Unpopular Opinion: IPL should consider adopting league format instead of playoffs
In the 12-year history of the Indian Premier League (IPL) so far, it has happened only thrice that the team which has finished at the top of the table has gone on to the clinch the title. While Rajasthan Royals did it in the very first edition of the tournament in 2008, Mumbai Indians have done it a couple of times, in 2017 and 2019 respectively.
However, the fact that the most consistent team in the tournament has not lifted the trophy on nine out of 12 occasions raises question marks over the format of the league itself.
The three franchises which have never won the IPL are Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB), Delhi Daredevils (now Delhi Capitals) and Kings XI Punjab (KXIP) and they are often criticized for their strategy in the auction. It’s a perception that they have never been able to form a balanced side in the auction and have paid the price of it.
But all these three teams have finished at the top of the IPL points table at some stage. While Delhi Daredevils have done it twice, RCB and KXIP have done it once each, which suggests that these teams have had the right players on board at some point and they have not always failed in the auction.
In IPL 2009, Delhi Daredevils had won 10 out of the 14 games they played home and away, while Deccan Chargers won only 7 out of the 14. But as it turned out, Delhi Daredevils got eliminated in the semis and Deccan Chargers went on to win the league, despite the fact that they were nowhere near as consistent a team as Delhi Daredevils were, in the league phase.
The IPL governing council did take into account that there is no reward for a team’s consistency if their fate is decided on the basis of one game in the knockouts and hence they made a change in the format.
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It was decided in 2011 that the team finishing on top and the team finishing at the second spot in the league phase would get two chances in the knockouts, rather than just one. Despite that, the Delhi Daredevils suffered the same fate again, in IPL 2012.
The Daredevils finished at the top of the table in IPL 2012 with 11 wins in 16 games, but couldn’t even qualify for the final of the tournament. While the Chennai Super Kings (CSK), which won only 8 out of their 16 games were in the final by beating the Daredevils in the second qualifier.
When the franchises pick players in the auction, it depends on a lot of factors. The availability of the players, the backups for the first choice players, players suited for different conditions, players suited for different roles and players who can help the team win home and away.
You can finish at the top of the table only if you get all these factors right. If you have secured 11 wins out of 16 games in the league phase, it clearly means you were spot on with the first choice players that you picked in the auction and the back-ups that you had for those first-choice players.
If you go on to lose a couple of games after performing so well in the league, it can’t take away the credit for the work that you did in the auction and throughout the league phase. But, IPL, in its current format, takes away that credit as the team which tops the league phase doesn’t get a materialistic reward.
T20 cricket is on its way of expanding globally and one can foresee the time when the teams from various leagues will be strong enough to compete for a trophy at the continent level, something on the lines of the UEFA Champions League, but right now, it’s not there and the only materialistic reward that a team can get from the IPL is the trophy.
A few cricket boards had attempted to model a tournament like the UEFA Champions League a few years ago, but it didn’t work as cricket, at the moment, doesn’t have a separate space in its calendar for the professional leagues.
Bilateral international series, although they are losing their popularity because of the lack of context, are still the priority of the International Cricket Council (ICC). The top international players are not likely to be available for a tournament like Champions League because of their commitments to their respective national teams.
IPL is the only professional league which has almost got a separate space in ICC’s calendar because it offers lucrative contracts to the cricketers and the worth of those contracts is so much that the players might even start skipping national duties, if IPL isn’t given a separate space in the ICC's calendar.
The only way for a tournament like Champions League to work in cricket is for the other leagues to be run around the same time as the IPL and the Champions League to be played around the same time as well, with the teams qualifying for the Champions League on the basis of their standings in their domestic leagues in the previous season.
But, one of the quick questions to be raised will be – how will the other leagues have the top players playing for them if the IPL runs around the same time?
Most of the other leagues apart from the IPL are at loss. In January last year, five PSL (Pakistan Super League) franchises had reported that they suffered losses up to 700 million PKR. A couple of CPL franchises are in financial trouble as well.
One of the reasons why most of the professional leagues other than IPL are struggling on financial front is because most of the top players are playing international cricket at the time the IPL is not on and hence, the focus of the cricket watching audience around the world shifts to the international arena when there is no IPL.
If the other leagues are run around the same time as the IPL and the teams in those leagues have the opportunity to actually go on and compete with the IPL teams in the same season, it will attach a whole lot of context to the non-IPL leagues.
As far as the availability of the players goes, a lot of top players don’t get contracts in the IPL and they can be signed by the other leagues at lesser salary. Those players will then have the opportunity to show why they deserved to be signed by the IPL franchises, by performing in the non-IPL leagues and making the non-IPL franchises win the Champions League.
The non-IPL leagues are struggling for context at the moment, while IPL is struggling to offer some sort of relevance to the teams which are consistent throughout the league phase, but have a couple of bad days in the knockouts.
If IPL can offer Champions League qualification to the teams finishing in top 4, it will still reward the teams for their consistency in the league phase, but if there is no Champions League, IPL needs to find a way to make sure that the consistency of the teams in the league phase doesn’t go unrewarded.
The only way to do that is to get rid of the playoffs. It’s really interesting if there were no playoffs; Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) would never have been the IPL champions, while all three of Delhi Daredevils (now Delhi Capitals), RCB and KXIP would have won the IPL by now.
Published 10 Feb 2020, 18:12 IST