The COVID-19 situation in India is getting worse by the day. Ahead of the 2021 Indian Premier League, multiple players and support staff have tested positive for the virus too, even though the teams are placed in bio-secure bubbles and all possible precautions are being taken. Unlike the previous edition, most players have now spent ample time in the daunting bubble life, which has taken a mental and emotional toll on players.
Despite the adversities, the 14th edition of the tournament will return to the screens on April 9, when defending champions Mumbai Indians take on Virat Kohli's Royal Challengers Bangalore.
The IPL will make a comeback to the Indian soil after two years, as the entirety of the cash-rich league was staged in the United Arab Emirates in 2020 after the pandemic atmosphere in India didn't permit the hosting. The COVID-19 situation in the country is significantly worse in comparison but the BCCI is now armed with the experience of tackling the threat to host domestic and international cricket across different cities.
However, that doesn't necessarily mean that the bio-secure bubble is impenetrable. There are growing concerns that the bubble may have busted when MI's scout Kiran More, who was seemingly inside the bubble, tested positive for the virus. At present, 36 people associated with IPL have tested positive.
This has prompted BCCI to take stricter actions, and according to a report on Indian Express, the board has made a request to the centre to allow for special security check-in counters at airports for the franchises.
This year, there is much more at stake; not only for the tournament but also for the BCCI and the ICC as India is scheduled to host the T20 World Cup later this year. A glitch-free season will do a world of good for all concerned parties, and the organisers know it's easier said than done.
All right, that's the major briefing on the operational aspect of the tournament. Let's talk cricket.
The 2021 edition sees little tweaks in all franchises, who aimed to bolster their squads with new recruits in this year's transfer window as well as the auction in February. A major highlight, however, is the inclination towards youngsters taking leadership roles.
Delhi Capitals and Rajasthan Royals have entrusted their batsmen, Rishabh Pant and Sanju Samson respectively, with the captaincy for the upcoming season. The former might be a forced change (Shreyas Iyer's shoulder injury ruled him out), but one can sense the thought process behind the decision. Pant has been the most improved Indian cricketer in the past four months; and arguably been the best, too.
With the two youngsters joining the list, this season will see at least three wicketkeeper-captains -- Pant, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (Chennai Super Kings) and KL Rahul (Punjab Kings). It is unlikely that Samson, a wicket-keeper as well, will assume the role as Jos Buttler is expected to keep the wickets.
For the first time in India, the IPL franchises will be devoid of home advantage. Instead, the tournament will follow a caravan schedule; every franchise will play a particular set of matches at one venue before shifting its base to another. Understandably, the tweak in the schedule is due to the pandemic, which doesn't allow a free movement of teams.
The playoff stage will be played entirely in Ahmedabad, which remains a neutral venue.
One eye on T20 World Cup
This year's IPL has added significance due to the marquee international event in India later this year. Many players have already stated the importance of it all, and eyes will be on the Indians too, who are in foray for a place in the World Cup squad.
The previous edition of IPL unearthed Indian talents like T Natarajan, Rahul Tewatia and Varun Chakravarthy, who were selected for international limited-overs squads (Chakravarthy was later ruled out due to fitness issues). The Mumbai Indians' duo of Suryakumar Yadav and Ishan Kishan was rewarded for its consistent performances throughout the season.
However, workload management could be a potential issue for players who have had troubles with injuries in the recent past. Sunrisers Hyderabad's Bhuvneshwar Kumar recently made a strong comeback to the Indian limited-overs teams, and will remain wary of not exerting his body beyond limits in the tournament. The same goes for other international stars like David Warner (SRH), Hardik Pandya, Rohit Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah (Mumbai Indians), Mohammed Shami (Punjab Kings) and Ravindra Jadeja (Chennai Super Kings), among others.