On Sunday, the first round of matches of the IPL 2020 was completed. It is interesting to watch the series so far because much has been happening on the field. Some matches were keenly fought till the last over, while some were a bit dull and one-sided.
In cricket, we say that a good start is a half-way to success. At times, we even get to see how true this statement is. The same goes for tournaments - when a tournament start on a high note, the interest of the spectators and viewers builds up, thus giving a grand success at the beginning itself.
This year’s IPL cricket league got such a start when Chennai Super Kings upset their rivals and defending champions Mumbai Indians. They won the match in the last over with only four balls to spare. Ambati Rayudu was declared the ‘Man of the Match’ as he took Chennai Super Kings to a glorious victory with Faf du Plessis at the other end of the crease. It was reported that the match was viewed by almost 200 million viewers. Thus, interest in the tournament is escalating because some matches, like this one, are being fought till the end. But soon after, CSK lost the momentum when they suffered two consecutive losses against Rajasthan Royals and Delhi Capitals. They have played three matches to date while Rajasthan Royals and Delhi Capitals have played two matches each.
It is only the beginning, and several rounds are to be played before the knock-out stage. The positions on the points table may keep on changing as the tournament progresses. At present, Delhi Capitals are leading the points table with two wins and four points, followed by Rajasthan Royals, who have the same number of wins. At the bottom of the table is Sunrisers Hyderabad, with no wins to their credit after playing two matches. While Royal Challengers Bangalore has 4 points on the table too, the other six teams - Kings XI Punjab, Mumbai Indians, Kolkata Knight Riders, and Chennai Super Kings have two points each.
It is too early to predict anything about the outcome - who will be the finalists and who shall lift the trophy? As Mahendra Singh Dhoni said after their defeats, every team has to play 14 matches, and there are bound to be some ups and downs. The reason is that some players will get their form after playing the initial games, while some may lose their form during the tournament.
With almost all players being affected by the lockdown for months before the tournament, their skills have become rusty, forcing them to face some difficulties - especially the older players. That was the reason why many catches were dropped this season, costing their team dear. Virat Kohli dropped Rohit Sharma’s catch twice, thus making way for Royal Challengers Bangalore’s loss.
It was due to lack of practice, as well as the playing conditions, as the climate is quite hot in the UAE. Besides, in the later stages, there were problems because of dew. The ground became somewhat wet, and the ball slippery. So, it was difficult for the bowlers to get a grip. Fielders also had their difficulties for the same reason.
The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and the organizers had to cross many hurdles to arrange the tournament. It started with shifting the tournament from India to a foreign venue (though it was not the first time they have had to do it – IPL was hosted in South Africa in 2009). It continued with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, quarantine period, following safety rules and regulations on the field, testing the players, coaches, and supporting staff for COVID-19 (repeatedly), limitations for having an audience at the venue, scheduling the matches to suit (mainly Indian) viewers, etc. Moreover, for TV transmission and commentaries, the channels also had to arrange and change several things, which included inviting commentators from different countries to Mumbai.
All their efforts bore fruits. Every match is watched ardently as spectators try to guess the winner in matches that have nail-biting endings. The best example of this was the clash between Kings XI Punjab and Delhi Capitals, which ended in a tie and was decided in a super over. Delhi won with Rabada being the chief architect, along with Marcus Stoinis, who smashed Chris Jordon in the last over and collected thirty runs.
Yesterday’s match between Royal Challenger’s Bangalore and Mumbai Indians ended in a super over too, despite RCB performing exceptionally well and setting a massive target of 202 for the defending champions. MI’s Ishan Kishan, who scored 99 runs off 58 balls before being sent back to the pavilion by RCB’s Isuru Udana, helped MI come close to winning the match. Supporting him at the other end of the crease was Keiron Pollard, who scored 60 runs off just 24 balls. However, Saini’s exceptional bowling in the super over sealed the win for RCB, thus accounting for another nail-biting match in the tournament.
In batting, two batsmen have scored more than 200 runs in the tournament till now. They are KXIP’s K L Rahul (222) and Mayank Agarwal (221). KXIP’s M. Shami is heading the wicket-takers list with 7 wickets, followed by Delhi Capitals’ Kasigo Rabada with 5 wickets. Five teams have scored more than 200 runs. Rajasthan Royals scored 206 against CSK, who scored 200 while chasing RR to a win, Kings XI Punjab scored 206 against Royal Challengers Bangalore, and RCB scored 201 against Mumbai Indians, who also chased the score to a tie.
Still, there were some dubious decisions, and one of them cost Kings XI Punjab a win against Delhi Capitals. It was about a short run that was given by Umpire Nitin Menon. When Punjab’s Mayank Agarwal and Jordan took two runs, Nitin thought that Jordan’s bat was outside the crease. But the replays proved otherwise. So, Kings XI Punjab got only one run. Punjab appealed against the decision but in vain. The Umpire’s decision was not changed by the match referee.
It is quite possible that this match, which finished as a tie, might have been a win for Punjab. Instead, the super over in which Delhi’s Rabada took two wickets in two balls, sealed Punjab’s loss.
One wonders, that when there is a provision for a time out when there are referrals for no balls, LBWs, catches - mainly caught behind decisions to determine whether the ball has touched the bat or not, run-outs, boundaries – to determine if it was a four or a six, then why is there no provision for reviewing the short run? It won’t take much time anyway!
Often, the bowling rate was slow, and the 20 overs were not completed within the time-limit. When this resulted in the game being delayed, the TV Channels complained because their TRPs dropped after 11 PM. And eventually, the Royal Challenger’s Bangalore skipper, Virat Kohli, was fined. This move should be a warning to others. All said and done, this was an enjoyable first round for the cricket lovers, and they will be looking for much more in the remainder of the tournament.
Besides IPL, the French Open tennis tournament also started earlier this week in Paris at Roland Garros amid a worsening COVID-19 crisis in France, where new cases of COVID-19 are peaking at around 16,000 a day. Tournament organizers were hoping to stage the event with thousands of spectators but had their plans spoiled at the last minute when the French Government limited the crowd numbers to 1,000 a day. However, the tournament still holds the potential to open a can of worms.
Why do they want to let the crowd in to watch the match? Put simply, the French Tennis Federation (FFT) wants life - in tennis terms at least - to get back to normal. For this, they need money. The FFT relies on the French Open for around 80% of its revenue. Organizers have already sold thousands of tickets and will now run a ballot each day to determine the lucky few who'll be allowed through the gates. The US Open, earlier this month, showed that it is possible to hold a Grand Slam tournament without a crowd during a pandemic – especially when the COVID-19 cases in New York were at their lowest in several months.
The FFT director-general, Jean-Francois Vilotte, laid out his philosophy to the Roland Garros website last week. "By setting an example with our tournament, we hope to prove that we can get the economy back on track, though it goes without saying that certain conditions and certain restrictions must be respected," he said. "As the organizers of this sporting event — which is, along with the Tour de France, the most important regular international sporting event to be held in France — we have a responsibility in terms of employment, economic activity, the reputation of the city of Paris and the Greater Paris region, and, more generally, the events-based economy." Effectively, they are willing to accept the risk of spreading the virus further as long as there is some benefit to the economy. It's a view that is certainly at odds with much of the rest of the world.
All eyes will be on Rafael Nadal, who has won the title here for a record 12 times, and the in-form Novak Djokovich, who won the Rome Open last week and will be looking for his 18th Major title. If Nadal wins here, he will share the top place with Roger Federer (not participating this time), who has won 20 Majors. In the women’s category, Naomi Osaka will not be playing here after winning the American Open, but Romania's Simona Halep is a favorite among the crowd.
The safety initiatives at the tournament will be similar to those employed at the US Open: there will be no handshakes and no handling of towels by ball-kids. The players will each be tested on arrival at the event, followed by another test 72 hours later. They will then be tested every five days, as long as they remain in the tournament. The players are also all confined to two official hotels, meaning their social media accounts are full of the same happy snaps of the Eiffel Tower.
So, sports activity has started in full swing across the world. Let us hope everything goes well and brings happiness to all.
- A. S. Ketkar
(The writer is a renowned sports journalist who previously worked with Maharashtra Times.)