IPL 2021: COVID-19 storm weathered, time to shift focus to the action as Kohli and Rohit face-off in opener
New Delhi: Having weathered the coronavirus wave to an extent, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) gears up for what will be another season of high-voltage clashes in the 14th edition of the Indian Premier League.
The last week has been anything but smooth as far as the IPL Governing Council and the BCCI officials are concerned. News of people in and around the bio-bubbles -- created for franchises and those involved with the IPL -- testing positive for COVID-19 made headlines almost every day.
While there were lesser cases in Chennai, Mumbai saw not just players, but also groundstaff testing positive. With the second wave of Covid-19 forcing states to order night curfews or weekend lockdowns, the one question that did the rounds was whether the 2021 edition will see the light of the day or not?
In fact, fresh COVID-19 cases hit an all-time high in India on Thursday, surpassing the 1.26 lakh mark in a single day. The league has also seen its share of positive cases with players like Nitish Rana, Daniel Sams, Devdutt Padikkal testing positive for the virus. While Padikkal and Rana have now recovered, Mumbai Indians' talent scout and wicketkeeping consultant, Kiran More also tested positive for COVID-19 this week. Thankfully, the rest of the members in the Mumbai Indians camp returned negative COVID-19 results.
The country has reported more than 1 lakh COVID-19 cases on three occasions this month and it is safe to say, that if IPL 2021 plays out glitch-free, it would be one of the biggest accomplishments of BCCI and the IPL GC.
The BCCI has held ground and maintained a positive attitude. It believes that the tournament will be a huge success just like the previous edition in the UAE.
The focus now shifts to the action on the ground. The first 17 days will see games being played out in Chennai and Mumbai with defending champions Mumbai Indians taking on Royal Challengers Bangalore in the opener in Chennai.
Amongst all the eight teams, Mumbai Indians once again look the strongest. And the season opener is poised to be a box office success as two of Indian cricket's favourite sons - Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma - will battle it out at the MA Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai. With night curfews back in most states and people looking to play it safe and stay indoors, one can expect everyone to be glued to their television screens come Friday.
Moving ahead, this season might just see MS Dhoni turn up as a cricketer in the IPL for one final time and fans would expect the CSK skipper to turn back time and finish off in style like he has done right through his international career. But first up, he will face prodigy Rishabh Pant as CSK play Delhi Capitals in the second game of the season on Saturday at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai.
The tournament is guaranteed success if Dhoni's CSK makes it to the playoffs as everyone is aware of the popularity enjoyed by Thala and his men. Similarly, Kohli too would want to finally take the title home as he looks to establish himself as one of the best leaders in the game. In fact, an IPL win in the year of the T20 World Cup would serve as a huge boost for Kohli the captain.
While it will be all about silencing critics for Kohli, IPL 14 is an opportunity for Delhi Capitals' stand-in-skipper Pant to stamp his authority and show that beneath the flamboyant batsman is a shrewd tactician - much like how Dhoni announced his arrival on the international stage.
The remaining four teams -- SunRisers Hyderabad, Rajasthan Royals, Kolkata Knight Riders, and Punjab Kings -- would look to punch above their weight and give the tournament a perfect underdog story. Rajasthan has a new captain in the form of Sanju Samson and it would be interesting to see how he leads senior pros like Jos Buttler, Ben Stokes, and Chris Morris. In a similar vein, SRH would once again look at using their low-profile but super effective players to break into the playoffs.
IPL 2021 might pose the biggest challenge in front of BCCI in terms of holding a tournament across six cities when the second Covid-19 wave is wreaking havoc, but if the competition does play out smoothly, it will not just be an accomplishment for the BCCI, but will also give the ICC enough hint that India is ready to host the T20 World Cup later in the year. (ANI)