Former India opener Aakash Chopra is the author of three books, the latest of which is The Insider: Decoding the craft of cricket. @cricketaakash
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This has been a strange year. In March, when the IPL was postponed indefinitely, little did we think that Indian cricket would be able to stage a tournament of this magnitude successfully, given the new circumstances.
The BCCI decided to take the entire season of the IPL outside the country for the second time. The UAE was the preferred destination for a variety of reasons but there were doubts over whether the tournament could be conducted smoothly, let alone as successfully as it has been.
A few days before flying to the UAE to commentate, I spoke to a doctor and the conversation made me think twice. I bought myself a respirator, a piece of equipment used by surgeons in operation theatres, before deciding to take the plunge. Now I'm glad I did go. This success of a world-class sporting event away from home during a raging pandemic has been one of Indian cricket's biggest logistical achievements.
As far as the cricket itself went, there were a few surprises there too. Let's start with the pitches. All of us were a little sceptical when we heard that all the games would be played across only three venues, with Dubai and Abi Dhabi hosting the bulk of them. But what a good thing that turned out to be. Both venues produced pitches that were near perfect for T20 cricket.
Both grounds have a big square and a very hard base, and that ensured that the pitches didn't deteriorate as much as all of us thought they might. After all, back home in India every venue hosts only eight games over the course of 60 days and that is enough for the pitches to show signs of fatigue towards the end of the tournament. It must also be noted that the IPL takes place after a long cricket season in India and that compounds the pitch-fatigue issue. There was no such problem with the UAE, for there had been no cricket at any of the venues for a long time before the IPL. The fact that the pitches offered consistent bounce throughout with no alarming wear and tear can be looked at as a good sign for the future. We might well need the three venues for the next edition of the IPL or the T20 World Cup.
Sharjah, of course, bore two different looks over the course of the tournament. A venue that started as the one with the flattest pitches and the shortest boundaries, producing run fests, became a turning pitch that recorded some of the lowest scores in the season. The thing that went against Sharjah was the square, which is not as hard as those at the other two venues, and nor did the track have the same amount of grass to begin with. A point to remember for future planning.
The other thing that caught everyone by surprise was the dominance of pace and the return of conventional fast bowling. Of course, the pitches had a role to play in this resurgence but it was a delight to watch some old-school fast-bowling.
The first over of a T20 game is often treated as an opportunity to bowl an over from the weakest link but that was not the case in this edition of the IPL. On the contrary, it was viewed as an opportunity to take a wicket or two by pitching the ball fuller, making it move off the surface, or digging it in short to surprise the batsman. We saw a lot of wickets falling in the first over of the innings in this IPL: 2020 ranked fifth among all IPL seasons on that count, third if you discount the two seasons in the top four in which there were about 30 more first overs (because there were more games those seasons). And most of these wickets were taken by the faster bowlers. Barring Sharjah, the big grounds also encouraged the fast bowlers to be a bit more liberal with the bouncers.
Another surprising element of this season, not so positive the time, was the quality of fielding and catching. While we did see some stellar efforts through the season, we also saw a lot of sloppy stuff. The bigger outfields not only exposed the slow movers but also tested the quality of throws. And it must be noticed that a fair few players came into this tournament with extra pounds around their waists. On smaller Indian grounds, just like in Sharjah, you can hide the excess baggage, but on the bigger grounds, every ounce mattered.