Trust the Indian Premier League to throw up surreal moments.
Here was it. At close to 1 am on Thursday morning, Kolkata Knight Riders’ two openers, Robin Uthappa and Chris Lynn came out to bat against Sunrisers Hyderabad. The match had begun at 8 pm on Wednesday, they had gone off the field at around 9.35 pm. Torrential rain at the Chinnaswamy Stadium had made it impossible to continue.
For more than three hours, everyone waited. Thanks to the brilliant new drainage system at the Chinnaswamy, cricket finally took place. And here was the next surreal bit: the target for KKR was 48 runs in six overs with all 10 wickets intact.
Now a word to the wise.
Sunrisers Hyderabad scored just 128 in 20 overs. It wasn’t a good score, not even a middling one. Their batting was low-key at best and every time they tried to press on the accelerator, they lost wickets. In that respect, the rules aren’t a mystery. Everyone knew about the weather forecasts and the Duckworth-Lewis-Stern method. Hyderabad have only themselves to blame for giving KKR such a paltry target to chase down.
But the more important question is, was it fair?
A target of 129 isn’t a good one. But is it indefensible? Definitely not. In the last 10 years of the IPL, six lower scores have been defended. Kings XI Punjab defended 128 on this very venue on May 5.
The very nature of the pitch at Chinnaswamy during the first innings indicated how it was playing. There was definite turn, it was slow and it did not give batsmen a chance to free their arms. It required good old-fashioned grinding, even if the format was Twenty20.
Sunrisers didn’t get a good score, but with three bowlers in the Purple Cap list (Bhuvneshwar Kumar on top, Rashid Khan in fifth place and Siddharth Kaul in ninth place), they still would have backed themselves to at least make a fist of it.
‘They won the toss and so they deserved to win’
Their bowling coach Muttiah Muralitharan certainly thought so. “We had the bowling to defend it across 20 overs,” he said at the post-match press conference. “We’ve seen how teams have defended 130-135 here. It’s unfortunate. They won the toss and so they deserved to win.”
The rain completely changed the course of the match. Not only did the extra moisture liven up the surface, making it difficult for bowlers to grip the ball and making the ball come on to the bat better, Hyderabad only had a pitiful 48 to defend off their six overs, with KKR having all 10 wickets intact. The fact that they did not give up and had KKR at 12/3 in the first over was commendable. Imagine, for a second, if KKR were still chasing 128. Losing three wickets early would have surely caused some chaos.
There are a lot of questions here. Firstly, Twenty20 itself is a format which does not have a lot for the bowlers. Does to make sense to bring the number of overs down to six, just to get a result, any result? The bowling side is completely taken out of the equation. As Sunil Gavaskar said, after the KKR won the match early on Thursday morning, “You need to do something horribly stupid to get bowled out within six overs”. Even the lowest-ever score in the IPL, Royal Challengers Bangalore’s 49 all out, consumed all of 9.4 overs.
A six-over lottery
But, perhaps more importantly, if the IPL is such a huge tournament in world cricket , what is the need to desperately (and some may argue, unfairly) force a result, in such farcical circumstances? Why not have reserve days for playoffs at least? Is it really fair to force a match to go on till the early hours of the next morning?
Sunil Gavaskar did not think so.
By the end, Sunrisers Hyderabad really had no chance. It didn’t matter what they did, KKR needed just to play out the six overs to win. And Nathan Coulter-Nile, the Player of the Match for his 3/20, summed it up to Ravi Shastri at the post-match presentation ceremony.
For good measure, he added at the post-match presser: “The rules really need to be looked at. You can’t play cricket at two o’ clock.”
The Duckworth-Lewis-Stern method, to decide targets in rain-affected matches, takes wickets as a resource. Unfortunately, that premise is flawed when it comes to Twenty20s, where wickets aren’t at a premium. In that case, the results are deeply flawed. Even Gambhir could not help but feel sorry for the Sunrisers.
What is the solution? The easiest is to, at least, have reserve days for important matches. But, fine, that may not always be possible. In that case, Twenty20 is crying out for a better system to devise rain-affected targets. Perhaps, the number of wickets could be limited? Or there should be no restrictions on bowlers? Some power needs to be transferred back to the bowling team as well. After all, isn’t that what cricket is about: a competition between bat and ball?