Halfway through the 2020 Indian Premier League, exiled to the United Arab Emirates because of the coronavirus pandemic, it is already increasingly likely that a new name will go on the winner's trophy
Kohli's hunt for first title
In search of their first IPL title, India captain Virat Kohli has led Royal Challengers Bangalore to their best start to a campaign with five wins from seven games. "King" Kohli found form with a half-century in his team's win over Rajasthan on October 3. Bottom of the table last year, Bangalore are now level with leaders Mumbai Indians and Delhi Capitals on 10 points. South African veteran AB De Villiers, who hit an explosive 73 in Monday's win over Kolkata Knight Riders, has played a key role. Kohli hailed the South African as "super-human".
New Indian player including Bangalore opener Devdutt Padikkal and Kings XI Punjab spinner Ravi Bishnoi have been making a claim for national attention in the IPL. Kohli called the 20-year-old Padikkal a "serious talent" before the left-hander hit three half-centuries in seven games. Bishnoi, 20, has caught the eye with his leg spin for King's XI Punjab and his eight wickets so far have included England's Eoin Morgan and Jonny Bairstow, and Australian star David Warner. Kolkata Knight Riders pace duo of Shivam Mavi, 21, and Kamlesh Nagarkoti, 20, have also made their presence felt taking nine wickets between them.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni has been one of IPL's most successful skippers, leading Chennai Super Kings to three titles. But Dhoni and the Super Kings are in a slump this year. The 39-year-old Dhoni, once known for finishing off games, has failed to fire in the middle overs with Chennai in five of their seven games and they are now in the unfamiliar position of seventh in the eight-team table. "IPL commentators are maintaining the fiction that the wicket of Dhoni is still a huge one," Wisden Almanack editor Lawrence Booth wrote on Twitter.
A number of dropped catches by top fielders in this year's tournament have shocked many at the IPL. Virat Kohli and Ravindra Jedja are among the elite to have let routine catches go to ground. The problem venue has been Dubai's stadium which has a "ring of fire" circular lighting system instead of the regular tall towers of floodlights. According to players, the ball gets lost in the black sky and is misjudged by fielders. "The players are not used to playing under such lights, maybe the trajectory comes in the way," Dhoni said after one game at the venue.
Known for its packed stadiums and raucous crowds, the IPL has been forced by the coronavirus into exile in empty stadiums in United Arab Emirates. As with European football leagues, organisers have turned to fake crowd chants and video recordings of cheerleaders to keep TV viewers happy. Social media has been divided over the canned noise but the tournament is still attracting viewers. The stadium was empty but a record 200 million people watched on screens at home as reigning champions Mumbai Indians beat Chennai Super Kings in the opening game.