Delhi Daredevils v Kings XI Punjab, IPL, Cape Town April 19, 2009

Wasted time

Victor Brown
The time-out as it has been presented is nonsensical enough. But when rain is in the air, as it was at Newlands on Sunday, it becomes a self-defeating fiasco and a triumph for sheer greed over the paying public

So, which is it to be? Cricket or commercials? Because the IPL cannot have it both ways. When the sun is out, the time-out as it has been presented for public consumption - as a chance for the teams to talk tactics - is nonsensical enough. But when rain is in the air, as it was throughout Delhi Daredevils' clash with Kings XI Punjab at Newlands, it becomes a self-defeating fiasco and a triumph for sheer greed over the paying public.

That's because the time-out isn't about tactics at all. It's about money. Lots and lots of it. For those watching on TV, the seven-and-a-half minute hiatus is split equally into three parts: a token nod to tactics, in which viewers get to watch the two teams thrillingly form a huddle or practise their catching; a commercial break; and a chunk paid for by the highest bidder at, reportedly, $1m a pop. Commercialism, then, outweighs cricket by two to one, a ratio that may well capture the IPL's very soul.

Back to today, then, and the self-defeating fiasco. Play began an hour and 40 minutes late because of showery clouds floating in over Table Mountain, at which point the game had already been reduced to 12 overs a side. With rain seemingly ready to fall at any minute, every over was at a premium. Yet, astonishingly, the time-out wouldn't budge. So off trooped the players after six - six! - overs, wasting the equivalent of nearly two overs in the process. When the murkiest of showers interrupted play after only 11 balls of Delhi's reply, the rigidity of the time-out system was exposed.

Cricket has often had a stubborn relationship with its scheduled breaks. No feast, it seems, is more immovable than lunch, although on one of the few occasions on which it was shifted by half an hour in a county championship, Nottinghamshire's George Gunn allowed a ball to hit his stumps, and marched off declaring: "I take my lunch at 1.30."

But while George's thoughts were with the hole in his stomach, the IPL is concerned with the depths of its pockets. Sachin Tendulkar and MS Dhoni, opposing captains in the tournament opener yesterday, both provided non-committal verdicts on the time-out, but then neither side was affected by it one way or the other.

Kings XI Punjab may not be so sanguine. After a rollicking start from Karan Goel and Ravi Bopara, Goel fell the ball before the scheduled six-over break. This, naturally, was not the system's fault, but Bopara may have felt differently when, to Daniel Vettori's first delivery after the time-out, he was absent-mindedly caught plumb in front. Vettori proceded to concede just one run off the over and Punjab's sprint was chopped off at the knees.

"We had the momentum and we had 7½ minutes to lose it," said Tom Moody, the Punjab coach. "It was the perfect time for Daniel Vettori to come on and secure the momentum back in favour of Delhi. But there are going to be days in this tournament when it works in our favour too."

Quite what Moody and his captain, Yuvraj Singh, were supposed to have said to their batsmen is unclear. "Keep hitting the ball - very high and very far," probably summed it up. Just as ridiculous was the hold-up as the umpires waited for the 7½ minutes to tick over. The players were ready, and the crowd broke into a slow handclap, but TV was dictating terms.

In the end, the game was a non-event. Driven off the field after 1.5 overs, Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag returned to find they needed only 30 more off 25 deliveries to get Delhi off to a winning start. They made it with seven balls to spare. The time-out can't do anything about the weather. But it shouldn't make an already damp squib even damper.

Victor Brown is a freelance cricket writer