Thanks to the IPL, several viewers who were not regular watchers of the game have now found themselves glued to their screens.

IPL becomes a welcome respite for casual cricket fans amid pandemic Facebook/Indian Premier League
IPLT20 IPL 2020 Monday, September 21, 2020 - 18:53

Social media may have noticed a radical change in discourse over the last two days. Discussions and fights on various issues seem to have converged on the biggest sporting event taking place during the pandemic so far — the Indian Premier League (IPL). After a dearth of sports in recent months, the 13th edition of the tournament, which started on September 19, is all anyone on Twitter and Facebook can talk about.

The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown normal life out of gear due to back-to-back lockdowns and severe restrictions in movement and crowding in public places. The decision to take the tournament out of the country was likely due to these constraints as well as efforts to conduct a smooth tournament. However, even in the UAE, the matches are being held in empty stadiums without spectators. Players and officials have been asked to stay inside a careful-designed bio bubble to protect themselves from getting infected.

Thanks to a lack of regular activities outside homes, the matches serve as the newest form of entertainment for viewers, whether they’re major fans of the tournament or not.

Bharathi, a 32-year-old engineer from Chennai, is among the new audience for IPL 2020. A club cricket player and a test cricket enthusiast, Bharathi, till last year, tracked matches and rivalries only on an overall basis. “I started watching IPL this season completely because I was bored and had extra time. Otherwise, I generally watch test cricket on TV with commentary, Cricinfo commentary on the side and Twitter,” he told TNM.

The matches also prove to be a welcome distraction from the bad news and negativity that the year, and the pandemic, have brought around the world.

For 36-year-old Ananth Baskaran, who is a die-hard fan of Chennai Super Kings (CSK), watching CSK matches in the stadium was an annual ritual of sorts. He used to make sure he took a large group of friends and family members with him whenever he was headed to the stadium to watch the team play. However, this year, all those expectations came down crumbling as the tournament was shunted to the UAE.

“Sport has this wonderful aspect of preparing oneself for the uncertainty in a very graceful manner. It helps us manage the pandemic even better,” he says, adding that seeing one’s favourite team deal with the ups and downs of the game helps him relate to them on a personal level.

While Ananth used to make sure he watched all CSK matches in the past, he now plans to watch all the matches in the tournament this year. “I have watched both the matches so far. It is some kind of coping mechanism since there is no other option to take a holiday or hang out somewhere else,” he points out.

IPL, which usually takes place between March and May, was pushed to September this year as the country reels under thousands of new COVID-19 cases every day. With few other sporting events to look forward to, fans who had lost interest in the sport are now returning to watch their old favourites.

“I used to watch it off and on until 2015. Then I decided to take a break as I was watching too many sports including football, tennis and kabaddi,” says 34-year-old Mandela Kiran, a professional from Mumbai. Over the last few years, he followed the matches only through websites like Cricinfo since he was held up with work. “Now I’m taking a break from work and since there aren't a lot of sports being showcased, I’m going to watch as much as possible,” he adds. 

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