Twenty20's early appeal was its pace. Ninety minutes for each innings, a short break, and all done in 200 minutes. The IPL is anything but fast. Matches have invariably been going past midnight, which is slow despite making allowance for ten minutes of timeouts over two innings. Experts have raised concerns that the slow pace could turn people off, and Peter Borren, the former Netherlands captain, has tweeted that this tactic of slowing down the pace by the side trailing in the game has gone unnoticed.
Amid all that, Delhi Capitals have raised another important issue, that of possible abuse of the allowance for substitutes by certain sides. Mohammad Kaif, their assistant coach, said the umpires need to be more vigilant with their changes. In their home match against Kolkata Knight Riders, they had to contend with Rinku Singh, a quick youngster, fielding in place of Piyush Chawla and the injured Andre Russell. Against Kings XI Punjab in Mohali, they noticed Sarfaraz Khan didn't field at all.
Kaif was asked whether it was a reasonable concern that the game was going too slow. "Yes, it is, absolutely justified. All games are finishing after 45 minutes past 11 or at midnight," Kaif said. "I will also add that the umpires need to be attentive when it comes to substitutions. In the DC v KKR game, Russell went out and Rinku Singh came on to field. Then Piyush Chawla finished his four overs early, and went off the field.
"You don't want to drag on too slowly. Obviously referrals are going to take a little bit of time out of the game but I certainly don't think that's the main reason" TOM MOODY
"People are actually planning to send off their slower fielders, and have their better fielders on the park. That also consumes time: the decision-making around it, should be substituted or not, where should the substitute field, when should the player come back.
"We saw that in the last game against Punjab also. They did the same thing. Sarfaraz didn't field at all in the match. He was hit on the gloves, but I don't know if that was the reason. Maybe the umpires know, but we weren't informed. Sarfaraz didn't come on to field, and his replacement Karun Nair took a good catch at long-off to dismiss Colin Ingram. These are small things, but the teams are being smart and making these kind of changes, which is probably not right according to me."
Kaif said they were going to speak with the umpires before their next game, but this is unlikely to be a concern on Thursday. For their next game is against Sunrisers Hyderabad, who are a disciplined side with their over-rates, and have no fielder to hide. Their coach Tom Moody said the only first-XI player that has been off the field for them this year was David Warner in the game against Royal Challengers Bangalore, but everybody knows Warner is the last man you want off. He injured his hand when he caught Virat Kohli, but is now fit for this game against Capitals.
Moody, though, agreed that the concern around the time spent to finish games is legitimate. "I, to be honest with you, haven't had any discussions with regards to that because we haven't had any over-rate issues personally, because we generally bowl eight overs of spin," he said. "But definitely an area you want to manage, and manage carefully. Because you want to keep the game moving. You don't want to drag on too slowly. Obviously referrals are going to take a little bit of time out of the game but I certainly don't think that's the main reason."
Kaif felt teams were wasting too much time strategising on the field, something his team consciously wants to stay away from. "There is too much planning," he said. "There is an hour-long meeting before the game. Then they stop the game and start discussing what to do, what fields to employ etc. It makes it difficult for players to perform with so many things going in their heads. As coaches, we feel the less we plan the better it is, so that the bowlers have a clear mind. Suddenly you can't have ten people advising the player."
According to Ric Finlay, respected statistician in Australia, the IPL was the slowest among all leagues and T20 international cricket last year. An IPL innings, on average, lasted 106 minutes as against 98 minutes of an average T20 international innings and 85 minutes in the Blast in England. If anything, this year so far has seemed slower. Broadcasters and former international cricketers Simon Doull and Michael Vaughan have also raised concerns.
However, the IPL has deemed only two bowling innings to be too slow: Mumbai Indians against Kings XI Punjab and Rajasthan Royals against Chennai Super Kings. The captains were fined INR 12 lakh each, which according to some is not a significant enough deterrent.