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IPL in UAE: The sound of silence envelopes the matches as cricket is played before the deserted stands of the desert

The Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi

Bengaluru, September 20: The new normal! That’s what players are adapting to both on and off the field as the Indian Premier League finally got underway in Abu Dhabi on Saturday.

The IPL started after a six-month coronavirus-forced delay with defending champions Mumbai Indians losing to Chennai Super Kings by five wickets. But the T20 extravaganza, which is the biggest cricket T20 carnival, lacked that pompous and flair as the tournament adapted to the new regulations.

And with the T20 event being moved to the desert, the who’s who of cricket finally returned to the Arabian Desert after ages, but without the roar of fans, the game lacked the usual glitz. But with the tournament being played across Sharjah, Abu Dhabi and Dubai, it will be a big boost for Emirates cricket.

The UAE has generally seen India-Pakistan matches being held there, and the Indian and Pakistan workers working there would throng the stadiums as they would grab the opportunity to witness one of the greatest rivalries. But that excitement and rivalry is lacking this time around, as the games are being played behind closed doors.

The 13th edition of the IPL has no fans hustling to get a glimpse of their favourite stars, or an autograph or snap if they are lucky. It’s like living in a shell. Bio-bubble - that’s the new normal. The eight franchises are cooped up in their own separate hotels with minimum interaction. No gatherings, no press conferences, no cheer leaders. It’s just the players in the middle, playing the game, while the fans watch from the comfort of their home.

Can anything match the experience of a stadium, one would think not! And moreover, playing without fans, means a dip in motivation for the players, who are used to the 'ooo’ss and 'aa’s after every boundary or wicket or dropped catch! It’s a two way street and both fans and players are losing out in some way or the other.

Former Pakistan player, Asif Iqbal, told The Indian Express, “Matches in front of empty stands might feel weird. As a player, I cannot feel or find myself getting motivated without the atmosphere. Don’t forget that players are artists. They need appreciation. When there’s no appreciation, it’s like going through the motions.”

Meanwhile, Delhi Capitals coach, Ricky Ponting, told The Indian Express, that with no fans at the venue, teams need to create their own atmosphere. Ponting said, “I think this IPL is going to be made of a lot of unusual scenarios and situations.

“The fact that we are here under strict Covid protocols is unusual. That we have been together for three weeks already before the first game is unusual preparation. And once we get into the games, to be playing in front of no crowd is going to be exceptionally different. I mean, it’s really going to be interesting to see how some of the players handle that. Who knows (when was) the last time MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli played in front of nobody. That’s probably never happened in their lives before. For us as a group, we got to make our own atmosphere on the field. It’s the same for everybody. It’s going to be an unusual spectacle.”

And that it surely will be. Would one have ever thought that MS Dhoni would return to the cricket field after 437 days and there would be no fans cheering him on. Moreover, the Chennai skipper marked his 100th win as a CSK skipper on Saturday, but the lack of celebration surely dampened the moment. But that’s the new normal and there’s a first time for everything. For the organisers to conduct the tournament at such a time is a commendable task and one would hope that both fans and players would get used to the new normal as the gala event progresses.

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Story first published: Sunday, September 20, 2020, 15:18 [IST]
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