Abu Dhabi: IPL is back but the atmosphere isn't. The 20,000-seater Sheikh Zayed Stadium was nearly empty for the inaugural match between Mumbai Indians and Chennai Super Kings, bar those 22 men in the middle and the umpires.
But it was not too quiet. There were pre-recorded cheers arranged by the franchises. But it made the atmosphere even more weird.
IPL in the corona age is different in many ways.
Inaudible under normal circumstances because of the cheers and chants from passionate fans, the thud of Rohit Sharma and Quinton de Kock's bats hitting the ball could be heard on TV sets across the world.
In this case, the pre-recorded cheers could quite swallow up the sounds of the bat hitting the ball, like it would happen in the pre-COVID world.
In the VIP box, BCCI top brass, including president Sourav Ganguly and secretary Jay Shah, as well as office-bearers of the Emirates Cricket Board, were spaced several seats apart to maintain social distancing.
The celebration was far from being over the top when Chennai Super Kings got De Kock dismissed in the sixth over of the Mumbai Indians innings. And it was the same after they sent back Rohit Sharma, who had started the proceedings with a cracking drive on the offside in the very first ball of the tournament.
Truly in sync with the extraordinary times, CSK's talismanic skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni, in a lighter vein, asked at the toss if he could "have a slip" in place owing to the social distancing guidelines.
The players and support staff have been tested several times in the run-up to the tournament opener and they will be checked for the virus every five days through the 53-day league.
This is the new normal and all in all, the IPL, cricket's biggest money-spinner, seemed well positioned to adapt to this reality....