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IPL 2020 is being played in the UAE this year due to the COVID-19 situation in India

IPL 2020 is being played in the UAE this year due to the COVID-19 situation in India

Welcome to IPL Pulse. Follow the space for byte-sized briefings about everything that's happening in and around IPL 2020

SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 19

The Indian Premier League returns with a brand new edition today after months of uncertainty. The tournament is being staged in the UAE this year due to the ongoing COVID-19 situation in India. There will be no crowds permitted inside the stadiums in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah -- the three host venues -- although options are on the table to have some live audience later in the tournament.

Mumbai Indians are the defending champions and will take on Chennai Super Kings in the opening game in Abu Dhabi. There's arguably no bigger rivalry in IPL than between these two teams, who have combined to win seven out of the 12 titles. MI have a 17-11 win/loss ratio over CSK in IPL and one of the most memorable encounters was last year's final in Hyderabad.

Rohit Sharma is set to open alongside Quinton de Kock for Mumbai again this season. That will mean time on the sidelines for Chris Lynn. "Lynn is a great addition to the squad, but the combination of Rohit and Quinton did a phenomenal job for us last season... They're good leaders as well, so why would you want to fix something that isn't broken? We will continue to go with that," said coach Mahela Jayawardene.

MS Dhoni recently retired from international cricket with an Instagram video post but he is set to be much more visible during the IPL. CSK coach Stephen Fleming has said that Dhoni is "fresh and ready to go." The coach also felt that they dealt with the setback of COVID-19 positive cases in the camp, which included one India player, very well.

The challenges faced by the two teams in this edition are stark. MI are used to playing on flat Mumbai tracks and don't heavily rely on spin. Although that won't be an issue for CSK, their batting looks lightweight this year, more so after the departure of Suresh Raina, who left for India in the middle of his quarantine period due to a personal emergency back home.

What's the plan for positive cases during the tournament? The BCCI has laid down the Standard Operating Procedures, a 16-page document that lists minute details of how franchises, players, support staff and team owners amongst others should get through the tournament. It includes division of the playing venues into three zones, quarantine rules in case of a contingency, and planned relular RT-PCR tests for players and staff throughout the tournament.

How crucial is this season of IPL? The pandemic world has lesser money to offer to cricket in addition to presenting other hassles like logistics, which primarily got the T20 WC to be postponed. But the IPL has found a way past all this, proving just why it's the biggest tournament in our sport. Its latest season could shape the future of cricket, we ponder.

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