IPL playoffs likely to shift out of Chennai
The IPL is likely to shift the first two playoff matches out of Chennai, the venue listed in the original schedule. That decision is likely to be taken at the IPL Governing Council meeting in Chennai on April 22 in the wake of mounting pressure from various franchises, who are adamant that not having the option to pick their Sri Lankan players reduces their strength considerably at Chepauk.
Under political pressure from the Tamil Nadu government to not allow Sri Lankan players to participate in the Chennai matches, the IPL had asked franchises to not include the 13 Sri Lankan players in the tournament. But with the close competition at the top of the table, BCCI officials have indicated to ESPNcricinfo that the IPL would need to change its original stance.
"Irrespective of the teams who make it to the top four, the games will have to be shifted from Chennai due to their sheer importance. There are going to be at least two teams with Sri Lankan players who will make it to the last four. And it would be unjust on the teams to change their strategy due to a state government's decision," an Indian board official said.
According to IPL rules, the defending champion stages the last two matches of the tournament while the losing finalist gets to host the first two matches of the closing stages. With Chennai Super Kings finishing as runner-up last year, Chennai had been slotted to host the first qualifier (first versus second) and the eliminator (third versus fourth) on May 21 and 22 respectively.
Some of the franchises were peeved at the fact that the Super Kings need not worry about playing their two Sri Lankan recruits, Nuwan Kulasekara and Akila Dananjaya, considering they had a strong and settled line-up. In contrast, teams like Mumbai Indians, Royal Challengers Bangalore, Delhi Daredevils, Pune Warriors and Sunrisers Hyderabad would be forced to bench high-profile names like Lasith Malinga, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Muttiah Muralitharan, Mahela Jayawardene, Angelo Mathews, Ajantha Mendis, Kumar Sangakkara and Thisara Perera.
If the IPL takes the decision to shift the games then it also removes the bias element, as pointed out by certain franchises who feel the home advantage Super Kings have in the league phase is critical in a closely-fought tournament. It is also understood that security is not the stumbling block.
The franchises continue to remain united and want the knockout matches moved out of Chennai. "You can't do that (stage the playoffs in Chennai). When it comes to the Eliminator I would be horrified if we end up playing in an environment where there is no level playing field. If there are grey areas then you need to move the venue so that the tournament is played at the same level by all teams," one of the franchise's coach said.
According to him, a team could possibly bounce back during the league phase since there are 15 matches, but in the knockout phase there is not more than one chance. Hence the IPL does not "have to" but "must" move the games out of Chennai. "Chennai Super Kings as it is have a home advantage in the league matches with a strong line-up compared to some of the opposition, who at times have been forced to bench their Sri Lankan players, thus weakening their own strengths," the coach said.
Amol Karhadkar is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo