You have to begin with negatives in this one, writes Chetan Narula. The latest season of the Indian Premier League has simply failed to live up to expectations that have been laid down since three years past. If it were to be said that ratings and fan attendances are at an all-time low, nothing would be wrong for barring the stint in South Africa, 2008 and 2010 were fairly successful times for the IPL.
The reasoning ranges from India winning the World Cup to cricket fatigue to the increase in the number of matches to the quality of entertainment being dished out to inane one-sided T20 matches to the absence of one Lalit Modi. The people of this country will never forget that they were not allowed to celebrate the triumph of their team for the IPL began in five days’ time.
It is not like India wins world championships everyday so that will take some healing. That a few thousands do walk into the stadiums still and tune into matches is evidence enough that recovery is an ongoing process.
The increase in number of matches has definitely been a factor. When two new teams enter into a result-orientated competition as this, it is but logical that the best talent available will be stretched thin. More domestic players from across the world – and not just India – got contracts than in previous seasons.
It was an indicator of the franchise’s requirements and there is no such thing as cost control in the IPL. The problem herein is that the competition in turn gets weaker and there is a clear disparity between the teams that finished in the top and bottom halves of the league table. Matches haven’t really been that close as you would want to expect from this format of the game and it tells on the waning audiences every week, in front of TV screens or otherwise.
Of course it will all pick up in the last week of the tournament, for effectively those are the matches that count. And going forward, the four games marked out as play-offs seem to be the singular best idea to be generated out of this fourth edition of IPL.
Quite literally, this is where the business takes place. When you invest multi-millions into buying a team, the biggest thought is to see them go all the way so that returns can be taken into account. In its previous format, that part wasn’t really accounted for by the franchises.
For example, take Delhi Daredevils – they made it to the semis twice in two years, lost both, and complained all along how it wasn’t fair that having dominated the league stages, they were so naively out of the picture after just one loss.
Today, they have been relegated to such depths, that coming back would be a near rebirth of sorts. In turn that makes their complaint even fairer and to be honest, the new play-offs’ format therein laying onus on teams finishing first and second in the league is a welcome change. Just not enough by Delhi perhaps, but that’s another story.
Right now, it is the thought that even on the last Sunday of the league phase, four teams that had otherwise qualified for the final stage, were still giving it their all to have that second chance at glory. This was something missing in the last three years. When the third week onwards, the battle was only in the mid-table, where teams would want to go on a late charge and just sneak into the semis. This year the competition has been pretty even in that particular sense.
You could sense it in the way 60,000 Bengalis turned up to watch Mumbai Indians play at Eden Gardens. That the loss of Kolkata Knight Riders’ infuriated them to no end is pretty reflective of the importance of those vital first two slots.
With victory over Chennai Super Kings, Royal Challengers Bangalore had sewn up the top spot. But the defending champions’ run-rate was at a low ebb and victory would have seen Kolkata take over that spot. Alas their own particular story isn’t one of glory otherwise Lakshmipathy Balaji wouldn’t have given away 20-plus runs in his last over.
Come to think of it, this is how it plays out. Both Bangalore and Chennai need to win two of two games at best. At worst they need to win two out of three games and that isn’t a bad deal either. Both Mumbai and Kolkata have to win three out of three games, and it is that extra game that has them befuddled. Their performances haven’t been consistent enough this season.
While that is always the case with Kolkata, yet they somehow made it until here, Mumbai did start as favourites but have lost their fizz recently.
Look at it whichever way, this extra game – called the eliminator – is quite a mystery. For Mumbai Indians, it could trigger back their spark again. For Kolkata Knight Riders, it could be ‘the’ roadblock to their aspirations. For Chennai Super Kings, it could be the game where they get a second chance to defend their title. And for Royal Challengers Bangalore, it could be the last game where Chris Gayle fires when they would want him to do so in the final as well.
When the fate of a tournament as long and stretched out as this, rests on one single match across three hours, the administrators ought to know they did do something right.
© Cricket World 2011