Cricket fans will be forever grateful to the UAE for successfully hosting the IPL amidst the madness of 2020, but few would dispute that the tournament loses some of its shine when played abroad.
This is the Indian Premier League, after all, and it belongs in India.
The lack of crowds was obviously the biggest factor in the subdued atmospheres found at Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah, but it wasn’t solely to blame.
The sights and sounds of Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata and the other host cities simply cannot be replicated elsewhere, and a return to the subcontinent will be most welcome in 2021.
It must be said that a return to India is yet to be confirmed, but BCCI President Sourav Ganguly has already made clear that they are planning for that eventuality.
The annual player auction offers teams the chance to tweak their squads for the upcoming tournament, but the 2021 event is set to be slightly different.
Every few years the IPL holds a ‘mega’ or ‘full’ auction, in which the majority of players return to the auction pool.
Teams are usually given the opportunity to retain three of their players, and have the right to match offers for a further two players, but the rules for this year’s auction are yet to be confirmed.
Whatever they are, there is sure to be a major shake-up among the franchises, and we could see some big names turning out in different uniform come April.
The date of the auction is yet to be decided, but it will likely take place in early 2021.
A ninth franchise
Not only do fans have new faces to look forward to in their squads, they may also have a new opponent to consider in 2021.
Widespread reports suggest that the BCCI is planning a tender for a new IPL franchise in the coming weeks, with the 14th edition of the tournament to feature nine teams.
The likeliest location for this new franchise is Ahmedabad, where the Sardar Patel Stadium has recently been rebuilt with a capacity of 110,000 – making it the largest cricket ground in the world.
The state of Gujarat previously had an IPL team – the Lions – who served as one of the replacement franchises for Chennai and Rajasthan during their suspension in 2016 and 2017.
Expansion of the IPL has been discussed for a while now, and 2021 looks like the year when it will finally happen, with a tenth franchise potentially following in 2022.
A new CSK
For the Chennai Super Kings, the mega auction is coming at a better time than for any other franchise.
When MS Dhoni’s team won the IPL in 2018, and then reached the final 12 months later, the benefits of having an experienced and classy core were obvious.
But packing your team with experience means that it soon becomes obsolete. In 2020, a line-up that regularly featured a combination of Faf du Plessis, Shane Watson, Murali Vijay, Dhoni, Ravi Jadeja, Dwayne Bravo and Kedar Jadhav, all of whom are aged 35 or older, had gone stale.
Dhoni’s future is particularly intriguing. He announced his international retirement before IPL 2020, so is he certain to follow through on his promise to lead CSK into 2021? And, whisper it quietly, would the franchise be well-advised to use up a player retention spot on somebody whose powers are evidently fading?
Phasing out some of those players in the latter stages of the 2020 competition suggested that CSK are becoming aware of their major flaw, but whether they properly commit to a regeneration will decide their fate in 2021.
Quantity and quality of young Indian talent
The Mumbai Indians' title-winning squad may look star-studded now, but it is only so because of the way they nurture young Indian talent - key players Jasprit Bumrah and the Pandya brothers were scouted and signed by the franchise several years ago.
The contributions of the next generation of Indian players in this year’s competition suggest that the supply line of world-class cricketers from that part of the world is not about to stop.
Shreyas Iyer, Ishan Kishan and Devdutt Padikkal, aged 25, 22 and 20 respectively, all ranked in the top eight run-scorers in the UAE, with Shubman Gill also primed for greatness.
While those players are, for now, quietly developing in the shadow of Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul and Virat Kohli, another strong showing in 2021 will see them putting pressure on those players at international level, rather than looking up to them.
But, as ever with Indian cricketers, the conveyor belt is not about to stop. We saw enough from Yashasvi Jaiswal, Riyan Parag, Abdul Samad and, particularly, leg-spinner Rahul Chahar to think that they might be next.