After months of uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the delayed season of the Indian Premier League will kick off in the UAE on Saturday with a clash between defending champions Mumbai Indians and Chennai Super Kings.
The 2020 edition of the T20 league was originally scheduled to begin on March 29 in India but had to be postponed indefinitely by the country's cricket board due to worsening situation of the pandemic.
IPL's cancellation would have meant a potential $534 million loss in revenue, leading the board to shift the tournament out of India. The postponement of this year's Twenty20 World Cup in Australia because of the pandemic also helped. It presented a window in the cricket calendar for the eight-team league, which is attended by most of the world's top players.
The matches will be held in bio-secure bubbles in Dubai, Sharjah and Abu Dhabi in front of empty stands but organisers are hoping to allow some fans during the later stages of the tournament.
BCCI chief Sourav Ganguly felt organising the event was an attempt to bring normality to people's life in India.
"Crowds will watch it on television ... they (broadcasters) are actually expecting the highest rating of IPL this season because they believe if (people) don't turn up in the ground, they will be actually watching on their television sets," former India captain Ganguly said. "There is a positive in everything."
It will not be the first time that the competition has had to be held outside India. The 2009 edition took place in South Africa as it coincided with India's general elections and the UAE hosted the early matches of the eight-team tournament five years later for the same reason.
But finding a host country was not the only challenge in organising the IPL for the Indian board as the tournament lost its title sponsor a month before its scheduled start.
Amid a growing backlash against Chinese companies in India and a weak business environment following the pandemic, smartphone maker Vivo pulled out of this year's edition. Fantasy gaming company Dream11 came in as a replacement, paying the league 50% less than Vivo, which had secured the 2018-2022 rights for nearly $293 million.
"When you encounter such challenging times and the tournament faced such impediments, you are bound to lose on certain revenues," BCCI treasurer Arun Sigh Dhumal told Reuters. "Looking at the overall picture, one should be happy that at least something is happening in this environment."
There will, however, be some notable absentees at this year's event.
The English duo of Chris Woakes and Jason Roy and Sri Lanka pacer Lasith Malinga have all pulled out.