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In India, cricket dominates over the World Cup and election, according to Simon Burnton.
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In India, cricket dominates over the World Cup and election, according to Simon Burnton.

Just before the start of this year’s Indian Premier League, the reigning champions, Chennai Super Kings, will face off against the Royal Challengers Bangalore on Friday. Prior to the game, fans will be entertained by an opening ceremony featuring renowned composer AR Rahman and popular actor Tiger Shroff. Singer Sonu Nigam, who describes himself as an interpreter of music, will also perform. Tickets for the event, which went on sale this Monday, sold out within minutes. Cricket star and Chennai local Ravichandran Ashwin, who recently played his 100th Test for India, even had to request help on social media in order to get his children tickets.

Almost half a year has gone by since India hosted the inaugural match of a World Cup that lacked a grand ceremony and began with minimal noise and in front of a nearly empty stadium. This stark contrast highlights the dominance of the IPL, not only in the minds of Indian fans, but also as the pinnacle of cricket entertainment. While another World Cup, this time in the T20 format, is scheduled to begin in 10 weeks in the West Indies and USA, players may see it as just an added bonus. It is during the two months of the IPL in India that players’ reputations and success are truly decided.

The lead-up to the tournament has been filled with anticipation surrounding the captaincy, with twists and turns emerging even on the eve of the event. One unexpected turn of events came when Ruturaj Gaikwad joined the CSK team for a photocall with nine of the ten captains (Punjab Kings’ deputy, Jitesh Sharma, represented Shikhar Dhawan). This demonstrated MS Dhoni’s knack for making impactful decisions at critical moments, not just limited to run chases. Gaikwad’s presence revealed the news, which was quickly confirmed by the team, that Dhoni had stepped down from his role. The 42-year-old had been captain of CSK since 2008, leading them to five championship wins. However, he will now enter his final season as a humble member of the team.

Fireworks at the Narendra Modi stadium in Ahmedabad after last year’s final.View image in fullscreen

Hardik Pandya has taken over as the new captain for the Mumbai Indians, replacing Rohit Sharma. Pandya rejoined the team after spending two successful seasons with the Gujarat Titans, where he became the most statistically successful captain in the history of the tournament. He had a winning record of 71%, reached the finals twice, and even lifted the trophy in 2022. Aiden Markram, who led the Sunrisers Hyderabad offshoot Sunrisers Eastern Cape to back-to-back SA20 titles in South Africa, has been replaced as the captain of the main team after leading them to last place in 2023. He has been replaced by Pat Cummins, who became the most expensive player in IPL auction history in December when the Kolkata Knight Riders paid £1.93m for him (although the record was beaten minutes later when Mitchell Starc was signed). Rishabh Pant, who was involved in a severe car accident in 2022 and had to spend a month in the hospital, will make his first competitive appearance since then on Saturday in Mullanpur. He will be leading the Delhi Capitals against the Punjab Kings.

This could potentially be the desired tournament for all cricket players, but it is not welcomed by all national associations. As a precaution before a busy season, the England and Wales Cricket Board advised several centrally-contracted fast bowlers to remain in their home country. Due to Jofra Archer’s previous elbow injury while playing for MI last year, he was preemptively excluded in December. In February, the board also intervened to safeguard Mark Wood and Gus Atkinson.

During an auction in December, Atkinson and Phil Salt were in Trinidad with the English white-ball team. Atkinson was celebrating a deal with KKR, while Salt came to terms with not being selected. Three months later, Atkinson is at home and Salt is in Kolkata, having been approached when Jason Roy dropped out for personal reasons. Thirteen Englishmen are still participating, with Jonny Bairstow being the only one completing the World Cup, five Tests, and IPL during the long Indian winter.

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In the past two years, there have been 10 teams and 74 games. However, there are a few changes to note: each over will now allow for two bouncers, twice the previous limit, and officials will have access to a Smart Replay System. The unique aspect of this system is that the TV umpire will be located in the same room as the replays, allowing for faster viewing of footage from the eight Hawk-Eye cameras. Additionally, there will be more split-screen options available and the hope is for more efficient and timely decision-making.

This is the initial installment of two extended national dramas that will capture India’s attention in the coming months. The general election will commence on 19 April and last for 44 days, three weeks shorter than the Indian Premier League (IPL), in order to accommodate staggered voting in different states. A schedule of 53 matches is still being finalized in order to prevent conflicting with election days in certain regions. However, only the IPL provides immediate outcomes, ever-changing storylines, widespread appeal, prominent celebrity presence, and an unpredictable finale.

Source: theguardian.com