Back in late March, with the IPL postponed, I had written a piece about how a world without cricket would look like for the few months when everything on the planet was at a standstill. India had 883 Covid-19 cases then and was entering into the biggest lockdown on the planet. We have had 6 million cases since then and we’ve lost over 96,000 people to the brunt of the pandemic.
The year that could rival a Greek tragedy written by Sophocles continues to exact a severe toll on people. Lives have been lost, the economy and the livelihoods of millions has gone down the drain and gross incompetence from the senior-most chairs in the country offer little hope for the future.
The IPL couldn’t possibly have had a better timing for its commencement. In a future that’s unbecoming and a present blurred by a myriad of cheap and ridiculous primetime debates: nepotism, Bollywood mafia, Rhea Chakraborty, Kangana Ranaut, 59 g marijuana to cloud the various dire circumstances that could use our attention, cricket comes as a healthy and rather necessary distraction. For a nation that was sinking, cricket becomes the twig to cling on to, like it has done so many times before.
It isn’t strange then, to notice that ever since the IPL began on 19th September, recovered cases in India have outnumbered the daily confirmed cases every day except twice. I kid you not, this is the longest streak of declining active cases the country has seen ever since the outbreak. In many ways, it is reassuring and comforting to believe, that the love for cricket was all it took to get a grip on the situation. Cricket can take on the novel Coronavirus.
It’s been 10 days (at the time of writing) since the biggest cricket league in the world began and boy, what a treat it’s been so far. As things stand, there are no favourites and no losers. Every team looks invincible as much as they look beatable. There have been two Super Overs already! And we’ve also had the highest run chase in IPL history on the back of an innings turnaround that’d make even the harshest of cynics a romantic.
The tournament started with a blockbuster: last year’s finalist exacting a revenge on the defending champions. We were treated to an unusual Super Over in just the second IPL match. In the third match of the competition, Royal Challengers Bangalore, usually the butt of all jokes, surprisingly began their tournament with a win. The fourth match had us wishing for the durability of windscreens of cars parked outside the Sharjah as Sanju Samson sent balls miles into the air. In the next match, the most expensive buy in this season’s IPL failed to make a mark with the ball but finished the match with four unexpected but humongous sixes.
The sixth match of the IPL witnessed its first century this season and the highest score by an Indian in the competition’s history. Matches 7 and 8 assured us that the future of Indian cricket is safe with Prithvi Shaw and Shubman Gill within the ranks. The ninth match of the tournament held a spectacle like no other: Struggling at 5 off 13 when his team needed a huge total to chase and faced by derision from almost every quarter imaginable, Tewatia told his captain that he could still pull it off. And pull it off he did, and in some style. Having failed to even connect with the ball in the first half of his innings, an unbeknownst Rahul Tewatia hit six sixes in eight balls to give his side the edge to complete the highest and certainly, the most dramatic run chase in IPL history.
The tenth match of the IPL gave us another classic. AB De Villiers at his very best, Mumbai Indians coming close to winning the match despite being stranded in the middle overs and some terrific mind games in the Super Over. There was so much drama to soak in that there was hardly space left to write on the resurgence of Aaron Finch, the sustained greatness of Devdutt Padikkal or Kohli failing to find his feet even after three games.
Ishan Kishan was the man of the hour, and for good reason. When behemoths in Rohit Sharma and Quinton de Kock crumbled and when a proven regular like Surya Kumar Yadav walked out at not, Ishan stayed. He stayed and with the help of Pollard, he delivered, almost making it seem like Mumbai Indians could steal the win even when they needed 80 runs off the last four overs. Needing 5 off 2 deliveries, having struck a massive six just before and at the nervous score of 99, Ishan let loose once again, only to find the fielder in the deep this time. The heartbreak lasted only as long as the next ball when Pollard smashed one to the boundary ropes, offering hope. We had a second Super Over in eight days and a second 200+ chase that went right to the death in consecutive days.
Navdeep Saini and Jasprit Bumrah, both Indian pacers, who had leaked a lot of runs especially in the death overs, something they’re not known for, managed to keep their mettle. Pollard and Hardik couldn’t get underneath Saini’s lower full tosses and De Villiers and Kohli found it hard to negotiate with Bumrah’s length. De Villiers was adjudged out at one point, then the decision reversed after reviewing and Kohli became the unlikely hero of the day after hitting his first IPL boundary in 25 balls – in the Super Over of the third IPL match!
If you think reading about the week that just unfolded in the Indian Premier League is bonkers, I can assure you that it doesn’t even scratch the surface. Oh, and there’s still a whole tournament left to play: this is just the tip of the iceberg. The circumstances are unusual. There are no fans in the stadium, where do batsmen point to after scoring a half-century? The dugout’s starting to get boring. Where do bowlers run to celebrate? Chennai Super Kings should play Imran Tahir to treat us to this image of him running wild after taking a wicket in an empty stadium. Umpires refuse to hold the hats of the bowlers: social distancing protocols and all that. And hundreds of people from every corner of the country and different places on the globe appear on the screen to assure us that the distance hasn’t affected the emotions. It never even had a chance.
How could it, when the cricket has been this mind-boggling? If anything, India’s premier entertainment has also gotten us embroiled and pitted against each other in fantasy gaming apps – which have seen a monumental rise in popularity. Then there are the matchday offers on various food delivery apps because the only thing that’s better than watching cricket with the family is getting offers while ordering pizzas while watching cricket with the family.
Yes, the pandemic is still at large and nifty had its second worst fall this year only a few days ago. Yes, the migrant crisis and massive unemployment went by under the radar while agendas surrounding a celebrity’s death was pushed to ugly extremes. Yes, we’re all a little less than what we were at this point last year but we can afford to not think about it and bury ourselves even further now. We can afford to take the weight of our shoulders and cherish the privilege we have to tune in to TV channels at 7 PMs and forget about the miseries engulfing the world right now. And that’s okay. It’s okay to want to feel okay.
Cherish every six at Sharjah, every short ball that surprises the batsman. Make the most out of every unbelievable save at the boundary ropes and every cleanly timed cover drive. Our heroes have been away from their battlefields for far too long and a new set of young guns are now threatening to take over. The essence of cricket remains as delightful as it always has been and the IPL brings to us the very best of it. We can only be grateful, because amidst a world broken into fragments, a distraction’s more than enough.