So much to look out for as IPL gets going
The 13th edition of the Indian Premier League, something that was put in serious doubt by the global Coronavirus pandemic is finally all set to get going. It has taken a concerted effort from all stakeholders, and the Board of Control for Cricket in India has left no stone unturned in ensuring that the tournament is played in the United Arab Emirates.
Initially, it was believed that a shortened version of the tournament would be conducted in India. However, when it became clear that the situation in India was not conducive to hosting an event that involved players from around the world, a move to the UAE ensured that there was no need to postpone the tournament.
A detailed schedule of matches is yet to be announced because the organizers are waiting on reconnaissance trips to Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Sharjah, where the matches will be played, but with the successful arrival and quarantine measures for teams in place, it’s all systems go.
What will change with a shift in the venue?
The biggest difference, understandably, is teams not having a home ground, as they would when the tournament is played in India. For the Royal Challengers Bangalore, led by Virat Kohli, for example, the M Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore dictates a lot of strategies.
With half of RCB’s matches being played at home, they can really shape their squad around a quality batting pitch, a smallish ground where there is great value for big shots and stack their team with batsmen, spending less time on the bowling.
But, with the tournament moving out, they will have to take a long, hard look at how they want to plan their campaign. It won’t be all about going bang bang any longer, and the need to adapt will come to the fore.
And while RCB and Bangalore are an obvious example, the rest of the teams find themselves in much the same boat.
Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Sharjah: Similar but not same
It is widely assumed that because of their geographical proximity, the grounds in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Sharjah are identical. But, nothing can be further from the truth. Overall, the extreme heat and dry weather of the Emirates give the groundsmen a real challenge when it comes to maintaining their grounds, but there are subtle differences that will come to the fore in the IPL.
For starters, the Sheikh Zayed Stadium is the biggest playing surface of the three. Even accounting for a pulling in of the boundaries for the tournament, this will be a ground where batsmen who can build an innings, run hard and pace themselves will be at a premium. This is not a ground where you can hit fours and sixes at will. What this means is that the bowlers will have a lot more say, especially the spinners, who can expect the fielders on the ropes to come into play each time a ball is mis-hit, even slightly.
In Sharjah, the ground which has the richest history and pedigree of the three that will be used in the tournament, you can expect packed houses. The Indian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan and Bangladeshi diaspora have always supported cricket at the ground, and the IPL will be no different. The pitch there is generally slow, with a tendency to grip, which helps the spinners. Add to this the fact that multiple matches will be played at the venue over a short period, and you can expect it to get slower and slower. This means that teams will have to budget for their fast bowlers playing a limited role while they pack the team with front-line and part-time spinners and use slow bowling strategically.
In Dubai, teams are likely to see a middle ground between Sharjah and Abu Dhabi. As they practice at the venue, they will get a feel for the surface and the playing area and tailor their strategies accordingly.
Stop-start situation leads to an interesting scenario
In cricket, at most times, the major issue facing the players, and the game at large, is the packed schedule. With the international calendar being centered around International Cricket Council events, such as the World Cup, the Twenty20 World Cup, or the Champions Trophy, and backed up by bilateral series, there is literally no time for players and teams out of the competition.
This is especially true for India, England and Australia, who look to play each other as often as possible, while scheduling tours with other countries to fulfill their obligations to the Future Tours Programme and the World Test Championship.
When you add to this the domestic cricket tournaments of each country and the mushrooming of Twenty20 leagues, you have a situation where the players are in demand all year long. The IPL is the longest of the T20 competitions, spanning two months, but the Big Bash League in Australia, the Caribbean Premier League, and similar tournaments ensure that players have to be ready to perform in different conditions and geographies at different times in the year.
This time, however, when the IPL begins, the situation will be quite the opposite. Most of the players taking part would not have been in top-flight competition in months. While each team has top physiotherapists, trainers, and doctors working with their assets, there is no replacement for the actual competition.
How players will pull up, especially the quick bowlers, after matchplay, remains a mystery in waiting. This means that each team will have to have a rotation policy in place, and will not be able to use their first-choice bowlers day-in and day-out. All in all, the IPL will set out how cricket will be played in the new normal.