IPL 2013 April 30, 2013

A season of close finishes

Shiva Jayaraman
A look at the intensity of competition in the IPL across seasons

Halfway into IPL 2013, we have had a fair share of close matches, but how does this season compare, in terms of the quality of contests between teams (closeness of games), and in terms of competition for top spots, to the earlier ones? The following analysis attempts to answer these questions. All the seasons are evaluated at the halfway stage of the league matches.

Stats indicate this season has had the highest number of close finishes (wins with less than 6 balls to spare or margin less than 9). As many as 14 of the 36 matches have been nail-biting affairs. Two of these matches ended in a tie and were settled in the Super Over. Before this, there have only been two ties in the previous five seasons of the IPL. The number of matches that finished close this year has doubled from the inaugural IPL season. Notwithstanding the fact that the number of games played in the inaugural season was less, there is a significant jump in percentage of close finishes - from 25 to 39.

Close matches played across seasons
Year Close matches Matches played % Close matches
2013 14 36 39%
2009 10 28 36%
2012 12 36 33%
2010 8 28 29%
2011 9 35 26%
2008 7 28 25%

In 2013, there have been ten low-scoring matches (target of 130 or less) - most for any season - and seven high-scoring ones (target of 180 or more) - the least for any season, barring the one played in South Africa in 2009 (which had four). Of the low-scoring matches in the current season, three ended in a tight finish. And these do not include the tie between Sunrisers Hyderabad and Royal Challengers Bangalore, which just evaded a 'low-score' classification: the target set in that match was 131. Compare this to the previous five seasons - there were only two such low-scoring thrillers, in all, in the first half of the league stages. High-scoring thrillers, though, have happened more frequently in the previous years - 13 in the past five seasons put together. In this season, however, there have been only two high-scoring close finishes in 36 matches.

Target-wise distribution of close matches
Year Close matches Target <= 130 Target >= 180 131 <= Target <= 179
2013 14 3 2 9
2012 12 0 3 9
2011 9 1 3 5
2010 8 0 3 5
2009 10 1 1 8
2008 7 0 2 5

The high number of close encounters though does not translate to a similar competitiveness on the points table. The top-four teams have won as many as 22 of the 36 league matches (61%). Teams in the top four have won 5.5 matches on an average, compared to only 2.8 matches by the bottom-placed teams. This season ranks second-last in terms of the percentage wins by the bottom-placed teams, which suggests that they have a lot of catching up to do to qualify at the end of the league stage. The year that was most fiercely contested on the points table at the halfway stage was 2011. The top-four teams had only 17 wins (49%). Four of the ten teams that played in that season were jostling with each other with four wins at the halfway stage.

Points table - Top four teams v rest
Year Teams Wins - Top-four teams Matches % Wins Avg. wins (Top-four) Avg. wins (rest) Close wins (Top-four v rest)
2011 10 17 35 49% 4.25 3.00 4
2012 9 18 36 50% 4.50 3.60 5
2009 8 16 28 57% 4.00 3.00 2
2013 9 22 36 61% 5.50 2.80 6
2010 8 18 28 64% 4.50 2.50 2
2008 8 19 28 68% 4.75 2.25 5

The inaugural season, as indicated by its last place in the table above, was not the worst (68% wins by the top-four teams) once we take in to account the close matches played between the top four and the rest. Of the 19 wins by the top four in 2008, five were close affairs against the bottom-placed teams. The 2010 season fares the worst in this regard; not only did the top four win 64% of the matches, but also won these comfortably. Only two of the 18 wins were close affairs between the top four and rest of the teams.

The current season, as is evident from its position in the above table, has not been the best in terms of the competition for the top-four spot. However, out of the 22 wins by the top four, six were close affairs against the bottom-placed teams - results that could have gone either way - which suggests that this season has been a lot closer than the points table reflects.

Shiva Jayaraman is sub-editor stats at ESPNcricinfo