Mumbai Indians won the 13th edition of the IPL in UAE. (Photo/iplt20.com)
Mumbai Indians won the 13th edition of the IPL in UAE. (Photo/iplt20.com)

Yearender 2020: Amid the dark clouds of pandemic, IPL was just the silver lining sports fans needed

By Nidhima Taneja | Updated: Dec 29, 2020 13:47 IST


New Delhi [India], December 29 (ANI): Before the world could even warm up to 2020, the novel coronavirus brought everything to a standstill. Sporting events were no anomaly. With India struggling to latch onto any ray of hope, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) announced the decision to host the 13th edition of the Indian Premier League in UAE from September 19 to November 10.
Even as critics raised eyebrows and questioned the need to host the league at a time when the world was still coming to grips with the horrors of the pandemic, India and Mumbai Indian all-rounder Hardik Pandya decided to address the issue. He promised one and all that the IPL would be the silver lining in the dark clouds that had gathered around us since March - the first time when the country went into a complete lockdown.
"For the fans, the IPL will be a cherry because no one has seen cricket for a while and people have been in difficult times. This will be a stress relief for everyone as they will sit at 8 pm and watch the IPL for two months. Everyone will get that satisfaction that something nice is happening. The fans will enjoy it," he told ANI.
The opening match of the IPL between Mumbai Indians and Chennai Super Kings was enough to prove him right. It broke viewership records as 20 crore people tuned in to watch the match (with an overall consumption increase of 23 per cent as compared to 2019). One could sense how eagerly the country needed this dose of optimism.
To understand the anatomy of a cricket fan in this country where cricket is a religion, ANI spoke to fans to get a first-hand idea of the impact the IPL had on Indian homes amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Speaking to ANI, Pooja Behuria, a cricket enthusiast from Mumbai, said that when the nation's morale was "so low", a little ray of hope went a long way in improving the mindset.
"For me, IPL was something which gave me hope or a sense of normal. It was something to be happy about, something to derive motivation from," she said.
Muhasin, a Kerala-based sports psychologist, said that given the IPL's entertainment quotient and tremendous global participation of players, it was a sense of relief to many and it was just what the doctor ordered for in the testing times.
"Although it's technically a domestic event, it has massive global participation in the cricketing world with the best players from different countries taking part. The showpiece event taking place gave the message that normalcy can return with proper safety and security measures in place," he explained to ANI.
To many fans like Behuria, IPL also invokes a sense of brotherhood as she goes on to explain: "Sports is all about bringing the communities together when you see stadiums packed with fans from across the board cheering for their team. It invokes a sense of brotherhood. It was definitely missing when one sees the empty stadiums, but it also tells you the seriousness of the situation that we are in, and despite that to ensure that we can still have fun while keeping the right kind of precautions and measures in place, says a lot."
The IPL 2020 was held under extenuating circumstances with players inside the bio-secure bubbles -- first in India and then in the UAE (where the league was held).
Besides the entertainment factor, at the onset of IPL, Indian fans were also reeling from MS Dhoni's departure from international cricket which he announced on August 15 this year. So when the former Indian skipper returned to the cricket field after 437 days -- he last played a match during the 2019 World Cup -- many fans were of the opinion that his presence played a huge role in kickstarting the league with a bang.
A Noida-based cricket aficionado, Ameya Barve, believes that fans were thrilled to witness Dhoni back on the field. "For a cricket-obsessed nation like ours, having cricketing stars like Dhoni, Rohit Sharma, and Virat Kohli back on the ground after a gap of over six months was no less than a dopamine shot!" he told ANI.
However, it wouldn't be fitting to just credit the presence of cricketing superstars in the league. It was as much of a show for the youngsters who shone time and again with their commendable performances. Be it the twin Super Over matches, Rajasthan Royals' Rahul Tewatia smashing five sixes off one over, or Chennai Super Kings' shocking below-par run -- the 2020 edition of the Indian Premier League was no less than a Christopher Nolan film.
"It must be noted that Indian fans had no access to entertainment or sports, except for OTT platforms, for a long time given the pandemic and the consequent lockdown. And even when the lockdown guidelines were relaxed, many were working from home which means more time and convenience to watch or follow things on the whim. That, in my opinion, also played a huge role in this year's IPL being a super hit," Muhasin said.
"Given the pandemic, people have drawn towards television and internet and due to which people who wouldn't otherwise follow as much or seek other forms of entertainment, opted for IPL. The fact that it is the shortest format of the game only helps the cause," he added.
It is noteworthy that many major sporting events of the year such as Wimbledon and Tokyo Olympics were cancelled and rescheduled for 2021 which in hindsight shifted a considerable Indian fanbase to cricket.
"As far as IPL is concerned, it grows each year in terms of eyeballs/sponsors and stuff. It would have been successful despite lack of other options or cancellation of major sporting events like Wimbledon and Tokyo Olympics, but it definitely gave it an extra mileage," said Aarshin Pancholi, an avid cricket fan from Ahmedabad.
After the tournament concluded, Star India Sports Head Sanjog Gupta had said that the 13th edition was the "biggest ever in terms of viewership, engagement and ad sales."
India, time and again, has showcased its profound love for cricket. For IPL to not only register its presence in Indian households amid a pandemic but also emerge victorious will be a golden chapter in the league's chequered history. (ANI)

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