Paddy Upton
21 Sep 2020 | 05:51 PM

Lucky, or unlucky 13

Paddy Upton talks about the unique challenges facing the teams and the players in this IPL

A five-star hotel is normally associated with an extravagant holiday or a wonderful treat reserved for the lucky or a rich few. From years of personal experience of living in a hotel for extended periods of work, I can tell you that a lavish five-star hotel room can be a really lonely place. 

Your bedroom, lounge, kitchen and recreational area is all in one small room, with a television, maybe an Xbox and a smartphone as your main company. Where only the clothes in your suitcase are yours. Hotels are great when you’re on an annual holiday, but are a lonely place when they become your home. 

IPL 13 will take this lonely experience to the next level for many players. All find themselves in a foreign country, away from friends and family, and will be almost entirely restricted to their hotel room for nearly 3 months. Sure, there will be some trips to training, and at least 14 visits to play a match over this period, but they will be unable to go out for dinner, coffee, a movie or even to visit the shops, which Dubai is famous for. Players are not allowed to receive any visitors. These restrictions will have its ramifications, personally and likely on performance. 

I hazard a guess that, in general, more players will struggle than will thrive through IPL 13. Those who struggle the most will most likely be the extroverts, who need stimulation from friends, a pessimist who tend to see the things that are wrong, and those who need public interaction and acknowledgement to feel good. We may see some of these personalities leaving the tournament early, which has already happened, and others who cannot ‘afford’ to leave, potentially suffering mental health issues. 

Those who will struggle the least will likely be the introverted ones, who are comfortable with their own company, and the more optimistic, who tend to see the glass half full which will see them focusing on the experiences they are grateful for. The smart players will be able to ’get away’ from cricket and the ‘waiting in a hotel room’. They will do this by adding value to their life journey, by maybe studying something, learning a new skill, reading good books or doing something that proactively lays a foundation for their life outside of or beyond cricket. This will give them a sense of accomplishment and self-worth, regardless of whether they play or not, or score runs or not. Xbox, smartphones, social media apps and internet entertainment will provide a useful escape, but too much of a reliance on it will be detrimental to their well-being.   

Except for a few young IPL debutants, IPL is difficult for non-playing members who will spend around 75 days of their season not getting a game. And every team has a greater number of reserves than players on each game day. It’s often even more challenging for the foreign international players who sit on the bench and watch others play, yet they do not have friends or family and are in a foreign country.  For some newcomers into a squad, and people who are not able to easily integrate into the team, it is likely to be a very forgettable experience.

Much of what I say here is negative, but this is a time when we cannot ignore this very real and looming reality. Understanding some of the unique difficulties our cricketing heroes might experience, most of which the cricket watching public will never see, gives some insight into what we can expect to unfold more publicly. 

We may well see some teams doing exceptionally well, and others doing uncharacteristically poor. This will have little to do with talent and game plans, but rather as a result of their bio-bubble isolation experience. 

As already seen in other sporting tournaments around the world, we may see wide gaps open up between teams who were previous near-rivals. This is happening as a result of some teams returning to competition near their pre-Covid best, and other teams regressing to being a shadow of their former self. The main reason for the latter is that these teams find themselves with just too many of the playing 11 having had a difficult experience through the lockdown and bio-bubble experience. These players may have dropped off on fitness, fallen into bad eating habits, lost some enthusiasm, confidence, enjoyment or similar. 

Conversely, teams that do ‘well’ will be those who are lucky to have the critical mass of players who have maintained their fitness and skill, followed good habits and not fallen into the negativity of the whole Covid experience. We cannot yet predict which teams will be the ‘lucky’ ones and which not, and thus predicting who will do well in this tournament is more difficult this year than ever before. 

Some teams have chosen inner-city high-rise hotels with little outdoor relaxing opportunities, and others have chosen resort-type hotels with a beach and water-front for players to unwind.  Who knows, this decision might end up being more consequential for these teams results than their strategic cricketing decisions.

Luck already plays a bigger part than many think in T20 results, and this year, it will be even more so. Lucky teams will have players who manage Covid and bio-bubbles better than others. They will win games against unlucky teams, even before the coin is tossed. 

A similar dynamic is likely to happen with individual players, with some high-quality players delivering poor results due to their struggle with their bio-bubble experience, and some average players doing comparatively well. The impact of not playing in front of crowds will also play out in individual performances, with players who need that external stimulation struggling to find it. Players whose performance is negatively impacted by huge crowds and noise, which is a higher percentage than not, will be more likely to flourish under the lower pressure of stadiums with empty seats.

Ladies and gentlemen, fasten your seat belt’s this IPL 13 plane has taken off. We can expect a bumpy ride that will travel some uncharted territory, with unexpected results.

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