Indian Premier League embarks on crucial season after Covid debacle | IPL

It’s that time of the year. Schools are winding up and hill stations are taking record bookings from people trying to beat the heat up and down the country. The king of fruit, mango, is about to make it to shelves across India, with the season just around the corner.

But more than all these signs of summer, there is one unmistakable one: the start of the Indian Premier League. Since 2008, the IPL has gone from being a curiosity to a habit to Indians of different interests, different genders, different financial strata – you name it, the IPL has sucked in the population at large.

In 2021, the IPL found itself in the middle of a serious controversy when the tournament was initially staged in India in the middle of the third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. With hospital beds filling up, morgues operating to capacity and the medical fraternity stretched, the tournament played on for too long before public opinion turned, forcing the Board of Control for Cricket in India to suspend the tournament. It was moved to the United Arab Emirates and completed in a much tighter bio-bubble, but the damage to the administrators’ reputations was done.

Despite this, the public did not change how it consumed the tournament. With large swathes of the country in different stages of lockdowns, the IPL provided respite for those who could afford it. The first 35 matches of the tournament attracted a combined viewership of 380 million, on television and via the internet.

The 2022 edition is a critical one. The league needs to get its act right to ensure that any stain from the previous season is forgotten. What’s more, two new teams have been added to the mix, the Gujarat Titans and the Lucknow Super Giants. In the first season of the tournament, eight teams were sold for $723.5m, making the average cost of a team $90m. This year, the cost of two teams rose to $1.6bn.

The addition of two teams also meant that a majority of the players went into a mega auction, allowing the newcomers a chance to build competitive squads after the existing teams retained a maximum of three players.

As you would expect, each team had their own strategy coming into the auction. The Chennai Super Kings, who have won the IPL four times and been runners-up another five times, did all they could to buy back the core of their team and were largely successful. MS Dhoni does not play for India any longer, but he is still integral to the Chennai team, even though he stepped down from the captaincy on the eve of the tournament, handing over the reins to Ravindra Jadeja.

A team that went in the opposite direction was Punjab Kings. Under the direction of Anil Kumble, they decided on a complete revamp retaining only Mayank Agarwal, who was named captain, and Arshdeep Singh. They added Shikhar Dhawan and Jonny Bairstow in the batting while breaking the bank for all-rounder Liam Livingstone. With Kagiso Rabada leading the bowling attack, Punjab has most bases covered and depth in their squad.

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Another team that will walk into the tournament feeling as if they achieved all they wanted at the auction is the Mumbai Indians. With more titles than any other team, Mumbai have a legacy to uphold, but it was clear that they were looking long-term in their selections. That they picked Jofra Archer, even though he will not be available, showedthey were licking their lips at the long-term prospect of Archer and Jasprit Bumrah operating in tandem. In Rohit Sharma, Mumbai have one of the most accomplished IPL leaders and batsmen and in Dewald Brevis, fast making a name for himself as Baby AB (de Villiers), they have a solid investment in the future.

The Royal Challengers Bangalore also went for course correction – they have never won the IPL – in that an astute captain, Faf du Plessis, was added to a team that boasted Virat Kohli and Glenn Maxwell. This may well be the year the team goes from being glamorous big names who underperformed to coming together as a team. They have all the resources, it’s a matter of transforming that into success.

This is the theme of the IPL at large this year. The BCCI has all its eggs in this basket and cannot countenance it failing, pandemic or not. Now all that’s left is for the gods to play ball.

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