The first IPL game in the post-apocalyptic world felt like a television pilot: it wasn’t perfect, there were a lot of experiments, there was good stuff, there was bad stuff but it just had enough to keep the viewer captivated. Thus from a fan’s perspective, we look at what clicked and what didn’t.
The piped-in crowd noise
Crowds play as big a part in IPL games as the players, and so, prior to the match, the thought of watching a ‘dead’ Mumbai vs CSK match was low-key terrifying. The BCCI keeping mum on what they were going to do to substitute for the absence of crowds made things worse, too. But the piped-in crowd noise came as a pleasant surprise and made the viewing experience a pretty decent one. Aside from the “hum” that Sky incorporated into all England matches, Star added cheers, jeers and music which made the game feel more ‘alive’. It was by no means perfect, the timing and sync was off on multiple instances, but despite there being plenty of room for improvement, it felt like a good starting point.
The Sheikh Zayed Stadium
The piped-in crowd noise enhanced the viewing experience, yes, but the Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi also equally did its part in making the game look ‘normal’. That we, the viewers, are so accustomed to watching empty-stand matches in the UAE might have played its hand, but the layout of the stadium, and the cleverly placed advertisement signs and hoardings managed to mask the absence of crowds. It is also to the credit of the organizers that they did not opt for frivolous fake cut-outs - like the CPL did - which usually ends up attracting unnecessary attention towards the stands. That said, one feels the real challenge will be during the afternoon games on double-header days, where it’ll be much harder to use advertisement boards with contrasting colours as a fig-leaf to enshroud the absence of crowds.
For all the talk about ‘slow and sluggish’ UAE wickets, the pitch at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi turned out to be a pretty good T20 wicket. There was something for everyone - be it the batsmen, pacers or spinners - and rarely did the pitch misbehave. Contrary to popular opinion, there was no extravagant turn nor did spinners dictate play; the pacers, in fact, had a bigger say in the encounter. Whilst an absolute belter would have multiplied the entertainment quotient, the Sheikh Zayed wicket today, nevertheless, was decent for what it was. It could be said that the batsmen’s rust ended up making the encounter a non high-scoring bout. Having said that, the outfield was painfully slow and that could be a cause for concern - and a major factor - in the weeks to come.
It sure wasn’t as preposterous as the virtual cheerleader tactic employed by the CPL - where they cut away from the game to play a pre-recorded footage of cheerleaders dancing - but, nevertheless, IPL’s own ‘virtual cheerleader’ shtick felt forced, unnecessary and badly executed. For starters, there was no consistency as to when the cheerleaders appeared - they popped up randomly and the camera-work was inconsistent - and that they showed up in the advertisement board, and not on the big screen, made the whole presentation bizarre. The random appearances of virtual (Dream11 sponsored) fans - which was understandably a marketing move - was also a bit outlandish. In retrospect, though, the organizers might have dodged a bullet by not employing full-time virtual fans like the NBA; that would have looked odd, to say the least.
MS Dhoni insisted at the toss that all Chennai players had used the quarantine period inside their hotel rooms - and the subsequent training period that followed - to great effect, but the first 20 overs of today’s encounter said otherwise. Even ignoring the fact that a fair few individuals looked out of shape, Chennai’s showing on the field was hideous. Whilst the catching - mainly thanks to Faf - was pretty good, the CSK players embarrassed themselves with their ground fielding and ended up voluntarily feeding their trolls and proving their critics right. The fielders were lazy, sluggish, slow to move and ended up conceding over a dozen runs through misfields, thanks to their own callousness. Mumbai weren’t any better, either. Sure, their players were more proactive and showed more intent than the CSK fielders, but the sheer amount of blunders they made - at one point MI conceded back to back boundaries via misfields - was flabbergasting. Both teams’ showing on the field served as a buzzkill and ended up blemishing the viewing experience.
The Mumbai-Chennai hype
The greatest rivalry in T20 history; the El Clasico of IPL; The dream T20 matchup - there was quite the hype heading into today’s encounter between Mumbai and CSK. Unfortunately, the game did not live up to it. Indeed, Sam Curran firing with the bat towards the end created a slight buzz, but overall, it was a pretty middling encounter in which the ‘less worse’ side ended up triumphing. While Mumbai’s MVPs - Rohit, Pollard, Bumrah and Pandya - had a night to forget, Dhoni getting to face only two balls made a common fan feel cheated. Such was the uninspiring nature of the contest that it felt like a CPL game played between two IPL sides. An astronomical downgrade from the matches between Australia and England.