The first phase of the IPL will have 20 matches in Sharjah, Abu Dhabi and Dubai from April 16-30, the organisers have announced. The opening match of IPL 2014 will be played at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi on April 16 between Mumbai Indians and Kolkata Knight Riders.
The first phase of the IPL was moved to the UAE after its schedule coincided with the Indian elections, slated to begin from April 17. However, it is likely that nearly two-thirds of the tournament could be played in India. A BCCI statement said that state administrations had responded to an initiative by the federal government and indicated their willingness to hold matches. This, the BCCI said, led it to believe that the IPL could be staged in India from the first week of May.
If the IPL returns to India in the first week of May, the fixtures will have to be tweaked according to the availability of the venues. The states where polling ends in April can host the games from May 1, whereas cities that go to vote on May 7 and 12 can stage matches from May 13 onwards. This may result in additional venues, including Kochi and Cuttack, being roped in. However, a BCCI insider was optimistic that the Indian leg could be played at traditional venues. "We will try and host matches in home cities where we get permissions to. I am hopeful," he said.
It is understood the tournament launch will take place on April 15 in Abu Dhabi. According to the schedule released by the IPL, five of the 15 days of the first phase will be double-headers that will be played over the weekends. The first match will start at 2.30pm local time (1030 GMT, 1600 IST) and the evening game at 6.30pm (1430 GMT, 2000 IST).
Of the eight franchises, Chennai Super Kings, Royal Challengers Bangalore, Rajasthan Royals and Sunrisers Hyderabad are scheduled to play three home games in the UAE. The other four teams will play two home games in the first leg. If the IPL returns to India in the first week of May, Super Kings, Royals, Royal Challengers and Sunrisers will play four games at home, while the other teams will host five home games.
The schedule for the first phase was chalked out to allow each of the eight franchises to play at least once in all three cities, and also feature in at least one of the double-header weekends. Abu Dhabi and Dubai will host seven matches each while six games will be played in Sharjah.
There were concerns about Sharjah as a venue, given its associations with match-fixing in the past, but assurances from the UAE government and cricket officials in the country were adequate for the BCCI to believe that the tournament could be conducted in a corruption-free manner.