A ridiculous finish to a rain-hit key eliminator game of the Indian Premier League (IPL) in Bengaluru jolted the chairman of its governing council to concede that a reserve day for the matches at the business end of the tournament could be considered in future.
The match between two champion sides Kolkata Knight Riders and Sunrisers Hyderabad has triggered a debate over not only the rain rule, but also the format of the tournament itself. The difference between the top four teams, at least this year, has not been much.
If table-toppers Mumbai Indians won 10 matches to finish with 20 points, the sixth-placed Delhi Daredevils won six games and Kings XI Punjab who ended up fifth won seven. On the last day of the league phase, three among the top five teams could have finished in the top four behind Mumbai.
Rising Pune Supergiant finished in second position even after losing to Delhi Dardevils in their penultimate league match, but by knocking out Punjab Kings XI in their last match. They went on to beat Mumbai Indians in the first play-off qualifier to enter the final.
The problem arose in the eliminator between KKR and Sunrisers with heavy rain pushing the match into Duckworth-Lewis calculator and taking it into the early hours of next day, ending at 1.30 am.
However, the bizarre rule is clear. If the match had been abandoned KKR would have been eliminated as they had finished behind Hyderabad in the league. But the rules permitted a minimum five-over match and the adjudicators decided on a six overs game fixing a six-over, 48-run target for KKR from getting 129 in 20 overs.
As Sunrisers captain David Warner, like a good sport, said that if it had rained a little more KKR would have felt cheated after restricting his side to 128 for seven and now that the match was played and his side lost his team felt let down by the rule.
The result has raised a few questions. When the match is reduced to six overs, should the chasing have all the 10 wickets to go out and feel free to tonk around? Like in the Super over, in which after the fall of second wicket the innings is called, in a six-over game the team should have been allowed four or five wickets not all ten. Also, shouldn't the restriction on the number of overs a bowler can bowl go to balance the freedom a batting side has to go all out?
In this case, KKR had lost three wickets in the first seven balls and they would have been under tremendous pressure not to risk losing another wicket or two in reaching the target. Skipper Gautam Gambhir made sure they reached the shore with four balls to spare.
Few may have put their money on Hyderabad winning the match as the rules and the conditions were so heavily loaded against them. After such a heavy rain, KKR would have won even a 20-over match against disadvantaged bowlers not being able to grip a wet ball.
For purposes of logistics, the semi-final was also played in Bangalore the next evening and this time KKR were at the receiving end of Mumbai Indians, tha rain lashing the city during the day. The Kolkata team was bowled out for 107 runs, perhaps 35 runs shy of a fighting score, and one decent partnership between Krunal Pandya and Rohit Sharma settled the issue for Mumbai.
The question is why should the top two teams have the privilege of having a second chance to enter the final when the other two are out after one defeat? Ideally, a league should end after all the eight teams played the home and away games. There could be the usual parameters like run rate, result between the two teams and number of victories and losses to break a tie.
Otherwise, there should be semi-finals where in the top team plays the number four in one semi-final and two and three in the other. If an extra match is needed there could be one for third place since prize money is involved.
When the Indian Premier League (IPL) was being conceptualised, one suggestion was to begin the first match over the weekeneds and public holidays around 6.00 pm and the second game at 9.30 pm to coincide with the evening film shows.
The idea was shot down keeping the global audiences in view, particularly in Australia and New Zealand. Also the logistics and public transport for fans was also a point in playing the first match at 4 pm even in summer and the evening game at 7.30. As it is the second match is being stretch right till midnight.
If the tournament is stretched to the last week of May, the matches in south could be affected by pre-monsoon showers. A reserve day for rain can be a good idea but then remember the 2002 Champions Trophy final in Colombo when rain intervened both the days and India and Sri Lanka were delared joint winners.
Shouldn't the IPL be made more thrilling?
(Veturi Srivatsa is a senior journalist. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at email@example.com)