IPL cricket kicks off in UAE as India battles coronavirus
NEW DELHI – The Indian Premier League (IPL) Twenty20 cricket tournament, shifted out of India because of the coronavirus pandemic, is set to begin in the United Arab Emirates on Saturday, without its usual glitz.
The eight IPL teams, including several international cricketers, have been living in bio-secure bubbles, and will be playing to empty stands, the organisers said.
There will be no opening ceremony for the tournament, said to be one of the richest cricket fixtures in the world.
The tournament usually runs from March to May in India. It was initially postponed due to a lockdown, and then shifted to the UAE as cases continued to spike.
India is among the worst-affected countries, with 5.3 million cases, and reporting over 90,000 new infections each day.
The latest bulletin from India's Health Ministry recorded 5,308,014 Covid-19 cases and 85,619 deaths.
The IPL matches will be played at three UAE venues – Abu Dhabi, Sharjah and Dubai.
Several of the teams are owned by top Bollywood stars and industrialists, who will also be missing from the stands this year, along with the trademark dancing cheerleaders.
The first match kicks off on Saturday in Abu Dhabi, between defending champions Mumbai Indians and Chennai Super Kings.
Organisers are hoping to attract more viewers than usual, with cricket fans stuck at home because of the pandemic.
The matches, which continue through to November 10, will be beamed to 100 countries, Indian Express newspaper reported. In India alone, an estimated 550 million watchers are expected to tune in.