India, April 9 (India Today) – It’s been 677 days since the last IPL match that was played in India. The 2019 final on May 12 was won by the Mumbai Indians, their 4th title in an odd year. Nobody knew back then that the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) would have to take the tournament abroad once again after a lengthy delay due to coronavirus pandemic.
Not only did the pandemic force the IPL to be played in the United Arab Emirates, but it was the first time that it was played behind closed doors in a bio-bubble as a precautionary measure against the virus. This happened after the tournament was delayed by over 5 months because of the lockdown in India and the subsequent rise in COVID-19 cases.
Fortunately, the BCCI pulled off a fantastic tournament in the desert as IPL 2020 proved to be a massive success despite not being played in India and the lack of fans. As soon as it got over on November 10, fans started counting the days to IPL 2021 in anticipation that they would finally get to see their favourite players back in India and live in front of them.
But then the second wave of COVID hit India just before the start of IPL 2021 and it was decided that the tournament will continue to be played in empty stadiums.
Nonetheless, the excitement of the tournament and just the fact that it will be played in India after almost two years comes as a relief to everyone, especially during this tough period where a virus, that originated from China, continues to wreak havoc all around the globe.
MI GUNNING FOR GLORY
Mumbai Indians are heading into the tournament once again as the overwhelming favourites under their record-breaking captain Rohit Sharma.
MI managed to break the jinx of winning the IPL title only in odd years last season when they lifted the trophy for the fifth time in 2020. This year they have a new record to chase – winning the IPL title thrice in a row.
The set up of the side this season is almost similar to that of IPL 2020 which is why it shouldn’t come as a surprise if Rohit Sharma lifts the trophy again on May 30. And with the additions of New Zealand stars Adam Milne, Jimmy Neesham and Australia’s Nathan Coulter-Nile, among others, MI look unstoppable once again.
CAN KING KOHLI END HIS TITLE DROUGHT?
Royal Challengers Bangalore remains one of only 3 teams, with Punjab Kings and Delhi Capitals, which hasn’t yet won the IPL title. Virat Kohli’s trophy cabinet is still waiting for that elusive trophy which his India deputy Rohit has lifted 5 times.
Kohli single-handedly led RCB to the finals in his record-breaking season in 2016 but still couldn’t win the title even after scoring 973 runs and 4 hundreds that year. Every year the die-hard Bangalore fans chant the slogan, ‘Ee Sala Cup Namde’, but are yet to see their favourite team get over the finish line.
Kohli has some new faces in his squad this year like ‘Big Show’ Glenn Maxwell, the young and dynamic Kyle Jamieson, all-rounder Dan Christian and the exciting Mohammed Azharuddeen, among others.
There is enough firepower and talent in the RCB squad like always but only time will tell if the new recruits and the veterans can give their fans what they have been waiting for for 14 years.
RETURN OF THE GIANTS
Apart from the tournament returning home, IPL 2021 will also see the comeback of some legends like Suresh Raina, Harbhajan Singh, Shakib Al Hasan and Mustafizur Rahman, who missed playing the last season due to various reasons.
Raina held the record for the most runs scored in IPL for a long time before he was surpassed by Kohli, who then took a sizeable lead due to the former not playing in IPL 2020 because of personal reasons. The Chennai Super Kings vice-captain, who retired from international cricket just before the IPL last year, is back and will be desperate to grab the top spot back from Kohli as ‘Chinna Thala’ returns to where he belongs.
Harbhajan Singh and Shakib Al Hasan not only missed the IPL last year but also haven’t played T20 cricket since they featured for CSK and Sunrisers Hyderabad in 2019. Both were released by their respective franchises and brought on board by Kolkata Knight Riders in the February auctions. Fans therefore, can expect Bhajji and Shakib to do something special in IPL 2021 as they team up for the two-time champions under the World Cup-winning skipper Eoin Morgan.
FAMILIAR CONDITIONS BUT NO HOME GAMES
The home and away factor has been taken out once again this season as the tournament will be played in 6 cities across India – Ahmedabad, Bengaluru, Chennai, Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata.
Last year it was played in the UAE which meant all the teams were playing on neutral venues. This year the only difference will be the familiarity in conditions in India but there still won’t be any home games for MI, CSK, KKR, PBKS, DC, RCB, RR and SRH.
Taking away the home and away factor produced the most-closely played tournament last year so fans can expect a similar pattern in IPL 2021 with teams fighting hard to finish in the top-four in the league stage and then go for glory in the knockouts.
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