Guwahati: It was befitting that the first IPL game in the pandemic age was kickstarted by a cricketer who has just recovered from Covid-19. Chennai Super Kings (CSK) pacer Deepak Chahar, who bowled the first ball this season, had tested positive for the novel coronavirus within days of landing in the UAE earlier this month.
Near the end of the Mumbai Indians innings, Chahar was seen cramping. Australian commentator Dean Jones said the physios will have to monitor the player. The heat at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi was taking a toll on the players, playing the IPL in front of empty stands.
At the end of the match, which it lost to CSK by five wickets, Mumbai Indians captain Rohit Sharma said, “We are used to people cheering for us but we knew that this was on the cards. Anyway, this is the new normal and I hope things get better.
The Covid shadow enveloped the tournament starter in other ways as well. CSK’s England all-rounder Sam Curran wore a headband to hold back floppy hair. The England cricket board has advised their bowlers to wear headbands in the training sessions to avoid flicking sweat onto the ball.
Though the International Cricket Council has allowed sweat on the ball, England and Curran were not taking any chances. “I have got used to being in a biobubble with the England team but you see big crowds in the IPL, so it was different,” said Cuaron, who landed with other English players in the UAE this week after taking part in the series against Australia.
The IPL in the time of pandemic also threw up digital cheerleaders. To mask the absence of crowd in the stands, a long digital signboard spread out like an arc, square of the pitch. It showed visuals of cheergirls dancing after a four or a six was hit. Broadcasters also added canned screams of joy and agony to the live telecast.
There was the occasional lapse, with a player going for handshakes and hugs instead of the fist bumps that are the new normal. Lungi Ngidi instinctively went for a high-five after taking a wicket, but didn’t receive any open palms from his more cautious teammates.
At the toss, when presenter Murali Kartik announced the captains’ names, Rohit Sharma began to move closer for the pre-game chat and was dissuaded by the TV crew. The players at the dug-out maintained more distance than what has been traditionally observed over the years. Instead of sitting beside each other in close proximity in bucket seats, most chose to sit in foldable chairs at a short distance from one another.
The day that started with commentator Sunil Gavaskar and others in collapsible bucket seats for the pre-game in the stands while maintaining a safe distance ended with a subdued award ceremony. For a 48-ball 71, Ambati Rayudu got the Man of the Match award, which he had to pick up himself from the table after the master of ceremony announced his name.