After a wait of over five months, BCCI's T20 extravaganza Indian Premier League is all set to enchant cricket audiences across the world from Saturday. In a world scarred by COVID-19, the 2020 edition of IPL is being played in the UAE, devoid of the huge crowds that usually flood stadiums. However, fans need not worry as they will be able to watch their favourite teams in the UAE from the comfort of their homes.
Amid the pandemic-induced lockdown, which led to the IPL almost getting cancelled, fans missed Mahendra Singh Dhoni's poker face, Virat Kohli's raw emotions and Rohit Sharma's effortless handling of his 'Galacticos'. David Warner's elegant batting and Kolkata Knight Riders star Andre Russell's aggresive pinch hitting were also missed by fans of the game.
Rest assured, the next 53 days would belong to Dhoni's CSK, Kohli's RCB and Rohit's Mumbai Indians. They are all set to be challenged by young pretenders comprising KL Rahul's KXIP and Shreyas Iyer's Delhi Capitals among others.
Unique experience this time
IPL happening in foreign shores is not a new phenomenon, not even the shift to the Emirates but as Indian sports hits the restart button with IPL, the hugely popular event to be held closed doors in a bio-secure environment will be a new experience.
Warner or Chris Gayle's towering sixes welcomed by artificial crowd cheer will be the new normal and the deafening roars during Super Overs will be missing but no one can complain as at least the show will go on in amid a devastating health crisis.
The first match: CSK vs MI
In the first match, Rohit's defending champions Mumbai Indians will be locking horns with Dhoni's Chennai Super Kings. Mumbai Indians are traditional slow-starters in the IPL but on paper, they will be the favourites against Chennai Super Kings.
MI looks the most prepared and set team with a scary batting line-up of Rohit, Quinton de Kock, Suryakumar Yadav, Ishan Kishan, Hardik and Krunal Pandya, Kieron Pollard. Trent Boult and Nathan Coulter-Nile will complete their quota of foreigners.
For CSK, the core has remained the same save for Suresh Raina, who has pulled out citing personal reasons this year. But there is Watson, Ambati Rayudu, Kedar Jadhav, Ravindra Jadeja, and Bravo, who have all won matches from hopeless situations. Mitchell Santner and Lungi Ngidi will complete their four-foreigner line-up in case Sam Curran and Josh Hazlewood are unavailable. CSK can only be ignored at one's own peril.
Brief look at teams
A look at the teams would indicate that Mumbai Indians by a distance is the most formidable with Rohit, Pandya brothers -- Hardik and Krunal --, the indomitable Kieron Pollard and the 'King of Death' bowling Jasprit Bumrah giving it a menacing look.
The perennial Dad's Army Chennai Super Kings can never be counted out till that man with 'Hawk Eyes' uses his peripheral vision behind the stumps.Experience can't be bought and the likes of Shane Watson, Dwayne Bravo, Faf du Plessis and Ravindra Jadeja have given their blood and sweat for the 'Yellows' and it would be no different this time.
For Kohli, winning a tournament as a captain would reaffirm his status even as naysayers question his style of leadership. The team is a shade better with presence of Aaron Finch, Chris Morris and the wonderfully gifted Devdutt Padikkal, who if all goes well, is destined to become a big name in years to come.
Delhi Capitals, with their new found vigour and more pragmatic new owners, found their mojo last year and would like to go one better under an enormously talented skipper in Shreyas Iyer, who can be matched in skills by a Prithvi Shaw or a Rishabh Pant.
KXIP's KL Rahul is a class act and how he shapes as a leader could also create a narrative for the future when Indian cricket goes through another change of guard in next few years. Handling an inconsistent team to a decent finish will be on top of Rahul's agenda.
The low profile Sunrisers Hyderabad once again will be gunning for a place in the summit clash and their skipper David Warner knows how to win the IPL having always led the way with spectacular performances. There is Jonny Bairstow's flair, Kane Williamson's poise and Rashid Khan's flamboyance with a host of youngsters like Virat Singh and Priyam Garg eager to make a name for themselves.
When the IPL was partially held in UAE back in 2014, KKR were the eventual champions.If Ben Stokes is the world's best all-rounder across formats, Andre Russell probably is a bit more destructive in this format as he hit 52 sixes during their horrendous last edition. The 2018 U-19 World Cup stars -- Shubman Gill, Shivam Mavi and Kamlesh Nagarkoti -- add a dash of youth. Eoin Morgan's leadership skills that might prove to be handy in case a normally inconsistent Dinesh Karthik misfires.
Rajasthan Royals is the weakest team lacking quality in the Indian line-up but expect Jos Buttler, Steve Smith and Jofra Archer to do the heavy lifting in Stokes' absence. Stokes is currently in New Zealand to be with his ailing father.