Chennai, April 8 (IANS) Amid rising Covid-19 cases and some uncertainty over the safety of the bio-secure environment, the Indian Premier League's 14th edition gets underway here from Friday.
Five-time champions Mumbai Indians, looking for a hat-trick of titles, will take on Royal Challengers Bangalore, who are yet to win an IPL title, in the first match of the tournament.
This is the second successive edition of the tournament that will be held behind closed doors after the one last year that was held in the UAE.
The tournament assumes significance for not just the Indian cricket board but also various other boards as well as the International Cricket Council (ICC).
It is being taken as a test event ahead of the T20 World Cup that will be held in India later this year.
The safe and smooth conduct of the tournament will be important for the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) as it looks to show to the ICC that it has the capability to host the multi-nation tournament during the times of pandemic.
The ICC interim chief executive officer (CEO) Geoff Allardice told media on Wednesday that while the T20 World Cup in India is on schedule, the global body has made back-up plans.
"We are certainly proceeding with the event as planned. We have plan B, but we haven't activated those plans yet. We are working with the BCCI, we do have backup plans that can be activated if the time comes," he had said at a virtual media interaction.
The overseas cricketers playing in the league will also be under as much scrutiny from their respective boards as the Indian players from the BCCI as teams look to finalise their squads and plans for the T20 World Cup.
The IPL 2021 tournament will see the caravan model for the first time with matches this season to be held at six venues and no team playing at home.
The first phase of league games -- comprising 20 matches -- will be held in Chennai and Mumbai while the action for the next batch of league games -- 16 in number -- will be held in Ahmedabad and Delhi.
The league action will then move to Bengaluru and Kolkata -- for the last 20 league matches. The playoffs will be held at the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad.
The BCCI thinks that ensuring no team playing at home in the caravan model, will make it a level-playing field for all teams.
The tournament returning home after an edition in UAE will also bring good news to the spinners who have traditionally done well in the tournament.
In the last edition in UAE, the fast bowlers dominated the wicket-takers' list. Seven of the top 10 wicket-takers were pace bowlers with Delhi Capitals' Kagiso Rabada winning the Purple Cap, picking 30 wickets.
The biggest challenge for the teams will be how keep players motivated during times when there cannot be any outdoor activity.
In the UAE, team hotels had private beaches. However, in India the team hotels don't have private beaches and it will be only the team room where the players can get together and spend time.
Many of the players have already expressed how tough life is in a bio-bubble. Some of the top international players have already pulled out. The likes of Mark Wood and Dale Steyn didn't appear at the mini-auction. Josh Hazlewood, Mitchell Marsh and Josh Philippe pulled out just prior to the start of the tournament. Still, majority of the foreign stars will be there.
There were a few hiccups among Indians too. However, barring Delhi Capitals' Axar Patel who is likely to miss his team's first match and is under quarantine, both Devdutt Padikkal of Royal Challengers Bangalore and Nitish Rana of Kolkata Knight Riders have joined their teams after their later tests turned out negative.
Members of the groundstaff at the Wankhede Stadium, who tested positive, have been isolated, according to the Mumbai Cricket Association. The rest are housed in the Wankhede bio-bubble paving the way for the tournament to begin.
IPL in numbers:
* 60 the number of matches to be played, including the final.
* 56 matches in league phase. Ten each in Chennai, Mumbai, Kolkata and Bengaluru. Ahmedabad and Delhi will host eight league matches.
* 4 playoff games, all in Ahmedabad.
* 11 the number of double-headers.
* 3 the number of times each team will travel during the league phase.