Clad in a white full-body protection suit with a mask covering his face, R Ashwin walked into the empty hotel lobby in Dubai. Wearing gloves and a face shield, a hotel staff greeted him from a distance of few metres and maintaining the same distance he led the veteran cricketer through the lobby area. On normal days, there would have been a huge crowd near the hotel entrance, even in the UAE, and Ashwin would have been shown the way to the entrance by a couple of guards who seemed to keep off the overwhelmed crowds at bay. In the lobby area, the greeting would have included some traditional Dubai ritual, a handshake probably. But times have changed significantly over the last six months. Probably that is why Ashwin captioned his arrival in Dubai tweeting, "Mission Mars!"
IPL has arguably been the biggest annual sports carnival in the nation the primary reason behind its immense success has been because of the fans. From the airport to the hotel lobbies, from the streets to social media, from training grounds to stadiums...IPL fans have never left an iota of effort in supporting their favourite franchises. Even when IPL was transferred to the UAE back in 2014 for just 20 matches, fans had flocked to the venues in numbers to cheer their franchises. And this love isn't unrequited. One of the heartwarming examples includes Chennai Super Kings arranging a special train for their beloved fans when Chepauk was disallowed from hosting IPL matches in 2018 owing to the Cauvery water dispute and Pune was named as their new home ground.
But IPL 2020 will be without that glitz. With social distancing being the primary norm amid the COVID-19 pandemic, BCCI SOP has disallowed fans from going to stadiums. Moreover, this time around IPL will be held in the UAE, far from its home fans.
Besides fans, there will be more than one too many Martian scenarios that players will come about in their UAE sojourn.
Barring Delhi Capitals and Sunrisers Hyderabad, all other franchises have arrived in the UAE. Chennai Super Kings, Royal Challengers and Mumbai Indians reached on Friday evening. Rajasthan Royals and Kings XI Punjab players reached Dubai on Thursday evening while Kolkata Knight Riders landed in Abu Dhabi on the same night. The remaining two franchises will reach over the weekend.
All these players will be confined to their hotel rooms over the next six days as part of the BCCI's Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) and will be tested for COVID-19 on days 1, 3 and 6. Rajasthan Royals' squad has already undergone their first testing while KXIP went for a repeat test on Friday.
No player will be allowed to step outside their room hence reducing the amount of interaction even with teammates, although they did manage to crack that code. Balconies have been used interaction, according to a report in PTI, although the Dubai weather this time around only limits that time to morning only.
Moreover, like in India, the players have been stuck with their fitness routines inside their hotel rooms. Royals pacer Jaydev Unadkat has taken to his Instagram account to share a video of his workout session while in the hotel room.
Players will be given the liberty to inhale the fresh air once they complete six days of quarantine in their respective hotel rooms after which the squad members will meet, but will be restricted to a bio-secure bubble for the next one and a half month. "Breach of any Bio-Secure Environment protocols by players and team support staff will be punishable under the IPL Code of Conduct Rules," the BCCI had stated in their SOP.
Moreover, there will be virtual team meetings and players will have to abide by the social-distancing norm in the dressing room as well.
Hence tougher times and unprecedented times await these players, one they have never faced before in their calendar. And more than the physical will to return back to the form they were six months back, players will need to look after their mental health to survive inside the bubble for a period of 53 days.