Mumbai Indians will begin their IPL title defence against the team they took the trophy away from last season – Chennai Super Kings – on September 19 in Abu Dhabi, at 6pm local time (7.30pm IST). The IPL schedule was finally made public on Sunday, just under two weeks off from the start of the competition, and features ten double-header days.
The schedule has been released only for the round-robin stage of the tournament. In all Abu Dhabi will host 20 round-robin games, Dubai 24, and Sharjah 12.
Mumbai and Kolkata Knight Riders will play a majority of their games (eight each) in Abu Dhabi. Sunrisers Hyderabad will play eight of their games in Dubai, while Super Kings, Kings XI Punjab, Delhi Capitals and Royal Challengers Bangalore will play seven each in Dubai. Only Rajasthan Royals’ matches are more spread out – they play six in in Dubai, five in Abu Dhabi, and three in Sharjah.
Royals and Knight Riders will be the last teams to play their first matches and that could be due to the late arrival of a handful of their key players from the limited-overs series between England and Australia in England, which ends on September 16.
While Steven Smith, Jos Buttler, Jofra Archer and Tom Curran are part of Royals’ squad, Eoin Moran, Pat Cummins and Tom Banton are part of Knight Riders’. Although IPL rules make it mandatory for every participant to undergo a six-day quarantine upon arrival the UAE, and Abu Dhabi’s requirements extend that to 14 days, it has been said that those coming from the England-Australia series could be allowed exemptions given they would be travelling straight from one biosecure bubble into another, but this remains to be confirmed.
The double-headers begin on October 3. October is typically when temperatures – which, as expected, are consistently breaching 40 degrees Celsius during the day-time at present – begin to come down in the region. There had been talk earlier of teams not being happy to play games beginning at 2pm in these temperatures, and that could be a reason why the double-headers begin only later in the tournament.
The IPL put in a disclaimer on the schedule, saying it is “subject to change for any reason” deemed fit by by the BCCI. The clause suggests the IPL is wary of a situation wherein a team(s) is/are affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Mumbai and Super Kings are the IPL’s most successful franchises – with four and three titles respectively – and form its most prominent rivalry; no team has beaten Super Kings as many times as Mumbai, who have a 17-11 record against them including a last-ball one-run win in last season’s final. Mumbai also bring the round-robin stage of the league to a close, pitted against Sunrisers Hyderabad on November 3 in Sharjah.
After the BCCI was forced to moved the tournament out of India owing to massive upsurge in the Covid-19 case count in the country, all eight franchises landed in the UAE nearly a month before the tournament. In terms of preparation in the UAE, Super Kings have been the last off the blocks, due to several members of their contingent – including two players – testing positive. The team commenced training only on September 4, roughly a week after the other franchises.
The tournament’s schedule was expected much earlier, but delays happened as the IPL Governing Council considered a number of different parameters forced by the pandemic. Super Kings’ issues aside, the strict quarantine rules in Abu Dhabi are believed to have contributed to the hold up.
There has been no confirmation yet from the IPL on whether spectators will be allowed to attend the games – and there was no mention of it in the statement announcing the schedule either. BCCI president Sourav Ganguly had said it will happen later in the tournament, but there remains doubt over this especially given the upsurge in Covid-19 cases in the UAE over the last fortnight.