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IPL 2021 | Star-studded, bio-bubble-encased cricket caravan returns to India

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A second consecutive season behind closed doors, BCCI will hope that COVID-19 does not hinder plans; focus will be on the recovery of CSKs, Kohlis helmets from RCB and mighty MI

The last time high-profile cricket was ushered into MA Chidambaram Stadium in Chennais as the Bay of Bengal whispered to nearby shores, there was applause from the stands and an Indian triumph over England witnessed. That second Test, which closed on February 16, now looks a long way off due to the latest coronavirus-affected conditions.

Much has changed in recent months and as the Indian Premier League gears up for its 14th season with the first match reigning champions Mumbai Indians coming here against Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) on Friday, fans have been kept at bay like a strict bio bubble is in place. The Yellow-Den, as the venue is affectionately called by the Chennai Super Kings (CSK) followers, has gone neutral as all IPL games will miss the home flavor this year.

MS Dhoni will be missed in these parts as he and his fellow CSK players sell their wares in cities ranging from Mumbai to Kolkata. While Mumbai Indians have reached new heights and have five titles in their pot, CSK suddenly hit an all-time low, finishing seventh in the last edition in the United Arab Emirates. A steep fall for an outfit that has won the trophy three times!

Reconfigured unit

What Dhoni and his reconfigured unit are doing will be looked at and, conversely, RCB will also draw attention, especially as his skipper Virat Kohli has had success in running India while inexplicably faltering when it comes to the IPL after promising a lot. Skippers are as good or bad as their teams, but they are also supposed to propel their men.

Rohit Sharma, the leader of the Mumbai Indians, is now in the right place, having regularly led his troops to the high table. After winning the last two editions, a hat-trick beckons and that will blow the pressure.

Meanwhile, Sunrisers Hyderabad headlined by David Warner and also with Kane Williamson, the super cool cricketer, has plenty of fire and ice.

Panting, the toast

Among the others, Delhi Capitals, a franchise that is known to constantly change staff in addition to changing nomenclature once, will draw some attention to the Captain answering the name Rishabh Pant. The wicket-keeper batsman has become the toast of international cricket after his exploits in Australia and in the home series against England.

Punjab Kings, which bundles KL Rahul and Twenty20s perennial rental weapon Chris Gayle, is capable of pushing above its weight, while the Eoin Morgan-led Kolkata Knight Riders, also starring Andre Russell, has a two-title history.

At the other end of the spectrum, Rajasthan Royals, IPL’s inaugural champion in 2008, took a punt on Sanju Samson and named him leader and has the glowing Ben Stokes in his stable.

The latest IPL staged on neutral ground, while bowlers lament the lack of a lean home advantage, should be a surprise.

However, organizers will fervently hope the virus doesn’t get in the way of their best plans as the competition aims for a harrowing summit clash in Ahmedabad on May 30.

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