Chinks in the IPL armour?
The IPL has had its share of bouquets and brickbats. Our expert takes a look at why this year’s edition hasn’t produced the quality of cricket expected, and also suggests viable solutions to revive interest.
As I look at the IPL points table, with some 15 league matches still to go, I’m surprised to note that the semi-finalists are all but decided. This wasn’t how IPL was supposed to be; the original idea was to have eight almost equally matched teams, with every team capable of winning the crown.
Why? What’s going wrong? Are there chinks in the IPL armour that are beginning to show? Yes, I believe so.
First, the rich versus poor divide is beginning to show. Mumbai Indians managed to retain four players together worth about $6 million for just $4.5 million by cleverly manipulating the player retention rule. Chennai Super Kings retained their old team by a judicious combination of both the player retention rule and some old-fashioned subterfuge. On the other hand, teams like Rajasthan Royals and Kings XI Punjab were not even allowed to spend their full $9 million because of some contrived legal dispute. It’s hardly a surprise that MI and CSK are now the two best teams.
Second, the quality divide is widening. Even with eight IPL teams, we had about 30 mediocre Indian players diminishing quality. Now with 10 teams, approximately half the IPL players are mediocre! This becomes evident when Chris Gayle slaughters a hapless Prasanth Parameswaran or Virender Sehwag wallops Ishan Malhotra to oblivion. We see a bit of that also when Lasith Malinga shatters the stumps of novice batsmen who just haven’t faced bowlers of such quality.
Third, the quality of pitches has been dubious: pitches seem to unfairly favour either the bat or the ball … in both cases denying viewers a fair contest. Worse still, some grounds appear to have ridiculously short and disproportionate boundaries. We’re also seeing pitch doctoring. Home sides have always been known to doctor pitches, but there are allegations that Chennai may even have doctored an ‘away’ pitch in Jaipur!
Fourth, the umpiring standard seems to be dropping. Sure we still have Aleem Dar and Simon Taufel; but they are often accompanied by some rather poor Indian umpires. We see great inconsistency especially in wide calls and lbw decisions (and I wonder if they are noting how bowlers are changing their actions to gain an advantage … although if batsmen are allowed reverse sweeps why should we disallow bowlers their variations as long as they are legal?) As if this isn’t bad enough, we are also seeing a large number of dropped catches.
When a contest loses its fine edge, or players’ body language suggests that they are showing up simply to pocket big dollars, the viewer is put off. There are reports that TV viewership has dropped by 20% or more. Some grounds, especially those outside city limits or belonging to teams that are losing badly, are not filling up enough.
It would therefore seem that IPL will need to re-invent itself. How do I see (or would like to see) future IPLs panning out?
First, we must either smother the rich vs poor franchise divide by being really serious about team salary caps or simply accept that such caps cannot be sustained in the long run and make it a free-for-all. In the latter case, the IPL will go even more the EPL way (many of us have already tried to set up IPL <-> EPL mappings. My mapping has Manchester United <-> Chennai Super Kings; Mumbai Indians <-> Liverpool; Royal Challengers Bangalore <-> Chelsea; and Kolkata Knight Riders <-> Arsenal). And if we do that we can also get rid of the ridiculous auctions and allow players to change teams after every season.
Second, we must raise the number of foreign players in the playing eleven to at least five. There are so many good international players warming the team dugouts! At the very least, we must bring back the concept of a super-sub so that there will be five foreign players in the playing 12.
Third, we could tweak match winning points by a bit. For example, give an extra point to teams that chase down targets in just 80% of the available overs or restrict opposing teams to less than 80% of their run tally. This will ensure that the semi-finalists are spotted much later in the league phase.