ABU DHABI: The commotion at Mumbai’s swanky international terminal on Monday night turned into an eerie calm as hordes of cricket pilgrims finally took off for the first leg of the Indian Premier League (IPL) in the United Arab Emirates.
Among them were players, team officials, coaches, support staff, sponsors, advertisers, fans, and a certain Shahrukh Khan.
Shane Watson, the ever-obliging Aussie all-rounder, had started looking tired after signing autographs and posing for pictures for over an hour at the new T2; but the uneventful three-hour flight, a hassle-free walk past immigration and no autograph-hunters or selfie-seekers outside brought the smile back to his face.
In that one instant, it became clear what this leg of the IPL could well turn out to be; it will surely be unlike all the other editions in India since its inception seven years ago, and quite possibly even from the one in South Africa in 2009. It will surely not feel like a fashion parade with internationals stars zipping from one city to another; there won’t be the usual after-match parties or even crazed fans everywhere.
Why, here in Abu Dhabi, you won’t find Virat Kohli selling you a pair of denims from a giant-sized poster; or Sachin Tendulkar trying to help you make your mind up on a certain credit card. The last one heard discos and night clubs are not planning happy hours either, just to add spice to the cricket jamboree.
Sharjah, however, could turn out to be a more passionate affair, at least for the memories it holds, as it will be hosting any kind of cricket involving India after 14 long years. But the stretch between Abu Dhabi, and its more outgoing cousin Dubai, aren’t bursting at the seams, at least as yet.
Shahrukh, who performed at the Emirates Palace — the fanciest five-star hotel in Abu Dhabi — told TOI a day before the jig: “Well, they asked if I could do it and I said yes, sure.”
It was certainly unlike 2012 when he flew Pitbull down to Kolkata.
The people who have been waiting for a cricketing feast here in UAE, with all the Bollywood essentials attached, are the large India and Pakistani expats who want nothing more than an encounter between the two countries. The last they saw he Asian giants battle in the UAE was in 2006, though it was not in Sharjah.
“The IPL is something people look forward to and I’m hearing the tickets have all gone. There should be a good turnout,” says Mumbai Indians coach John Wright.
“The one big difference is there are not too many people greeting you at the team hotel or the grounds. So, it is a bit more laid back and relaxed which I think the players are enjoying. Obviously, the Indian boys would much rather be playing at home. But they understand that is what needs to be done. But I think some of the bigger guys are probably enjoying it,” says Trevor Bayliss, the KKR coach.
UAE cricket needs BCCI on its side to develop and it may have it, depending on how well this event goes. The expats are in awe of the stars from India and they’re in for a treat. The franchises find this trip a great exercise in cost-cutting. The broadcasters are fine with the prime-time slot made available to them. The title-sponsor sees the Gulf as its domain and is happy it’s not any country further west.
The UAE leg may not offer the glitterati quotient that surrounds the league annually; but it is still excited as this will mark the return of India’s cricket stars after a long hiatus.
Youngest player: Pradeep Sangwan (17 years 179 days) Oldest player: Brad Hogg (42 years 86 days) Leading run-getter: Suresh Raina, with 2802 runs at 35.02 in 99 matches for CSK Best strike rate (Min 1000 runs): 168.21 (1270 runs in 72 matches) by Virender Sehwag for Daredevils Leading wicket-taker: 103 wickets (ave.17.95) in 73 matches by Lasith Malinga for MI Best economy rate (Min 10 matches): 5.47 by Sunil Narine in 31 matches for KKR
IPL winners over the years
2008: Rajasthan Royals 2009: Deccan Chargers 2010: Chennai Super Kings 2011: Chennai Super Kings 2012: Kolkata Knight Riders 2013: Mumbai Indians