9 Apr 2021

How much will Covid disrupt this year's Indian Premier League?

8:20 am on 9 April 2021

The Indian Premier League is not only one of the world's most lucrative annual sporting properties but also among the most durable, with not even the lengthening shadow of the Covid-19 pandemic apparently able to stop the Twenty20 juggernaut.

The Mumbai Indians with winners trophy 2020 Indian Premier League.

The Mumbai Indians with the winners trophy 2020 Indian Premier League Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Last year's delayed tournament was shifted to the United Arab Emirates but the 14th edition returns to India, where the coronavirus situation has worsened significantly in recent weeks.

The surge in new cases could yet scupper plans to host the tournament in bio-secure bubbles at six venues across the country, starting today in Chennai and climaxing at the world's largest cricket stadium in Ahmedabad on 30 May.

The Indian cricket board, however, is bullish about the chances of pulling it off.

"We did it successfully in Dubai last year. We are confident we are going to do it again this time," BCCI chief Sourav Ganguly said.

Champions Mumbai Indians, captained by Rohit Sharma, and Virat Kohli's Royal Challengers Bangalore get the eight-team tournament going at M.A. Chidambaram Stadium on Friday.

Both teams have already been hit by Covid-19 cases in their camps, however, raising questions over the effectiveness of the health protections afforded to the cricketers by the bubble.

Players will be well compensated for their stint in India as, even without ticket sales, the IPL was still worth $8.8 billion last year, according to financial consultancy firm Duff & Phelps. That was down from $9.6 billion in 2019.

Trent Boult of Mumbai Indians 2020

Trent Boult Photo: PHOTOSPORT

The BCCI would have been left with a $768 million hole in its coffers if it had cancelled its flagship event last year but ended up with record TV and digital viewership.

With curfews currently in force in many Indian states, the IPL can be expected to surpass last year's viewership numbers with cricket fans in the world's second most populous nation set to be glued to TV sets and electronic devices.

Mumbai Indians have assembled a side that looks even stronger than their back-to-back title-winning teams, with only Delhi Daredevils and Sunrisers Hyderabad appearing capable of denying them a third straight IPL crown.

Sharma headlines a Mumbai batting lineup teeming with explosive hitters including Ishan Kishan and Suryakumar Yadav, who made impressive India debut in the recent Twenty20 series against England.

Power-hitters Kieron Pollard and Hardik Pandya are adept at launching a late assault, while Trent Boult's powerplay skills and Jasprit Bumrah's death-overs mastery mean they have no real bowling woes either.

So dominant are Mumbai that they have won five of the last eight titles.

Kane Williamson of Sunrisers Hyderabad

Kane Williamson Photo: PHOTOSPORT

David Warner led Hyderabad to their maiden IPL title in 2016 but the Australian's nagging groin injury remains a concern.

Hyderabad also lack firepower in their lower order, though they have a potent bowling attack that includes swing bowler Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Afghan spin spearhead Rashid Khan.

Delhi had to change their captain after Shreyas Iyer, who led them to their maiden final last year, was ruled out of the tournament with a shoulder injury.

At 23, Rishabh Pant will be the IPL's youngest skipper this year.

There are nine New Zealanders at the IPL.

Kane Williamson - Sunrisers Hyderabad

Lockie Ferguson - Kolkata Knight Riders

Mitchell Santner - Chennai Super Kings

Tim Seifert - Kolkata Knight Riders

Finn Allen - Royal Challengers Bangalore

Adam Milne - Mumbai Indians

Jimmy Neesham - Mumbai Indians

Trent Boult - Mumbai Indians

Kyle Jamieson - Royal Challengers Bangalore

Beginning today, the IPL will have eight teams playing 52 games at six venues behind closed doors across the country. The final will be played on 30 May.

The matches will be held in Chennai, Bangalore, Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Ahmedabad. Most of these cities are seeing a sharp uptick in infections and hospitalisations.

- Reuters

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs

We have regular online commentary of local and international sport.