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Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Hardik Pandya keeping the spectators entertained during the training for the IPL 2024. Image Credit: Source: CSK, Hardik Pandya X

Dubai: The buzz is building up for the Indian Premier League season 17, which begins with a cracking opener between Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Virat Kohli. It can’t get any better. The Lions’ den in Chennai is set to see a sea of yellow to watch their idol “Thala” (leader) back in action.

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There were doubts that Dhoni might be playing in his final year last season, but after undergoing a surgery to his troublesome knee, the Captain Cool allayed those fears to bring cheers among the Super Kings fans, who thronged to see him train ahead of the opener on March 22. His new looks with long hair, which shot him to fame during his hey days, was back.

The Super Kings have shown their inclination that they are ready to defend their crown, while the other five-time champions Mumbai Indians are looking forward to start a new era under skipper Hardik Pandya.

The all-rounder after a successful stint with Gujarat Titans, where he has guided them to title in the debut year in 2022 and lost the final to Chennai last season, has returned to his stable to revive Mumbai’s flagging fortunes. In the last three seasons, Mumbai have just made the playoffs last year while finishing last the previous season and fifth the year before.

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Excited to be back

“Day 1. So many emotions, so many memories. Seeing old friends and reliving the good old days. Excited for what’s ahead with this wonderful team. Let’s get down to business,” Pandya wrote on Twitter.

Pandya was out of competitive cricket after sustaining an ankle injury during India’s match against Bangladesh in the 2023 ODI World Cup in Pune on October 19. Shortly after, he was ruled out of the campaign and put on a long recovery plus rehab route to ensure his long-term availability for future events.

Pandya has succeeded Rohit Sharma, Mumbai Indians’ longest-serving and one of the most successful and loved captains. Rohit has led the MIPaltans to five titles since taking over in 2013. He made an immediate impact by winning both the IPL and Champions League T20 double. Pandya knows it is a big shoes to fill, but the all-rounder is well equipped to handle the pressure, which he displayed during his two years with Gujarat Titans.

21 matches in two-week period

While everything is in place for the start of the IPL, one uncertainty grips the richest franchise league. Every five years, the schedule of the IPL gets affected due to the general elections in India, hence the schedule for the first two weeks has been released. During the two-week period, 21 matches will be played across 10 cities, with each team playing a minimum of three matches and a maximum of five.

However, the 2019 edition was completely held in India by working the schedule around the dates for the polls in the respective states. The Indian board have announced that they are planning something similar even this time around.

But, subsequently after the 2019 election, UAE have successfully hosted the 2020 and 2021 editions amid Covid restrictions. The perfect handling of those two editions and along with the Twenty20 World Cup in 2021 have raised the UAE’s profile as a sporting destination in the world.

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Ishan Kishan, who was in the news for the wrong reasons in recent times, will be eager to stake his claim to regain his spot in the Indian team with impressive show for Mumbai. Image Credit: Source: MIpaltans X

Hence, there is a speculation and eagerness among fans to once again see the IPL in UAE. The IPL Governing Council is known to play its card close to its chest and Gulf News takes a look at several options to hold the second half of the IPL this season:

1. Second phase in India

According to a statement from the IPL, as in the past, the BCCI will work closely with government and security agencies, following all necessary protocols and advisories related to the upcoming Lok Sabha elections in India. Once the dates for the elections are announced, the Board will review and address any issues pertaining to the schedule of the first two weeks. Subsequently, the BCCI will work in tandem with local authorities to finalise the schedule for the remainder of the season, taking into account the polling dates. So going by the statement, the IPL Governing Council could follow a familiar model to that of 2019. It still remains to be seen if the governing council is adopting the same approach, which will be clear in the couple of weeks.

2. UAE

The UAE stand a good chance as an alternate venue, should the league decides to move its base out of India. UAE has held the first half in 2014 and has successfully held in 2020 and 2021. The proximity to India and the big Indian fans base with world class infrastructure and facilities in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah have been the key reasons for IPL moving to UAE in the past. The less travel time between venues also helps teams to have a single base and the practice facilities at ICC Academy, Dubai International Stadium and the Zayed Sports Hub seamlessly helps team to shift gears from training and match.

3. South Africa

South Africa stands a good chance to host the event after it had successfully held it in 2009. With six of the IPL teams having their franchises in South Africa, the connect between the fans and the teams will be even greater. The penchant for picking more pacers in this year’s mini auction, held in Dubai, gives scope for speculation that the pitches could assist pacers. Australian skipper Pat Cummins was grabbed by Sunrisers Hyderabad for a record price Rs20.50 million, which was subsequently rewritten by fellow left-arm pacer Mitchell Starc, who outbidded the rest for a price of Rs24.75 million. Almost all of the top picks from the 10-team auction were fast bowlers.

4. USA

America could be a good choice considering the fact that the Twenty20 World Cup will be co-hosted in the country from June 1 and India taking on Ireland on June 5. With the IPL final expected to finish sometime in May, either 19 or 26, there is very little time to travel and get acclimatised to the conditions. If the franchise league happens in USA, it could avoid the travel time. But that is farfetched, though a possibility.