It’s official! The Chennai Super Kings will play defending champions Mumbai Indians in the opening match of IPL, Season 13. While it was widely speculated that the season opener in Abu Dhabi will be a rematch of the last year’s final, doubts on whether CSK would up for the opening match started creeping up as word got out that as many as 13 members of the Chennai franchise, including India speedster Deepak Chahar and Maharashtra batsman Ruturaj Gaikwad, had tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
However, in a positive turn of events, all members of the CSK contingent, barring the number infected 13 who are in 14-day isolation, returned negative tests twice. The team has also served it’s extended quarantine period in the wake of the Covid cases and has started training.
The official release tournament schedule, which was to happen on Friday after getting the seal of approval from Board of Control for Cricket in India president Sourav Ganguly and the IPL Governing Council, was delayed as authorities in Abu Dhabi imposed stricter border curbs and mandated rapid tests at all entry points to the city in the wake of a spike in COVID cases.
A copy of the approved list of fixtures has been sent to Emirates Cricket Board.
While the CSK has been drawn to play the opening tie, it will be without its ace spinner Harbhajan Singh. Already without its batting mainstay Suresh Raina, the loss of the senior off-spinner could deal a blow to their title prospects.
As reports over the last couple of days suggested, the ‘Turbanator’ pulled out of this year’s IPL on Friday citing ‘personal reasons’. The 40-year-old tweeted, “I will not be playing IPL this year due to personal reasons. These are difficult times and I’d expect some privacy as I spend time with my family. @ChennaiIPL CSK management has been extremely supportive and I wish them a great IPL. Stay safe and Jai Hind.”
Speaking to Times of India earlier this week, team CEO KS Vishwanathan said, “Harbhajan has informed us that he won’t take part (in the IPL) due to personal reasons. We will discuss with the team management and accordingly take a decision on whether to seek a replacement. We have just come to know about his decision. So we will need time.”
Though Raina flew back to India for ‘personal reasons’, he hasn’t ruled out re-joining the franchise later in the tournament. The CSK hasn’t named a replacement for him yet.
While the CSK and MI will clash on a blockbuster Saturday, September 19, the day after will pit the Delhi Capitals against Kings XI Punjab. The Royal Challengers Bangalore will open their campaign on September 21 in Dubai against Sunrisers Hyderabad.
September 22 will see Rajasthan Royals launching their campaign in Sharjah against CSK.
The Kolkata Knight Riders will play their first match at Abu Dhabi on the 23rd against the defending champions.
Kings XI will battle RCB in another mouth-watering encounter in Dubai on September 24.
Back-to-back double-headers have been scheduled on October 3 and 4, in a weekend blockbuster. While the first game on the 3rd with pit RCB against the Rajasthan Royals and the second will see Delhi Capitals against KKR. The fixtures on the 4th feature Mumbai Indians against the Sunrisers and the Kings XI against CSK.
The next back-to-back double-header has been scheduled on October 17 and 18. While the RCB has drawn the Royals again in the first of two on the 17th, the second will see the Delhi Capitals taking on CSK. The first on the 18th will see the Sunrisers in action against KKR while the second will see the defending champions clashing with Kings XI.
The dates and venues for Qualifier-1, Eliminator and Qualifier-2 would be decided later.
The final has been scheduled on November 10, Sunday. The venue will be known later.
While initially, the franchises will play to empty stands at all three venues, some spectators could be allowed in the latter half of the tournament.
The novel coronavirus had threatened to push the tournament into the throes of uncertainty but with the CSK contingent (barring those infected) coming out clean from the COVID test and the fixtures now out, it seems the dark days are long past. So brace yourselves for some high-octane, knife-edge Twenty20 action as the IPL arrives at television screens near you come September 19.