Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 21 October 2020

IPL

IPL 2020: Noise-free cricket could make UAE edition more watchable than before

When the tournament gets underway in Abu Dhabi on Saturday, it will be less 'cricketainment' and more old-school sport

If an IPL match takes place and there are no cheerleaders there to see it, is it really an IPL match?

So what about this, then: for the 2020 season, we are all going to have to focus on the cricket instead.

Of all the sports that have returned post lockdown, cricket has felt the one most similar to normal.

The television coverage of the UK summer was overlaid with the baseline hum of a Test-match day at Lord’s.

Otherwise, there were no artificial effects. No delayed crowd noise for a wicket, like there are for goals in football, for example.

Peculiarly, music did still boom out of the public address systems at the grounds when there were limited-overs matches in those summer series. Presumably, solely for the benefit of the players.

Maybe it has become such a part of the routine now that they can’t be without it.

In the finale of the one-day international series between England and Australia on Wednesday night, the tunes were still ringing out even as the action on the field reached its nail-biting climax.

On the Australian balcony, the hero of Australia’s run chase, Glenn Maxwell, should have been entirely invested in the play.

Instead, he was absent-mindedly humming the chorus to Sweet Caroline, by Neil Diamond.

It is physically impossible not to add a “bap, bap, bap,” before declaring that good times never seemed so good when that song is playing. Not that it has anything to do with cricket, of course.

A surfeit of artifice is standard for an IPL production, though. Enhancing the spectator experience, rather than leaving the sport on the field to market itself, has been central to the competition since day one.

The whole movement birthed a term of its own: cricketainment. When the 13th season of the IPL gets underway in Abu Dhabi on Saturday, it will be less cricketainment, more old-school cricket.

Will it be able to survive? Will be people really be able to get on board with just watching Virat Kohli stroking cover-drives, or Sunil Narine turning the ball the opposite way to what you expected, or Kagiso Rabada bowling fast?

What will it be like without the crowd being whipped into a frenzy by an on-site DJ and cheerleaders?

How will we cope? Hopefully, just fine.

The IPL often feels like forced fun, with an atmosphere in the stadiums that is more organised than organic. Cheer now, listen to this jingle, and if you’re being too quiet, everyone scream “R-C-Bee!”

With no-one in the grounds other than the players and officials this time, it will be the cricket that leads the feelings of the supporters, watching via their TV sets. It is a crazy concept, but it might just work.

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Star absentees

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Certainly, the supporters are hungry for it. Having had so long without cricket, they cannot wait for the competition to get started.

The IPL rarely goes short when it comes to eyeballs on screens. But, even by its own remarkable ratings, this year’s figures are likely to be massive.

“I think the viewership is going to be absolutely staggering, to be honest,” Jake Lush McCrum, the chief operating officer of Rajasthan Royals, said.

“If you look at other leagues who have returned, there have been records broken across the board, so we are excited for the IPL viewing figures this year.”

Sourav Ganguly, the president of India’s cricket board, predicted as much, too.

“[The broadcasters] are actually expecting the highest rating of IPL this season because they believe if supporters don’t turn up in the ground, they will be watching on their television sets,” Ganguly said.

As Ganguly said, there is a positive in everything.

So it might feel frustrating that the IPL is right on our doorstep, but we can’t get in to see it. And that the players are here, but they are partitioned away from public view.

But at least there will be some cricket to watch, and it might be even more watchable than before.

Updated: September 18, 2020 09:18 AM

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