FormatThere 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.