… And The Action Begins!

The IPL returns to India's sports arena tonight


The wait is over! At last, the action which all the sports lovers, especially the cricket lovers were eagerly waiting for, will start tonight (19th Sept) with the beginning of the Indian Premier League cricket matches - not in India, but the United Arab Emirates.

Still, it is an Indian event and is perhaps in popularity next to Football. This is not surprising, since all the top players from many countries play for different teams in the league. With spectators all over the world, TV channels vie for the right to telecast the matches and pay handsomely. This makes IPL the richest tournament, while also being the main source of income for the Board of Control for Cricket in India.

The matches will be played at three venues and there will be no spectators in the stadiums. This will be a unique experience for many players. Of course, the players from England, West Indies, Australia, and Bangladesh are used to this situation since they have already played in empty stadiums. But for the Indian players, who are used to full house stadiums, this will be a memorable experience. It will be very interesting to see how they cope with this change in sports milieu.

The Indian captain, Virat Kohli, has said that the players will give their best since they are mentally aware of the change and have adapted to it.  All the eyes will be on the opening match between the defending champions and four-time winners Mumbai Indians, and the three-time winners Chennai Super Kings. The match will be played tonight (IST 7-30 pm.) in Dubai.

The Indian sports season started more than a month ago, and that too in a grand fashion. Our chess team has won the World Team Chess Championship for the first time. In this on-line championship, India shared honors with Russia. In the second stage of the tournament, four matches had already been played and the final matches were in progress. The teams had scored equal points. It was at this moment that the server broke down, due to which India lost the remaining two matches.

The appeal by Indians was upheld (because it was not the players’ fault), and they were declared joint winners with Russia. The team had experienced players like Vishwanathan Anand, Vidit Gujarathi, Dronawali Harika, and Koneru Humpi besides some youngsters like Nihal Sarin and Divya Deshmukh. 

This win is important because, with this success, the young players will try to improve their game in the individual tournaments and procure more points. It was also good news amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which has made people a bit nervous and glum; this news must have helped cheered them up.

Meanwhile, the American Open Tennis tournament is over, and the tennis fans are waiting for the French Open, which was tournament was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, it will start at the month-end in Paris. There was not much to talk about our players’ performance in the American Open. However, we will have to wait and see how our players perform at the French Open. This is the year’s third major tournament which is included in the count for four major tournaments - Australian, French, and Wimbledon being the other three. 

The player winning all these four major tournaments wins a Grand Slam. Very few players have achieved this honor. Rod Laver of Australia won the Grand Slam twice - once as an amateur, and again after eight years when the professionals were allowed to participate in Majors, and tournaments had become ‘open’. Though the French Open will be played this year, the Wimbledon tournament has been canceled this year, and will instead be held next year.

And now, with the beginning of the Indian Premier League (IPL), which will be hosted in UAE, fans in India will have a delightful time watching the matches and discussing them until the next match. The tournament will last till the first week of November.

The IPL is a major cricket league in the cricket world because of the money involved in it. Players can make a big kill and are assured of a safe future financially. No wonder, almost all top players from several countries (excluding Pakistan for obvious reasons) are eager to secure a place in one of the eight teams. However, there is a limit for the number of foreign players in the team, and in any match, only four foreign players can play from every team. Though participating players are from different countries, the IPL is not recognized as an international tournament. 

Following IPL, various countries started their professional cricket leagues. But they do not have the glamour that IPL has. Now, the women players are also eager to have their own IPL and are requesting the BCCI to start one. On a trial basis last year, the women’s matches were played before the semi-finals and final of the men’s tournament. Though this year it may not be possible, seeing the popularity of women’s cricket, it will not take much time to organize a Women’s IPL.

The matches of this double league format tournaments are fought very keenly. It is always very interesting to see rivals in different international tournaments representing their own countries, playing together for one team or the other in the IPL. In the wake of the upcoming full tour of Australia by the Indian Cricket Team, where they will play all three forms of matches - Tests, ODI’s and T20, this tournament will be intently watched by Indian selectors. 

Another reason for the interest in the IPL is Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s retirement. The former team India skipper surprised everyone last month when he took to social media to announce his retirement from international cricket. The former captain is considered one of the best players of one-day and T20 cricket and has many creditable performances to his name. Capable of turning the game upside down, he was the chief architect of India’s victory many times and was also referred to as the Best Finisher of the team.

After the One-day World cup in England last year, Dhoni has not played in any international or domestic tournament. So, he has no match practice to test his fitness. 

It was believed by many, that with a good show in IPL, he will be back in the Indian team (not in tests, because he has retired from test cricket in 2014) for the upcoming Australian tour. But the sudden announcement of his retirement, just a month ahead of IPL, shocked his fans. Though, this did not come as a surprise to ardent followers of the game for talk of his retirement was on for some time.

Besides, Dhoni is almost 39 now and his movements are not as quick as they used to be. He has even talked about it and has said, “I am trying to be agile as I was earlier.” His slowing down was obvious in the last year’s World Cup. And, the fact that he could not run (while taking runs) as fast as he used to either, has been cited as a reason (by some) for Dhoni being run out in the semi-final match that ended India’s chances of entering the final. Moreover, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, practice on the ground was not possible for about five months. So, there was no telling how he will fare in the IPL. 

Considering his high standard, experience, and natural ability, he may give a good performance in this IPL. Although it must be noted that the IPL does not test the fitness of the player completely. If he does well, his fans will ask, “Hey! He is playing well, why should he retire?” But if his performance is unsatisfactory, they will say, “He has taken the right decision at the right time.” Well, that is the attitude of sports lovers. It’s all in the game, they say.

Even before the start of the tournament, some problems have cropped up. Mainly, some members - along with two players of the Chennai Super Kings team - have tested positive for the coronavirus. In the wake of this news, Suresh Raina, who had announced his retirement from International Cricket along with Dhoni, has decided that he will not play any matches in IPL this year. 

Raina, also titled as Mr. IPL, is considered the second-best player in Chennai Super Kings. Raina is the first-ever cricketer to reach 5,000 runs in IPL and holds the record of most number of catches (102) in the IPL amongst several other IPL achievements and records to his name. He is a very good all-rounder, who has helped the team in difficult situations, thus becoming an integral part of the team’s success. Hence, his announcement came as a shock for the Chennai Super Kings team. (But, since they were already tested and allowed to go to UAE, and were also quarantined there, how can this happen is a real puzzle!) Of course, it is his own decision, and the owner of the team, Mr. Srinivasan, has said that he cannot do anything about it.

Raina has cited family problems as a reason for leaving the team and returning to India. Following Raina, another CSK player and off-spinner - Harbhajan Singh has also pulled out from the league, weakening CSK’s position even more. He was specifically expected to perform well this season considering the slow, spinning tracks in the UAE. Harbhajan too cited personal reasons to explain his sudden decision.

All the Indian players playing in the tournament will try to do their best, as they are keen to secure a place in the team for the upcoming Australia tour. Similar is the case with the Australian players. So, it requires no expert to predict that all the matches will be fought with zeal and enthusiasm, giving satisfaction and their money’s worth to the cricket lovers. 

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Very true about people's perception of Dhoni's game. Had he not opted for a review yesterday when he was declared out on the very first ball he played, people would have justified his retirement. Luckily, the Dhoni Review system survives. I think its great that the writer also tried to slip in two other sports games' updates in an IPL article. We must e aware about other games too.

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