Tuesday, May 25, 2010

What direction will the IPL take?

The IPL is currently contemplating a shift from their current tournament format, which is, each team plays every other team twice, once home and once away. In the current format, a total number of 56 games are played in the group stage, 2 semi-finals, a third place play-off and the finals, which would bring the grand total to 60 games over a short period of time. Upon the addition of two new teams i.e. Kochi and Pune, the total number of teams would be increased to 10 and the total number of games to be played in the group stages, under the current format, would be increased to 90, plus 2 semi-finals, the third place play-off and the final would take the grand total to 94 games.

This is inherently the problem facing the IPL for its upcoming year. 94 T20 games in a period of 30-40 days would be next to impossible to organize, and even if organized, would result in great attrition and strain on the current pool of players, and the criticims of tiring out international players, prior to international duty would return with greater force and some major decisons would have to be made especially by the current crop of Indian cricketers who represent the international team on a regular basis. In my view, some of the cricketers would necessarily have to take a stand, similar to the ones taken by certain Australian and English cricketers to put their international careers ahead of their desires to make some (read lots of ) quick money by playing in the IPL.

However, the IPL can simply not afford such a situation to happen in India. The Indian public may not care if Ricky Ponting, Michael Clark, Mitchell Johnson, Stuart Broad and the likes do not participate in the IPL. However, if you have similar Indian stars, such as M.S. Dhoni, Yuvraj Singh, Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag etc. opting out of the IPL to save themself for international duty, it would cause panic amongst the franshisees as well as the governing council of the IPL and would inevitably be the first nail in the coffin on the IPL experiment.

There are too many vested interests and too large an amount of money invested to allow such a situation to come about. Therefore, the IPL has already announced the decison to do away with the current format and try to adopt a different format which would allow for a lesser amount of games to be played.

Coming to the issue of this different format, news reports are stating that the IPL may adopt a modified version of the NBA schedule. The NBA schedule, to all those who follow American basketball, is quite a strenuous one. There are 30 teams divided into two conferences, Western and Eastern, which are further sub-divided into divisions (Atlantic, Central, Southeast, Northwest, Pacific, Southwest). Each NBA team plays a total of 82 games, where they play an opponent in their own division 4 times, an opponent in their conference but not in their division is played 3 or 4 times and opponents in the other conference are faced twice. The regular season starts in November and ends in the last week of April. The many games to played are spread out over this period with a break some-time in February for the All-Star Weekend. The Post-Season (Playoffs) begin in late April and end sometime in June where 16 teams from the pool of 30 qualify and face each other in a knock-out style tournament, where each match-up is a best of seven series.

Now its quite obvious that the IPL will not follow the NBA format in its strict sense. What the IPL, in my view intends to do is split the 10 teams into two groups, wherein teams from the same group face off twice (home and away) and face a team in the other group only once. The top two teams from each group would qualify for the semi finals and so on. This would result in 65 games being played during the group stages and 4 more thereafter, which take the total number of games up to 69 which would be marginally more than the 60 already being played but considerably lesser than the 94 which would have to be played in the event the current format is retained.

However this format does face certain inherent problems. How to split the teams into groups. The NBA does it on the basis of location of the teams, however this would be a problem because we dont have enough teams to split on the basis of conferences and further the teams are not spread out eventnly across the country to enable conferencing of the like practiced in the NBA. A solution to this problem may be to have a lottery pool and decide the groupings on the basis of a draw of lots. Another problem faced by this format is that, it is theoretically possible and mostly inevitable that two teams in different groups may not wind up facing off against each other during the course of the IPL. I dont know how well this would go down with fans and franchisees alike, but this problem would have to be addressed by the powers that be who shall decide the fate of this tournament in the future.

Another possible format is one in where each team plays the other only once, which would result in a total of 45 games in the group stage and with the additional games thereafter, bringing the total to 49. Such a number of games would be infinitely manageable and better on the players as they would not be subjected to the same amount of wear and tear as they have in the past. But again, this format has certain problems which may prove to be deal breakers. Firstly, due to the decrease in the number of games, the IPL would stand to lose a large amount of its advertising revenue. Secondly, the teams would not be able to play home and away, which would lead to problems in deciding who gets home games against which teams. 

Having stated the various difficulties in the new possible formats, it must be said that a change in format is inevitable, 94 games are just not possible or plausible, and any change in format is bound to bring about protests from different corners. It is now upto the IPL to build a consensus within the governing council and amongst the franchisees and decide in which direction they wish to steer the financial bohemeth we know as the IPL. 

As a conclusion i would like to make a final observation that it is as plain as the light of day, that whatever the change may be, the number of games should ideally be reduced or as a last resort marginally increased. If the IPL governing council continues expanding the league without expanding the time window in which the games are to be played, they will in effect begin the process of killing the goose which is laying the golden eggs.

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