DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — In the original concept, it was a made-for-television event.
And that will prove to be a good thing for the Indian Premier League, the lucrative Twenty20 cricket competition that has been delayed several months. It's now set to be played away from home in the United Arab Emirates because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
With no spectators allowed to start with, it will be a major TV-viewing experience for India's cricket-loving population and fans across the world.
This global festival of cricket's biggest stars playing in a snack-size version of the game will get underway Saturday with defending champion Mumbai Indians against Chennai Super Kings in Abu Dhabi.
India captain Virat Kohli, who plays for Royal Challengers Bangalore, and most of India's top players have been in the Emirates since late last month.
They've been in quarantine and slowly getting into match shape for the first time since a tour to New Zealand finished in test series loss in early March. A series in South Africa was canceled when international sports was shuttered at the start of the coronavirus outbreak.
Some players have already warmed up in the Caribbean Premier League, which ended with the Trinbago Knight Riders winning the title undefeated in 12 matches.
An influx of stars from Australia and England arrived late. The likes of Australians Pat Cummins, David Warner, Steve Smith and Glenn Maxwell finished a limited-overs tour of England with a win in the one-day international series against the defending World Cup champions on Wednesday.
Eoin Morgan and Jofra Archer are among the England players who have been in the so-called bio-secure bubbles at times since international cricket resumed and who will also have to isolate again before joining the IPL.
Mumbai Indians spinner Jayant Yadav said the bio-secure bubbles and quarantines are the “new normal.”
“With time, you just got used to it,” he said of his first days preparing for the IPL in the UAE. “As sports people you’re used to having a rush, of training or going to the field. More than the skill part, I miss that camaraderie of coming to a dressing room, or a team bus, or talking to everyone about cricket.”
He noted some of the changes to touring, such as the regular testing for COVID-19, the temperature checks and faces masks, but said the protocols were imposed for the safety of everyone involved.
“It's our responsibility and prerogative as players to adhere to all of the things that our management demands of us so that we can have a good, happy and safe IPL," Yadav said.
India had to take the world's richest domestic tournament offshore again — the second edition was staged in South Africa in 2009 — because of the surging impact of the virus on the world's second-most populous country and the travel restrictions that has caused.
India's health ministry has confirmed the nation’s total cases have risen above 5.1 million since the pandemic began. At the current rate of infection, India is expected within weeks to surpass the 6.6 million reported cases in the United States, currently the country with the most reported infections.
Nationwide, India is testing more than 1 million samples per day, although restrictions have been eased since the heavy early lockdown.
Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the seven sheikdoms of the United Arab Emirates have taken different stances toward lockdowns and limiting movement. The skyscraper-studded, tourist-dependent city-state of Dubai reopened for visitors in July and has actively courted travelers. Meanwhile, Abu Dhabi has closed its borders and still requires anyone coming in to have had a coronavirus test result within the last 48 hours.
In recent days as schools resumed classes, the daily number of confirmed coronavirus cases has gone as high as 1,007. Authorities responded by warning lockdowns could resume and fining those flouting rules though restaurants and bars serving food remain open.
There'll be 56 games in 46 days for the round-robin format, which concludes Nov. 3. The final is scheduled for Nov. 10, giving the players from Australia and India a brief break before India's scheduled test and limited-overs tour Down Under.
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