The new normal IPL: How cricket fans are gearing up for the sporting extravaganza  09/16/2020 13:59:10 

What connects 92-year-old KSN Swami from Mumbai, 28-year-old Sonal Goyal from Biratnagar (Nepal) and 34-year-old Saravanan from Tiruvottiyur in Chennai?

They are all die-hard fans of Chennai Super Kings. Like most other followers, they are impatiently waiting for Saturday, when their team takes on Mumbai Indians at the opening match in Abu Dhabi.

This years IPL is being played under the most unique circumstances for both players and audiences; there will be no loud cheering from the stands, usually a highlight of the extravaganza.

Its going to take a few games for everyone to get used to this new normal, admits former Indian cricketer and commentator Deep Dasgupta, who is currently in the bio bubble that the teams too are in, in the UAE.

What is a bio bubble? Lets think of an actual bubble. Get a hotel inside it, get the ground inside it and thats pretty much what it is. Before you get into this bubble, theres a host of protocols and processes like testing and quarantine. For about 60 days, we will have the same people wholl be serving us, explains Deep, who goes on to pick CSK as the team that has a better chance of doing well due to their players experience.

Ninety two-year-old Swami has already pasted the newspaper clipping of the IPL schedule on his cupboard. I will be watching the matches with my son and granddaughters, who have evinced interest in the game after the introduction of IPL, says Swami, who pits Chennai and Bangalore as teams to watch out for.

The nonagenarian will be sporting a yellow T-shirt for the matches, in his residence at Chembur in Mumbai.

Elsewhere, in the same city, 81-year-old Sharadambal Visweswaran will be draping a yellow sari and keenly anticipating the helicopter shot from MS Dhoni. Hes my favourite, she says.

Celebrations have begun for for cricket fans of all ages... in front of the television sets at their homes.

Grounded, but not out

Although fans cannot congregate at Chennais Chepauk stadium this year, most of them are just thankful for the resumption of cricket after a long break.

Srini mama is one among them. This will be the most competitive IPL, because the teams have had time to practise. That it is being played in the UAE nullifies the home advantage, and players will have little travel exhaustion, says the cricket lover who prefers anonymity, and is the man behind the popular @SriniMaama16 handle which has more than 40k followers on Twitter and 14.5k on Instagram. He promises that his parody account, also popular with celebrities from the sporting fraternity, will be active in the coming weeks. There will be analysis, strategies, kalaais (teasing) and memes, says Srini mama, and picks Chennai, Delhi, Kolkata and Hyderabad as the top four contenders for the coveted trophy.

Prabhu Damodaran, one of the founders of CSKs official fan club, the Whistle Podu Army, is also busy despite being forced to Cheer From Home. We had made some special plans to do with the three stands that were earlier sealed but have now been reopened at Chepauk. But we know this is an unprecedented situation, says Prabhu, who hails from Coimbatore. We have sent T-shirts, CSK flags, some stickers and a couple of masks to the 2,000 active members to help them get ready.

Sonal Goyal, who manages the armys social media pages, which has a following of over 1.5 million users, will be keeping track from Biratnagar. A lot of us are planning to watch the games together via Zoom. We are planning to record some of the reactions and post them on social media pages, she states.

Saravanan, a familiar face at Chennais Chepauk ground during the IPL matches, is also planning something special. This year, I am setting up a special room with TV and speakers. I will be painting my body yellow and cheering CSK from home, in the new normal, says the 34-year-old, who resides in Tiruvottiyur. He had a lot of plans for 2020, but all those had to be put on the backburner due to the pandemic. I will sorely miss watching Dhoni annan live in action. I will also miss the bonding with other fans in the ground, adds Saravanan, who works in a logistics company.

City trail

The other city teams are not far behind. Dileep KM of the RCB Bold and Virat Gang pages, which have over a million followers on social media, is backing Bangalore and hoping for Ee Sala Cup Namde (This year, the Cup is ours). Though I have been a supporter since 2012, I have never watched an RCB game from the stands. I was going to this year, but it looks like I have to watch it on TV again, he rues.

Mumbai Indians (MI) fan Vinesh Prabhu might also have to do the same. Vinesh watches at least five MI games at the Wankhede every season, but this year will be different. My routine on match days used to be: have vadapav right outside the Churchgate station, buy a flag or get my face painted and head to the stadium. If we win, I go to a late night Mughlai food joint called Bade Miyan. And, if we lose, its usually ghar ka khaana. This year, irrespective of the team you are supporting, the food, and the cricketing action, will very much be at home.

(With inputs from Praveen Sudevan)

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