CHENNAI: For the first time in its history, the upcoming edition of the Indian Premier League which will begin in Chennai on April 9 and conclude in Ahmedabad on May 30, will be played on neutral venues in India.
With just six cities — Chennai, Mumbai, Delhi, Ahmedabad, Bengaluru, Kolkata — hosting the event because of safety measures, the BCCI in order to maintain a level-playing field has ensured none of the teams play on its home ground. The tournament will also for the first time be played in three legs with the league matches not happening in not more than two cities at any given point of time.
For the time being, the league matches will be played behind closed doors, and a decision on allowing fans in the stadium will be taken only at a later stage of the tournament. The tournament will begin with defending champions Mumbai Indians taking on Royal Challengers Bangalore in a 7.30 PM fixture – the first instance of the league matches commencing early in India — at the MA Chidambaram Stadium. The 52-day tournament was earlier supposed to run into first week of June as the BCCI was keen on avoiding as many double-headers as possible. But with the Indian team departing to England soon after the IPL for the World Test Championship final, it had no choice but to slot 11 double-headers, with the afternoon matches starting at 3.30 PM.
With the entire tournament to be played under a bio-secure environment, two of the six host cities have been paired together as it will ensure less travelling. However, none of the teams will play in all the venues. Instead, they will play at four of the six venues during the league stage. As a result, Chennai and Mumbai will host the first leg from April 9 to April 25, followed by Delhi and Ahmedabad from April 26 to May 8. The third and final leg will be held in Bengaluru and Kolkata from May 9 to May 23 before the action moves to Ahmedabad for the play-offs, starting on May 25.
Overall, Chennai, Mumbai, Bengaluru and Kolkata will host 10 matches each with Ahmedabad and Delhi allotted eight games each. With regard to the bio-bubble, it is understood that the franchises are free to choose their base, but as happened in the UAE, they will be monitored by BCCI's medical team. "We are hosting it in a caravan format so that safety of the players is not compromised. It will involve less travel and from our experience of hosting the IPL in the UAE last year, we are confident we will deliver another smooth edition," IPL Governing Council chairman Brijesh Patel told Express.
With regard to playing behind closed doors, though ongoing India vs England series is played with 50 per cent crowd capacity, the BCCI didn't want to take any chance with the IPL. With Covid numbers increasing in many parts of the country, there is always an element of uncertainty around getting clearance. Moreover, it had to get clearance on a match-by-match basis depending on the Covid numbers in respective host cities, which would have only complicated matters. Having crowd at one venue and not having at another is another reason why the BCCI is hosting it behind closed doors.
"Not just clearance from state governments, unlike Tests, there will be a huge crowd for the IPL. Add the vendors and so on, it only becomes difficult to control beyond a point. We want it to be a safe environment for players," Patel added.