IPL - a heady brew of management, analytics and strategy
Unknown to the fan, several factors shape the course of this annual summer blockbuster.
IPL 2017 is upon us.
It’s the 10th edition of an annual and global event that has truly shrunk the cultural boundaries that exist between various cricketing nations. Among several other things, the IPL has expanded the horizons for the seasoned internationals and opened up new vistas for the domestic colts, eager to add new experiences to their resumes.
Who would have ever imagined that we’d get this far? A decade is a stupendous achievement for a league that set out to chart a new course for cricket, in tune with changing times and stakeholders’ interests. Little did we know back then that it would be the catalyst for several other leagues that would eventually sprout around the globe.
Events with a global relevance conducted on such a large scale have a lot of glitz and hoopla associated with them. The IPL is no different, and the reasons for its continued success are many.
Foremost among them is the event management team that is responsible for helping the BCCI with savvy packaging to showcase the event to millions of viewers, both at the venues and on their television screens.
Various groups work together under the broad umbrella called event management. Chief among them would be hospitality, accreditation, logistics and communication. The heads of all these groups have the unenviable task of attending to any showstoppers that might crop up or anything remotely close to being perceived as detrimental to the successful staging of a game.
While donning different hats, they are instrumental in ensuring that there is a seamless coordination of various activities and little for the stakeholders to furrow their brows about. They have to befriend the local police, get to know the layout of the arena and establish camaraderie with the vendors. That’s a brief background.
The biggest pre-event eyepiece is the IPL auction. And just like any other auction, you can be rest assured that the bidders would have come well prepared. Having done their homework, they will be hoping to lighten their purses on prize catches that they envisage would serve them well in the ensuing tournament.
You might be surprised to know that technology-driven analysis plays a big hand in this.
As much as the naysayers frown upon it and debunk it as an excess commodity, it’s here to stay. A popular image from live streams of T20 leagues around the world would be that of an analyst, sitting studiously in the dugout, hunched over the laptop – much like a computer geek.
Who is this guy and what does he bring to the auction table, the team management and beyond? Here’s a small peek.
Right through the previous playing year and perhaps earlier, a software captures raw data of the players throughout the globe. The high definition cameras are constantly abuzz while capturing prime videos and storing them away for dissection.
Data by itself has no meaning and, as in any business intelligence paradigm, the slicing and dicing of it and the building of predictive models is what brings to the forefront the intrinsic worth of a player the stakeholders are interested in.
Different yardsticks would obviously apply for the skill sought.
For a batsman, it could be tangible strengths like the strike rate, runs scored by the batting order, strengths and weaknesses. Similarly, for a bowler, it could be his economy rate, his ability to bowl yorkers at the death and the variations he manages to conjure up in the span of 24 deliveries at his disposal.
That explains why even the best overseas players aren’t picked automatically, unless they are seen to be high impact players befitting to the team’s central scheme of things.
Finding the right blend
With “horses for courses” being the mantra, higher the impact of a player, higher are his rates. It must be mentioned here that the Indian players find it a bit easier to get in since seven Indian players are a must in the XI.
Yet, as has been proven over the last few years, the team with the best core players that are expected to do well and win games mostly on their own, have the best chance to win. This irresistible combination of solid impact foreign players and an indigenous Indian outfit is what the owners would aim to walk away with after the auction. It’s almost akin to a happy family buying a judicious mix of Diwali firecrackers at the stalls to display their firepower to unsuspecting neighbours.
Yes sir, the auction runs on a requirement which is relevant to a particular team and choosing players is not merely an exercise in gambling. Instead, it’s fueled by logic and analysis while aided by the ubiquitous analytics software. Money and skill go hand in glove.
Cut back to 2008. In its first year, as the league took baby steps, it was watched by several groups. While one set followed it with earnest intensity, the other did so largely with bemusement. And the naysayers were working overtime.
Was this just slam-bang action - harassing the already burdened bowlers, denting their psyches and glorifying the gladiators posing as batsmen? Was it meant to cater to millennials while sidelining the righteous purists who saw this as nothing but a needless aberration from the languid way the game was meant to be played?
Fortunately, it was not to be.
That none are greater than the game was proven by the time the tournament ended. It left everyone awestruck with the possibilities of evenly matched contests between bat and ball.
Trickery backed by strategy
Strategy, pre-match and during the game, go a long way in determining the outcome of an encounter.
The “Sheikh of tweak” – Shane Warne – might not have been a great evangelist for analysis. That said, he had all the intelligence to line up his Rajasthan Royal troops astutely to execute a well-crafted plan against RCB in a league game during the inaugural edition of the IPL.
His approach was a stark contrast to those employed by the RCB. Back then, RCB comprised of esteemed players who played by the book and didn’t believe in analysis either. Their analogy was simple – success in the longer format would augur well in T20s too. But Warne was going to prove them all wrong.
In this game against RCB – played at the M Chinnaswamy stadium – the Australian knew his moves and those of his hapless opponent. On a pitch with bounce, and being fully aware of the strengths of RCBs top order, Warne placed his men back on the fence and instructed his bowlers to dig it in short.
The pull shot, although flamboyant, is one that no one controls consistently. Three options present itself before the batsman - hook or pull and succeed; leave it alone and wait for the next one; fail to control it and strike it down a fielder’s throat.
There is a term called “playing the percentages”. That night, RCB’s batsmen didn’t “play the percentages” right and instead, played right into Warne’s hands. I remember watching aghast from the RCB dug-out as our top players perished – each of them playing the pull shot without success.
They hadn’t thought much about the analysis that had gone into plotting their fall and Warney had pulled a rabbit out of the hat. Before it sunk in, the game was half lost and their not so express bowlers, while executing the plan to perfection, had proved to be highly effective.
Earlier in the day, I remember being on air with the commentator asking me about the right length to bowl in T20 cricket. My answer then was a judicious mix of the short ball, the slower one and a good length delivery, but not a yorker as a new ball is difficult to control. I was laughed at but was proven right later as proved by Warne’s theory.
As Virat Kohli walks into the auction hall this time to fulfil his personal quest and that of a million other RCB fans to be first-time winners of the elusive IPL, he would do well to fall back on such knowledge banks and not miss a trick or two when the gavel sounds.