This is not the first time in a decade-plus history of the Indian Premier League, that India, as a country could not play host to what has become the tournament to watch out for every summer. Amidst a pandemic - eight teams with their troops of national and international players and support staff, BCCI administrative staff, media crews - organising the event is indeed a mammoth task. With the social distancing bio-bubbles, co-ordination and collaboration between three different emirates to host live cricket has been the most “normal” experience in the new normal period!
Perhaps it is in the character of this region that whether it is sporting business or business of sports, they simply know how to play meticulous hosts. The facilities are top-class and there is attention to detail evident in every aspect. Airports, hotels, grounds and pitches, everything that has been laid out for IPL has been in prime form. The pitches have been true with some early assistance for the fast bowlers as seen in the early days of the tournament and as would be expected with the number of games being played, at the halfway stage mark, there is a sense of wear & tear. Early on, we have witnessed plenty of hitting through the line suggesting the true nature of the bounce. The freedom that batsmen get while playing in Sharjah reminds us about Wankhede (Mumbai) and Chinnaswamy (Bengaluru).
Quite expectedly, Sharjah is proving to be a nemesis for the bowlers. With modern bats, a fearless mind-set of the batsmen and small boundaries, the historic venue is not an ideal place to judge a bowler. I think with each passing game in Sharjah bowlers are coming to terms with the venue and its challenges. They are generally more aggressive in their approach and are hitting a good length which is not a bad idea at all. I also feel that coming from Abu Dhabhi and Dubai they should make a mental adjustment regarding economy rate. At Sharjah even an economy rate of nine runs an over could be par for the course. Smart bowlers will always know that length balls are always tough to negotiate as would the good old-fashioned yorkers.
Before the tournament rolled out I was looking forward to watching Navdeep Saini in action. I have a feeling that this could be a breakaway year for Navdeep. In the past, it has amazed me that despite the fact that he plays at high-scoring venue like Bangalore, he invariably managed to come out on top. I see in him a bowling leader for RCB.
His pace, bounce, yorker and fitness levels make him a complete package. I will not be surprised if he goes on to play all three formats for India.
The other bowler who is shining through is Saini’s team-mate Yuzvendra Chahal. He is a brave legspinner and has fantastic skill sets too. Whatever be the conditions he is not scared to toss up the ball. You would often notice spinners going “flat, flatter, flattest” when they are being hit around. But Chahal takes the other route. Without compromising on the flight, he cleverly mixes his pace and line while sticking to a length where batsmen have to play on the front foot. Rarely would you see him getting cut or pull despite sometimes bowling with a wet ball because of the dew.
Another young man who has caught attention is Punjab’s Ravi Bishnoi. It is not easy to do well when your team is at the bottom of the table. The 20-year old is amongst the top-10 wicket-takers this season. It is a big deal considering that Rashid Khan and Chahal are the only other spinners in that bracket. He relies on his googlies as he is not a big spinner of the ball.
I am sure having Anil Kumble as a coach is proving to be a good support. With a high-arm action, he bowls at a particular angle where the ball comes in to a right-hander and goes away from a left-hander.
This is the 13th season of IPL. In the past 12 seasons, the tournament has answered most questions for Indian cricket. It has given fearless batsmen, large-hearted spin bowlers and skilful fast bowlers. However, IPL-13 has a larger and deeper objective. As India and the world grapples with the Covid-19 threat, this IPL is a temporary yet happy distraction. It is not about non-stop entertainment but relentless optimism.