IPL 2021: UAE helps get show back on the road - and fans will only add to the spectacle

Limited number of fans will be allowed to attend matches in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah

Here we are again. Chennai Super Kings against Mumbai Indians in the UAE to reboot the Indian Premier League, just as it was in 2020.

It is a coincidence of the IPL’s second relocation to the Emirates in the space of two years will start with the exact same fixture.

There is much that remains similar about that time, a year-and-a-half ago, when cricket’s most vivid league decamped to Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah in response to the pandemic.

In particular, the fact that players have arrived amid controversy about laxness over Covid precautions is similar to both seasons.

Back then, the Chennai tour party had been beset by positive Covid results on arrival in Dubai.

This time around, the furore is centred on the cancelled final Test of India’s tour to England, and the weight the IPL had in that decision being made.

A number of commentators in the UK suggested that the cancellation emanated from the players wanting to safeguard their lucrative IPL contracts.

Not so, according to Indian officials. The players were, in fact, “dead scared,” according to the Indian board president Sourav Ganguly, about the prospect of contracting Covid in the UK.

A little like Suresh Raina last year, then, who beat a hasty retreat from the CSK team hotel in Dubai, after misgivings about life in the bubble.

So far, so similar. But, happily, much has changed since the start of the 2020 season, too.

Chiefly, when Deepak Chahar or Trent Boult or whoever sends down the first ball of the resumption at the Dubai International Stadium on Sunday night, there will be a live audience there to see it happen.

A restricted crowd will be admitted to see the matches. A long way short of capacity, but a crowd nonetheless, and – it is hoped – increasing incrementally towards the end of the tournament.

The percentage of the stadia that will be open to paying supporters has not been specified, although Abu Dhabi officials have said there will be around 2,200 people allowed in for the first of the eight matches that will be played there. The Zayed Cricket Stadium holds upwards of 20,000 when full.

The scenes will not exactly be like that time when a portion of the IPL was transposed to the country in 2014, because of government elections in India.

That tournament was a riot of colour and sound, with the grounds packed to capacity for 18 of the 20 matches.

Clearly, that is some way from being a possibility at present, but it feels like those days are not far off. We can all be thankful for that.

How great will it being to hear the trill of real voices reverberating from the stands, rather than the synthesised sound track which pervaded last season?

As in 2020, the efforts being made to get the competition on in the UAE are immense.

Around the 31 remaining matches which are to be played, there will be more than 30,000 PCR tests conducted.

The players and officials will be tested once every three days, with results returning within six to eight hours.

Suffice to say, everything is being done to get the show back on the road, and to keep supporters, players and officials out of harm’s way. On the evidence of 2020, there are few places better positioned to make it happen.

It must be hoped that this is the last time the IPL does come to the UAE for a while. After all, that would mean India is healing, which is far more important than cricket.

But, given the proficiency with which Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah routinely deliver events like this, they deserve gratitude for playing their part.

Updated: September 18th 2021, 8:44 AM