Monday, September 13, 2010

IPL 2010 Schedule

In the previous post I had looked at how the schedule for the next IPL season should be like. This one is about the schedule for the last season and analysing how games were spread between teams and venues over the course of the season.

  1. There is a slight disparity in the number of night games for each team. While four of them played 9 night games each, Chennai had 8 night games while Kolkata and Mumbai had 11 each. Deccan had 12 night games, perhaps justified since they didn't really have a home venue.
  2. There was a very even spread of the number of weekend games for each team. Six of them had 6 six weekend games each while Bangalore and Delhi had 5 each.
  3. Six of the eight teams had 5 home games at night while Rajasthan and Bangalore had 4 each. Considering Bangalore had one less game on the weekend maybe it should have had 5 home games at night. Rajasthan played 4 of their home games at Ahmedabad so maybe they could have had 5 home games at night too, although I had been to a couple of those games and both were sold out.
  4. Again, there was a very even spread of the number of home games for each team on a weekend. Six of them had 3 home games each while Bangalore and Delhi had 2 each.
  5. There was a little bit more variance when it came to the number of travel/rest days for each team compared to what I have proposed for next season. I guess it makes sense because there were a lot of days on which there was only one game. Sure the league could have given Bangalore more days at the expense of Kolkata but it's not like the difference was huge.

2011 IPL Fixtures: Changes and Additions

In my last post I came up with a draft for IPL fixtures for next season. Since then I've revisited the schedule as well as looked at the one from last season in order to see how evenly were matches spread out last season. The factors to be considered were:
  1. Number of night games.
  2. Number of weekend games.
  3. Number of home games at night.
  4. Number of home games over the weekend.
  5. Number of rest/travel days.
 Based on these factors, this is the schedule I came up with.

The final is scheduled for a Friday but it can obviously be pushed back to a Saturday. I think Saturday is the best day to have the final as people don't have to worry about being late for work/school the following day. Also, this schedule leaves enough room to have the wildcard system I had proposed in an earlier post. Here's a summary of how the games are spread out keeping the aforementioned factors in mind.

  1. Each team has 7 night games.
  2. Eight teams have 4 weekend games each. Mumbai and Rajasthan have 3 and 5 respectively.
  3. All teams have either 3 or 4 home games at night. Rajasthan who have 5 weekend games naturally have 3 home games at night while Mumbai who only have 3 weekend games have 4 home games at night.
  4. Eight teams have 2 home games each on weekends. Rajasthan have 3 while Mumbai have 1. Another reason why Mumbai have more home games at night than Rajasthan.
  5. Five teams have 19 rest/travel days each while the other five have 20 rest/travel days. You can't make it any more even than this.
As I mentioned in the last post, I have colour-coded the fixtures and given each team a specific code so that you can regenerate the schedule by simply reassigning the team codes. Again, first name in a fixture indicates the home team.

I will compare this schedule to the one from last season in another post.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Draft for 2011 IPL Fixtures

Since the IPL has come out with its format for the next three seasons, I decided to come up with what I think would be a good fixture list. It's based on what I felt would be the right way to split the 10 teams but I will also provide a key to ensure the fixtures can be tweaked just by changing the respective codes of the 10 teams.

Please note:
  1. I have colour-coded the fixtures. The ones in light blue are games within the pool while those in dark blue are ones between teams from different groups.
  2. The first team name in a particular fixture is that of the home team.
  3. All teams play an equal number of day-night matches.
  4. Total number of travel/rest days for each team.
  5. There are some instances of a team playing on consecutive days, hence the matches on these days are scheduled at the team's home. For example, Punjab play Deccan and Kolkata on consecutive days at the start of Week 4. Hence, both games would be held at Punjab's home venue. Likewise for Kochi against Bangalore and Kolkata in Week 5.
  6. The season ends with two of the most intense regional rivalries in India. Bangalore host Chennai while Delhi travel to Mumbai for the last game of the regular season.
  7. You can tweak the fixtures by simply changing the team code. This ensures that this fixture list can be used year after year by just rotating the teams.
  8. I have checked the fixtures for the last IPL season and it seems on an average a team had 23 rest/travel days. According to the schedule the number is 19.5. However, you can always space out the fixtures and make the IPL a 7-week tournament.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Changes in Indian Premier League

The Indian Premier League has finally come out with the changes for the coming season. I have to say I'm quite happy with most of them although it wouldn't be surprising if people blindly criticise whatever the league has done. There are a lot of stakeholders in the IPL and it's impossible to please all of them. The best one can do is be mindful of the interests of fans, players, franchise owners, sponsors, broadcasters, etc. and ensure long-term benefits aren't compromised for short-term gains. So let's look at the key points:

There was a fear that with two new teams being added there might be 94 games in a season. While franchises might have been keen to have more matches, this may have been detrimental to their cause in the long run as players would have either been tired by the end of the season or would have to be rested for some games. In both scenarios, you're compromising the quality of cricket and that's a definite no-no as far as fans are concerned. Reducing the number of games per team was also not practical as the business model was based on teams playing a certain number of matches.

Under the new format, there will be 14 more games in the season but each team will still play the same number of games in the group stage as they did last year. The 10 teams will be split into two groups with each team playing those from its group home and away. Each team will also play four teams from the other group either home or away, and the fifth team from that group home and away. I've come across people who found it a bit difficult to understand so I should point out that this is kind of similar to how the National Football League draws up its schedule (Click here and here).

The one different thing I would have done would be to simply create two permanent divisions - North and South (Don't get stuck on the names, they can be called anything). There are already 4 teams from the South and it makes sense to have them all in the same group. Ditto for the 3 Northern teams. This greatly reduces the amount of travel and also helps build regional rivalries which are a key factor in generating and sustaining spectator interest. Keeping this in mind, the two groups would be:

Group A: Delhi, Punjab, Rajasthan, Mumbai, Pune.
Group B: Bangalore, Deccan, Chennai, Kochi, Kolkata.

Also, I think the teams that finish in identical positions in their respective groups should be the ones that play each other home and away next season. For example, if Punjab and Kolkata are the lowest ranked of the 5 teams in Group A and B respectively then they play each other home and away in 2012. Similarly, if Delhi and Chennai have the best record in their respective groups then they play each other home and away in 2012. What this does is creates a competitive balance because the teams that have performed badly play each other one more time than they play the better teams while the ones that perform well play each other one more time than they play the lesser sides.

I also like the knockout format for next year. Until now, teams have had no reason other than pride to play for top spot in the league. As Deccan and Chennai have proved the last two seasons, you really don't need to finish top of the league to win. It only takes two good games once you've got into the top four. Under the new format, the top two teams can make the finals even if they lose one game while the ones finishing third and fourth have no margin for error and have to win three games instead of two in order to be crowned champions. This should ensure teams will fight it out almost till the end so that they can finish in the top two.

If you had to pick a hole in this format you could say there might be a situation in which four teams might run away at the start and the others wouldn't have much to play for. The league could've looked into a wildcard system wherein the top two teams get a bye in the first round. The team that finishes third would play the sixth placed team while number four would play number five in the wildcard round. After that you'd have the usual semi-finals with the top team facing the lowest ranked team left after the wildcard round and the second-placed team would face the next lowest team. It would add two more games to the schedule.

Player Retention and Salary Structure
The initial IPL player contracts were for a period of three years and the league hadn't thought of how they would be structured going ahead. With the league being such a hit in India and two new teams entering the fray there were quite a few entities whose interests had to be looked after:

1. The players obviously wanted to maximise their value because a lot of them performed exceedingly well and they could see how well the league had done.
2. The 8 existing franchises wanted to retain some of their players but they wouldn't want to break the bank in order to do so.
3. The 2 new franchises would want to be allowed to be in a position to buy any player and hence wouldn't want the 8 existing franchises to be able to retain any players.
4. Fans would like to see the best players of their franchise and/or homegrown players to remain with them but they would also like to see certain players from other teams to be in theirs.

The league has increased the salary cap to $9 million so that's a good thing from the players' perspective. However, it is the point of retention that I'm wary of. By leaving it between the franchise and the player, the league has opened up possibilities of players being paid a part of their salary under the table. For example, let's assume Chennai retain Suresh Raina on a contract of $900,000 and the Super Kings owner N Srinivasan ensures Raina is bumped up to a Grade A contract for the national team. Also, the chairman of selectors is the brand ambassador for that franchise. He can ensure Raina gets picked for the Indian team even if he's struggling. If you think this is outrageous then think back to when the Mumbai Indians were ready to offer Ravindra Jadeja a salary that was FIVE times what he was entitled to under the league rules.

I would have rather liked to see all players go into the auction and then whatever price he commanded his original team could sign him for that amount if not at a premium. For example, if Pune put in the winning bid for Sachin Tendulkar at $2 million Mumbai would have the option to sign him for that amount or at a premium of say $50,000. That way the 8 existing franchises can theoretically retain any number of players and there would be no danger of paying players under the table.

Well these are my thoughts on the new rules. I'm sure there are other ideas out there as well that might improve the format and/or salary structure. Feel free to share them.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Dr. Swann and the Spin Revolutions

One of the most enduring attributes of sport is the ability to unearth greatness generation after generation. Sunil Gavaskar had carried the Indian batting on his shoulders for the better part of decades. When he retired in 1987, people started obsessing over the fragility of the Indian lineup. However, Mohammad Azharuddin had already established himself as a top class batsman by then.

It took only more two years for the nation to witness perhaps its greatest batsman take centre stage. 16-year old Sachin Tendulkar showed the flair and tenacity to thwart a world class batting lineup - bloody nose and all. With Tendulkar nearing the end of his career Sehwag has taken over the mantle of being the most feared batsman in world cricket.

Coming to a more global scale, the eighties saw people proclaim the end of spin bowling. Kim Hughes made a statement that legspinners had no role in the game. The West Indians talked about picking a spinner if he could turn the ball at 90 miles an hour. Infact, only 12 spinners took 50 or more wickets during that decade, with only two of them averaging less than 30 runs per wicket. What's more, only Iqbal Qasim had a strike rate of less than 70 while Abdul Qadir with a strike rate of just over 70 being the only other bowler with a sub-80 strike rate.

However, the nineties saw the renaissance of spin bowling. Three of the greatest spinners in the history of the game made their debut. Interestingly, none of them had a good start to their career. Anil Kumble was the first of the three to make his mark with a six-for in South Africa and followed it up by tormenting the English batsmen in a 3-0 sweep at home. Shane Warne and Muttiah Muralitharan debuted within months of each other but took a while to get going. Although the Australian legspinner produced a master performance to turn a test in Sri Lanka, he shot to fame with what was labeled "The Ball of the Century". He didn't stop bamboozling batsmen around the world, especially the English, until a little over three years ago. Murali took the most time to develop into a world class bowler, he wasn't rated very highly until the 16-wicket haul against England at the Oval. Soon after he developed the doosra which was pioneered by Saqlain Mustaq and gave batsmen even more headaches.

There were some more quality spinners in the game during this decade - Saqlain Mustaq invented the doosra, Mushtaq Ahmed who had an amazing wrong 'un, while Daniel Vettori and Harbhajan Singh made their debut in 1997 and 1998 respectively. In all, 15 spinners took 50 or more wickets this decade with 8 of them averaging less than 30. In addition, 7 of the 15 had a sub-70 strike rate. Part of it could just be down to strike rates generally following a downward trend from the 1960s.

Kumble, Warne and Murali continued their dominance well into the next decade and were joined by Harbhajan Singh who even managed to keep Kumble out of the side for a brief period. Vettori had his moments too, as did Saqlain Mustaq and Stuart MacGill. Towards the end of the decade it started to look like cricket might lose the charm of spin bowling. Warne retired in 2007, Kumble wasn't as menacing and eventually retired in 2008, and Murali was also losing his bite. Harbhajan Singh, who was supposed to take over as the world's premier spinner still hadn't adapted to foreign conditions and the Kookaburra ball. Worse, he wasn't as effective as he used to even at home. As a result, only 3 of the 18 who took 50 or more wickets in the 2000s averaged less than 30. The good thing, though, was 4 of these 18 had a strike rate of less than 60 and 3 more having a sub-70 strike rate. Again, part of it could just be down to strike rates generally following a downward trend from the 1960s.

It was in this backdrop that England finally picked Graeme Swann in their test side. Swann had played a few ODIs before that, making his debut in 2000 before being in international wilderness for seven years. It was in his comeback series in Sri Lanka that he caught my attention with a Man of the Match performance against Sri Lanka, tossing the ball up and inducing false strokes. Indeed, two of the four dismissals were caught and bowled.

Swann's latest challenge was perhaps the sternest one faced by spinners in international cricket. The best in the world have come to Indian shores and left with their reputations tarnished. The Indian batting was stronger than ever, for the first time featuring two prolific openers to set up a strong and experienced middle order. It didn't count for much: Swann rocked the batting by taking the wicket of Gautam Gambhir and Rahul Dravid in his very first over. He has gone on to take a wicket in the first over of a spell 22 more times. Talk about instant impact.

Eight wickets in a two-test series against the best batting lineup in the world must have done wonders to Swann's confidence. But it wasn't enough for Andy Flower who persisted with Monty Panesar in the first test against the West Indies in Jamaica. However, Swann got his chance in the next test and promptly got a five-wicket haul in the first innings. England couldn't force a win but Swann's place in the side seemed to be safe and he hasn't looked back since then. As seen above, he has the third-best average among spinners for the last decade. No shame being third in a list which has Murali and Warne occupying the top two positions. He also has the fourth best strike rate among the lot.

Since his debut in December 2008, 12 bowlers have taken 50 or more wickets in tests. No surprise that Dale Steyn has the best average and strike rate in the list. Asif has the second best average although it should be noted that all 12 of his tests have been in conditions ideal for his style of bowling. Swann is third on the list, no mean achievement because spinners have generally tended to average more than fast bowlers. It's interesting that Zaheer Khan has the second best strike rate. 9 of his 12 tests during this period have been in the subcontinent and only 2 against Bangladesh. Swann has the fifth-best strike rate, again a major achievement when you consider even the best spinners in the post-war era, Warne and Murali included, have an inferior strike rate to their fast bowling peers.

It should be pointed out that he's achieved all this with a clean action and without a doosra, displaying the old-fashioned virtues of beating batsmen in the air. Another impressive aspect of his bowling is the number of balls he forces batsmen to play on the front foot, thereby giving them less time to adjust. Last but not least, he is one of the few right-arm bowlers who starts around the wicket to left-hand batsmen. It's something James Anderson would do well to replicate.

It's a pity he's already 31 years old. In some ways, he's had the kind of start Michael Hussey had to his career. While he has been good in different conditions and against all opposition, his place in the pantheon of spin Gods will be sealed only if he sustains this level of performance for another 5-6 years. Test cricket will be all the richer if Swann manages to do so and in the process inspires others to take up the art of finger spin.