IPL lights up after slow-motion start


The Indian Premier League (IPL), the No. 1 franchise-based Twenty20 cricket tournament in the world, has started with much hype in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). But is the 2020 edition great to watch compared to last year's event?

"Looks like everything is artificial," said Vinay Cherian, a supply chain manager in a Singapore company.

"The stands are empty but there is fake crowd noise, some players are out of shape but clumsily making attempts to show their prowess and commentators are less harsh on the blunders being committed by the players and umpires. It looks more like a commercial with everybody acting nice and decent."

The Chennai Super Kings (CSK) supporter conceded that "it is better to have the IPL than not to have it at all". He said: "The BCCI has made a great effort to make sure that cricket is happening during these Covid-19 times, but we are missing the fun."

Ramesh Pandey, chief financial officer in a Singapore-based company, found it surprising that the UAE was chosen as the venue for this year's IPL.

"The choice should have been New Zealand, where it's easy to get the crowd, cheerleaders and DJ," he said.

"It's a perfectly safe country and there would not have been so many restrictions. It would have been like watching the IPL in full swing."

The Indian cricket board (BCCI), which is the organiser of the tournament, has tried to make up with artificial crowd noise and cheering but the effort has not enthused everyone.

"Cricket without spectators is like sambar without drumsticks," said Anand Natarajan, a player and umpire in the Singapore cricket league.

"Cricket involving India without fans is even more unimaginable.

"Top players like Virat Kohli are suffering because they need the spur from vocal crowds to shine. The fake crowd noise may work to some extent for the TV audience but for the players it wouldn't be as good as playing in front of a real crowd."

To some IPL fans in Singapore, faking crowd noise is okay, but it has to be properly synchronised.

"Sometimes the timing is not right and it appears funny when there is loud cheering for a single being taken," said Devansh Mehrotra, a student who supports Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB).

What is irking others is that players are not playing up to their full potential, as some of them are clearly out of shape.

The likes of Rohit Sharma, Saurabh Tiwary, Kieron Pollard, Murali Vijay, M.S. Dhoni and Piyush Chawla have appeared with extra flab and were slow on the field.

"It has been a real testing time for the players as they are coming from a long lay-off," said Anand. "Perhaps this is yet another new norm we will have to get used to."

Fielding in general during the first four matches has been sloppy, with some of the best fielders such as Shreyas Iyer, Aaron Finch and Dale Steyn dropping sitters.

"Some good fielders have also conceded boundaries," said Aneesh Kumar, a mechanical engineer and RCB supporter. "A couple of misfields cost Mumbai Indians their opening game, while Delhi Capitals (DC) were lucky to win despite their captain Shreyas dropping Kings XI Punjab (KXIP) top-scorer Mayank Aggarwal at a crucial juncture.

"I'm not sure what is the reason, whether it is the humid conditions or the soft grass, but every game is filled with misfields and dropped catches."

The sand-based outfields in the UAE are also not aiding diving, with Ashwin and Mitchell Marsh getting seriously hurt in the process.

Free and elegant stroke play has also been at a premium on the slow pitches with the ball not really coming on to the bat. Unlike previous IPLs, bowlers are playing crucial roles for their teams.

"The big grounds have changed the batting approach," said Rahul Mohan, an IT professional.

"Classic batsmen, rather than the hard-hitters, are ruling the games. The big innings from CSK's Ambati Rayudu and Mayank are strong statements that technique is the key."

Controversy over umpiring erupted on the opening day itself when KXIP were probably denied a win against DC due to a contentious call.

In the third ball of the penultimate over during KXIP's chase, Mayank completed two runs but the square leg umpire Nitin Menon called it a run short against Chris Jordan.

However, the TV replay suggested that Jordan had put his bat inside the crease while turning for the second run.

Australian Marcus Stoinis, bowling the final over, held his nerve brilliantly to pull off a tie for DC, who eventually won the game in the Super Over.

"As long as humans are involved in decision making, errors are bound to happen," said Pandey.

"I don't want to be harsh on Nitin Menon for calling the one short but my question is why the third umpire was sleeping."

The third umpire obviously saw the mistake but, according to the rules, he cannot reverse the on-field umpire's decision. "What's the point of technology if it cannot be used?" asked Hari M. Nair, a business process manager.

"If the third umpire can spot a front-foot no ball, why cannot he correct a wrongly ruled one-run short? The rules have to change."

There was also a problem over the third umpire calling a no ball.

KXIP players had almost reached the pavilion when the third umpire ruled that their last ball against DC was a no ball. The players had to go back and complete the formalities.

"What is IPL without controversies and cliffhangers?" asked L. Sri Ganesh, an IT professional and local umpire.

"The amount of rust in everyone is quite abnormal and I don't remember hearing the iconic IPL blare during the games. But what the heck? We should be happy that the IPL is happening.

"Let's look at the positives... Kohli challenging the umpire on a wide call which went for five runs - impending fatherhood has not diluted him one bit - and the emergence of exciting young Indian talent such as Ravi Bishnoi and Devdutt Padikkal. The excitement has just started."

The tempo lifted somewhat on Tuesday when Sanju Samson blazed nine sixes and a four in his powerful knock of 74 off 32 balls in Rajasthan Royals' 16-run win over CSK.

On Wednesday, Rohit hit 80 off 54 balls to propel Mumbai Indians to a 49-run win over Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR). But the match was a disaster for the world's No.1 Test bowler Pat Cummins, on whom KKR splashed US$3.1 million - the biggest contract ever given to an overseas player. The Australian conceded 49 runs from three overs without taking a wicket.

"What we need over the rest of the two months of the IPL is masterful acts like Sanju's," said Shaji Philip, president of the Singapore Social Cricket League (SCL).

"The tournament is slowly coming to life and providing cricket fans great relief during these difficult Covid-19 times."

Business development manager Ramachandra Hemasundar too is happy that the IPL is happening under trying circumstances.

"It is a welcome thing for all cricket lovers and a good diversion from Covid-19 sufferings," he said. "Live cricket involving Indian players is back and I'm enjoying it."


"Cricket without spectators is like sambar without drumsticks."

- Anand Natarajan, a player and umpire in the Singapore cricket league


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