Unlike 2020, the 2021 edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) will be taking place in India. However, just like 2020, the franchises have to play their games in neutral venues, in a throwback, to an experiment BCCI tried in the 2016/17 Ranji Trophy. Thus, despite being so close, none of the IPL teams would be able to visit their respective homes, the only place where a sense of belonging prevails in such fractured times.
While the advantage of playing in front of home fans is well-documented in sports, cricket offers another element significantly more influential. Here, the home teams can customize pitches to suit their needs. Imagine a war where your opponent can legally design the battlefield to their advantage. Few other sports offer such advantage, except one time when Roger Federer played Rafael Nadal in Battle of Surfaces. But even that was an exhibition match.
However, IPL 2021 offers no such advantages, which will definitely impact some teams more than others. Teams more reliant on home conditions to perform well will suffer more. Chennai Super Kings and Mumbai Indians, two of the most dominant sides in the league’s history, are known for being ruthless at home. How will neutral venues affect them, and other teams as well?
MI will be playing their first five matches on spin-friendly pitches of Chennai. This can be a challenging proposition, as their spin attack seemingly lacks the incisiveness to run through. However, they have added the veteran Piyush Chawla, and he may come in handy.
Chennai Super Kings
CSK have not quite matched their home performances while playing away. They will be playing more than half of the matches in Mumbai and Bengaluru. Both venues are a paradise for batsmen. The MS Dhoni-led team might need to shed off conservatism and embrace a more aggressive brand of cricket.
With teams playing their matches in different conditions, adaptation and improvisation will be more valuable traits than ever. Delhi Capitals (DC) have a wide range of weapons in their artillery, which they can unleash as per need. For matches in Chennai, Delhi can pick up three premier spinners without weakening their other departments. On the other hand, they have a fiery pace troika of Kagiso Rabada, Anrich Nortje, and Ishant Sharma for Mumbai and Kolkata.
Rajasthan Royals will be playing half of their matches on surfaces tailor-made for batting. In Jos Buttler, Sanju Samson, and Ben Stokes, they have no dearth of explosive batsmen who will relish putting up a show. However, they will be missing their talisman, Jofra Archer, for most of the first half of the IPL. Chris Morris will lead the pace attack in his absence. Given the squad at their disposal, they will have a tough time maintaining consistency while the action shifts from one city to another.
Royal Challengers Bangalore
Royal Challengers Bangalore have retained a loyal fan base despite one horror show after another. They will surely rue the absence of fans, not to speak of the relatively small dimensions of Chinnaswamy. However, with the likes of Virat Kohli, AB de Villiers, and Glenn Maxwell in their arsenal, they shouldn’t mind playing seven matches in Chennai and Ahmedabad, where boundaries are a bit hard to come by.
Punjab Kings will be playing their first three matches in Mumbai. They have assembled a strong pace attack for this season. Riley Meredith, Jhye Richardson, and Mohammed Shami will be looking forward to making an early impact. Their bowling in death overs will be tested once again with the last five matches slated to take place in Bengaluru.
With the first five matches lined up in Chennai, Sunrisers Hyderabad have a perfect opportunity to smother their opponents with well-laid-out bowling plannings. They will then move to Delhi to play their next four games. SRH is perhaps the team going to be least affected by the neutral venues in IPL 2021.
Kolkata Knight Riders
Kolkata Knight Riders will play half of their games in high-scoring venues. Shubman Gill needs to be a bit more aggressive at the top and make full use of batting-friendly conditions of Mumbai and Bengaluru. They are also going to miss the ambience and exuberance of the Eden Gardens as well as the conditions: Pat Cummins, Prasidh Krishna, Lockie Ferguson, and Shivam Mavi may not be as effective as they could have been at Eden Gardens.
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