The entire experience will be very different without crowds cheering on the teams
The Indian Premier League (IPL) has come back to our screens and by the time you read this, the first set of matches would have been played. Early favourites would have been determined, new heroes would be on the tips of everyone’s tongues, old stars would find themselves rejuvenated and superstars could be down in the dumps. It is taking place six months after it was supposed to start and the entire tournament is taking place in the United Arab Emirates with matches being played in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah. The return of the IPL will give many of us an indication that things are returning to normal. The additional consumption that the event will drive ahead of the festive season might give a major boost to the economy over the next six weeks and provide the much-needed succour for television viewers from hate-filled and spiteful content that masquerades as news on most channels.
Yet, part of the excitement of the IPL, and this is despite previous tournaments which have been played on foreign soil, are the crowds. Purists of regional and national identity-based cricket may not like the idea of franchise cricket, let alone the T20 format, but it does make for compelling entertainment and some strange bedfellows. Whoever thought that a boy from Ranchi could become the biggest superstar in Tamil Nadu or that a Delhiite could become a hero in Bengaluru and be adored by the crowds? Of course, cricketers are used to playing Test and domestic cricket, where scant crowds are the order of the day, but not having crowds in the IPL defeats the purpose of such a spectacle for some. Then again, other professional leagues such as those in the US and professional football leagues in Europe have also restarted without crowds, although the former is now allowing in limited spectators. The Wuhan contagion has changed many aspects of modern life but it appears that professional sport has been the hardest hit of all. The return of the IPL might not take away from the fact that the number of cases continues to rise sharply but it could prove that things might return to normal sooner rather than later. And you know what, that is not a bad thing.