IPL 2015 May 25, 2015

Freshening up the festival

Perhaps after eight seasons of the IPL there is sameness, flatness, a sense of fatigue? Maybe the template can be revisited

Allowing an extra foreign player will help propagate the best quality cricket, like Trent Boult and Dale Steyn bowling together © BCCI

The IPL final in Kolkata was among the most anti-climatic summit clashes in recent memory. The end was like a punctured balloon that bobbled aimlessly before fizzing out.

While it was a fiercely competitive season with several teams bunched together in the race to the knockouts deep into the tournament, there were large tracts that felt insipid. Perhaps after eight seasons there is sameness, flatness, a sense of fatigue?

So could this annual tyohaar (festival), as the host broadcaster calls it, do with a few tweaks? Maybe the template, set in stone for so long, needs revisiting?

Five overseas players

The essence of any sporting competition should be to provide the highest possible playing standard. An extra overseas player in the playing XI has the potential to achieve that. Sunrisers Hyderabad would have been a more potent unit if Trent Boult and Dale Steyn could have opened the bowling together. Delhi Daredevils might have made a greater impact with both Albie Morkel and Angelo Mathews in the XI. If Mumbai Indians had the option to field Alex Hales, who arrived in red-hot form from England's T20 blast, he may have provided even greater spark to the latter half of the season.

There is little purpose in keeping high-impact players on the bench when their presence could raise the quality of play on show. And franchises have a right to seek a better return on investment. It is pointless to have marquee players fit and available, yet forced to warm the bench.

It is unlikely that an additional overseas player will force talented Indian youngsters out. The likes of Shreyas Iyer, Hardik Pandya, Yuzvendra Chahal and others would make the cut in all likelihood anyway. Conversely, with competition for places just a little fiercer, it may force those on the fringes to battle harder to keep their spots.

It must also be remembered city loyalties have evolved and matured. It was sensible, in fact clever, in 2008 to identify teams with Indian icons- Sachin Tendulkar (Mumbai), Rahul Dravid (Bangalore), Sourav Ganguly (Kolkata), Virender Sehwag (Delhi) and Yuvraj Singh (Punjab). Over time though, supporters have embraced overseas players with just as much enthusiasm.

Think Dwayne Bravo at Chennai, Sunil Narine at Kolkata, Lasith Malinga & Kieron Pollard at Mumbai. Meanwhile, four of the five original icons have gone on to play and mentor different franchises and the fuss has been minimal. So there is little reason to be overly protective of the "Indian-ness" of the league anymore.

Imagine, Barcelona having to choose between Messi, Neymar and Suarez? Are they a better side or worse with all of them playing? Or ask that question another way. Would Barcelona supporters rather have each of them playing or force one of them on the bench so that a local player of not the same quality can be accommodated?

Supporters want their teams to have the best chance of winning and a tournament should make every effort, to use a marketing phrase, to enhance its user experience.

How about a best of three finals to decide the IPL? © BCCI

Revised knockouts format

Admittedly, the present one is an improvement on the concept of semi-finals. However, in an eight-team league, aren't four of them making the knockouts one too many? Fifty percent of the participants, one in two, are assured of progress. Can those odds be reduced? Would each game in the league phase have greater context if only three make it through? Let me explain how that would work.

Finishing on top of the table would come with an added incentive - an assured spot in the finals. It would almost ensure there is no easing up on the intensity to the very end of the group stage. Finishing in the top two, as is the case right now, isn't the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Even a runaway leader will need to be on their toes lest there be a late charge among the chasing pack. It will ensure most games have something extra riding on them.

The teams that finish second and third then play a semi-final and the winner meets the top team in a best of three finals - the first at the home of the table-toppers, the next in the second finalist's backyard and the third (if required) at a neutral venue.

This will help sustain the interest among rival supporters. It will take high-profile games to their home venues, which can be built up to to crescendo. While Eden Gardens was packed to capacity for this year's final, one sensed not having a home team to support dampened the atmosphere to some degree.

Both finalists, in this format, will have home advantage for one game each. If they are locked at the end of the first two games, then a neutral venue will provide the stage for the climax. Supporters from both cities will be encouraged to travel to the venue. Television coverage too can ride on the rivalry between players and supporters over a longer period, giving greater play to the storylines.

Bonus points

Additional perks for big wins - by fifty or more runs or seven or more wickets, perhaps - to encourage form teams to press harder. With a place in the finals beckoning the table-topper, grappling for bonus points over the course of the league stage might become an interesting curiosity for supporters to engage with.

Five overs for two bowlers

Other ideas such as allowing two bowlers an extra over each have been suggested earlier and may be worth considering, if only to give attacking bowlers a greater role in the game.

Gaurav Kalra is a senior editor at ESPNcricinfo. @gauravkalra75

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