.
The digital world has progressed by leaps and bounds and creating visuals, virtual images and an atmosphere of imaginary spectators and noise, one feels, could be something one may see in this year’s IPL.
Unfortunately, players will not be available for get-togethers and live events and sponsors will need to find ways by which to interact with them through chat shows and interactive virtual sessions.
T20 has always been a format that has shown itself to be very popular. Some of the leagues held by a few of the Indian cricket state associations have proven to be successful even without well-known international players. Therefore, one does not see any issues regarding millions of viewers watching the games on television or on their mobiles. It is how they will be entertained, kept involved and interested that will be the challenge for the providers.
Rajasthan Royals will be a side that will be followed closely as they have the master batsman Steve Smith, the world’s best all-round cricketer Ben Stokes and the new sensational fast bowler Jofra Archer. However, all eyes will be on Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the man who has for over a decade captured the hearts of every Indian cricket lover. Dhoni, the master craftsman again on the cricket field will be a sight to savor, a cricketer who has been the epitome of cricketainment.
(Yajurvindra Singh is a former Test cricketer. Views expressed are personal)