An IPL in The UAE Comes With Its Own Set of Problems
There are a host of problems that arise from an IPL on foreign shores.
It's finally show time for the 13th edition of the Indian Premier League, a frenetic last-gasp effort from BCCI, that is set to take off in the United Arab Emirates.
Only once before has a whole tournament of such gigantic proportions been shifted at the last minute to an entirely different country – IPL 2009, to South Africa, by the BCCI themselves. But throw in a pandemic and lockdowns, quarantines, bio-secure environments and players and staff amounting to more than double the Vatican City's population, and you have chaos. Utter chaos.
Let's face it. Pulling the IPL off this time around with no drama would be a heist by BCCI. But are they prepared for it? Are the franchises and players ready for the massive challenges that the pandemic has thrown? Forgetting all this, are they prepared to counter the playing conditions in the UAE, with the team resources they built for India?
Here we look at the many challenges awaiting the BCCI and franchises this IPL season in the UAE.
Testing and Bio-Bubble
The bigger challenge is in UAE once they have everyone in one space. Every individual boarding a flight to UAE will take two COVID-19 tests in 72 hours. They will be in quarantine for a week post that with tests on days 1, 3 and 6.
Setting up a bio-bubble was a challenge for England when they hosted West Indies and, now, Pakistan. Even with less than 50 players in the bubble, Jofra Archer and Mohammad Hafeez breached the bio-security protocols. The County Championship in England also threw up an incident inside the first week of its return with Kent's 19-year old opener, Jordan Cox, breaking social distancing norms after a double century.
Throw more people into the bubble and the possibility of a breach multiplies. The franchises are asked to stay in different hotels according to the draft SOP handed over by BCCI to the IPL franchises. Food will only be by room service with no access to common areas. With tons of protocols in place, it's fairly easy to assume that some of the personnel in the bubble at least could miss a few pointers, resulting in a breach.
Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, Minister of Tolerance and Chairman of the Emirates Cricket Board (ECB), said: “This is undoubtedly the highest-profile cricketing event to be held in the UAE."
All said and done, this one sentence speaks volumes about the challenge for the ECB as well. While the Sharjah 10 and Emirates D10, 10-over tournaments, were played in UAE during the lockdown observing protocols laid down by the ICC, the IPL and its vastness presents a different challenge altogether, one which the ECB hasn't quite often encountered.
How Ready Are The Venues?
The three venues in UAE are in Dubai, Sharjah and Abu Dhabi. That two of the venues, Dubai and Abu Dhabi, are in city outskirts will help BCCI and the franchises.
The COVID-readiness of the venues will be a bit of a relief for the officials. While Dubai and Sharjah hosted 10-over tournaments – although small, they offered experience – and Abu Dhabi hosted the UFC Fight Island successfully, with over 12,500 tests conducted. The UFC president had lavish praise for the arrangements at Abu Dhabi.
The stadium in Abu Dhabi is itself in the midst of vast empty spaces surrounding it and it helps in diverting traffic for the procedures during matches or practice sessions. The changing rooms also have multiple access points making the need for contact minimal. Dubai and Sharjah had temperature checks at entrance, multiple sanitiser stations at various check points, and steel fences to redirect traffic.
There are also practice nets in plenty with Abu Dhabi having as many as 24 turf lanes in the nets. The practice sessions will throw up a few challenges in Dubai and Sharjah as the former has no facilities on site and will have to rely on the ICC Academy which is about a 5 km drive and the latter having limited space and less practice lanes. Yet, they are not limitations that will hold back IPL teams or pose major hurdles.
The magnitude of the IPL will still throw a few challenges in the way of the administrators but the venues themselves seem better equipped than most around the world.
The Conditions in UAE
There's so much talk about setting up the bio bubble and safety of players that the on-field challenges have taken a backseat. The conditions in the UAE are vastly different to those in India and it will be a tough task for the teams to align the squad they built keeping in mind conditions in India to these requirements.
Factor this in. Most franchises build their team for home conditions based on the city they are in. Chennai Super Kings, for instance, have a plethora of spinners for the slow and low Chepauk pitch. The logic behind this is to try and maximise their points with the seven home games each season and squeeze in 2-3 wins in away games to make it to the play-offs.
Here, franchises have a set squad that will play 14 away games effectively. The weather in UAE is pretty hot, leading to crumbling soil and slow and low pitches. The big 200-plus scores will be a challenge here. Abu Dhabi, for instance, has seen only one 200-plus total in the 45 T20 Internationals played there.
The grounds at Abu Dhabi and Dubai also have longer boundaries, making six-hitting an arduous task. The Dubai pitch is generally slow in nature. Abu Dhabi has a bit of something for pacers too aside from assisting spin, while Sharjah is flat. The different nature of the three wickets will pose a challenge.
Also with limited pitches in just three grounds, the bounce on the wicket could get lower and the pace slower as the tournament progresses. In the World T20 Qualifiers held last year here, the pitches took turn initially and then became flatter as the tournament progressed, befuddling the plans of a lot of teams.
Which Teams Will Benefit
What does it take to thrive in adverse, unforeseen conditions? Experience, versatility and quick thinking. The franchise most equipped in this manner is Chennai Super Kings who are also aided by the many spinners at their disposal aside from the shrewd thinking of MS Dhoni and their experienced support staff.
Royal Challengers Bangalore have two of the most versatile batsmen in T20 cricket in Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers and no Chinnaswamy to contend with. Unlike before, they are in with a shot this time around given the variety in their squad composition.
Kolkata Knight Riders, with their big powerful ball-strikers, and Mumbai Indians will also be reasonably equipped. Sunrisers Hyderabad have a strong bowling core and past success in such conditions and will be a team to watch out for this time around.
Which Teams Might Struggle
Rajasthan Royals and Kings XI Punjab have less depth and very little flexibility with their line-ups and will need to adapt pretty quickly to the challenge at hand to not fall behind.
While Delhi Capitals have an exciting squad with less reliance on overseas players, some reasonable additions in the recent auctions and an experienced think-tank, the conditions on offer and the squad composition could make it tough for them.
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