IPL 2021 does away with soft signal, tightens over-rate stipulations and penalties

Multiple Super Overs to come with a time cap, while short runs will be referred to the third umpire

Nagraj Gollapudi
A view of the IPL 2020 trophy on display at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium, Delhi Capitals vs Sunrisers Hyderabad, IPL 2020, 2nd Eliminator, Abu Dhabi, November 8, 2020

IPL 2021 will have all new playing conditions  •  BCCI

In a bid to clampdown on slow over rates, the IPL has made it mandatory for bowling teams to deliver their 20 overs within the stipulated 90 minutes (including strategic time-outs) for the 2021 edition. Other significant tweaks to the playing conditions for IPL 2021 include: no soft signal for close catches and obstruction of field, putting in a cap on the time till which multiple Super Overs can be bowled, and the third umpire adjudicating on short runs.
Here is an in-depth look at how and why the playing conditions were updated:
Slow over rates: finish 20 overs in 90 minutes (including time-outs)
This has been the most common code of conduct breach committed by teams throughout the IPL's history. Sanctions - including hefty monetary fines and even suspension of the bowling team's captain for repeated offences - have been found to be ineffective, with matches often going well past midnight in India. Even now, there is no change or increase in sanctions but a shortening of the time 20 overs need to be completed in.
In 2019, former South Africa captain AB de Villiers, who plays for the Royal Challengers Bangalore, said one game finished so late it was almost "breakfast time".
Such delays have led to the host broadcaster taking up the issue with IPL authorities, and that was one of the main reasons for evening matches from IPL 2020 starting half an hour earlier than previous seasons, at 7.30pm IST. That start time will stay in place for evening games in IPL 2021. As an additional measure, the IPL has decided that this season, the 20th over of the innings will be included in the 90 minutes given to an innings, the regular time in which all overs need to be delivered as well as two strategic time-outs totalling five minutes overall. Until the last season, the over-rate clock stopped at the start of the 20th over. That meant teams could not be penalised even if they went well over the limit by taking more time through the final over - as long as it had started on time. However, moving forward, teams will need to wrap up 20 overs within 85 minutes, excluding the strategic time-outs. In an email to franchises about the updated playing conditions, the IPL said the move was meant to "control the match timings".
"The minimum over rate to be achieved in IPL Matches shall be 14.11 overs per hour (ignoring the time taken by time-outs)," the IPL said in the updated playing conditions, which were uploaded on the tournament website on Tuesday. "In uninterrupted matches, this means that the 20th over should finish within 90 minutes (being 85 minutes of playing time plus 5 minutes of time-out) of the start of the innings. For delayed or interrupted matches where an innings is scheduled to be less than 20 overs, the maximum time of 90 minutes shall be reduced by 4 minutes 15 seconds for every over by which the innings is reduced."
IPL raises finger against the soft signal
The soft signal that on-field umpires use has come under recent scrutiny, with Suryakumar Yadav's sparkling maiden innings for India talked about as much for his brilliant strokeplay as for the manner of dismissal. Yadav was given out caught by Dawid Malan at backward square leg, even as TV replays remained inconclusive about whether Malan's fingers were under the ball or not. On-field umpire KN Ananthapadmanabhan's soft signal was 'out', and TV umpire Virender Sharma upheld that decision because, as protocols require, there was not enough conclusive evidence to overturn it.
Former England captain Mike Atherton called the soft signal a "nonsense", especially for outfield catches and Virat Kohli said after the game he couldn't understand why a "not sure" signal was not available to on-field umpires. At the last round of the ICC's chief executives meeting last week, BCCI secretary Jay Shah asked the ICC Cricket Committee to re-open the discussion on the soft signal.
In the interim, the IPL has decided to do away with the soft signal for both catches as well as for obstructing the field dismissals. Now, the umpire at the bowler's end will consult with the square leg umpire in such situations, before deciding to go to the TV umpire. "The third umpire shall determine whether the batsman has been caught, whether the delivery was a Bump Ball, or if the batsman willfully obstructed the field. In case of a fair catch, the third umpire will use all the technological support available to him/her."
Cap on multiple Super Overs
October 18, 2020 will always be remembered as a unique date in the IPL. It was a double-header Sunday and both matches were decided via the Super Over. First, the Kolkata Knight Riders beat the Sunrisers Hyderabad, and then Kings XI Punjab (now Punjab Kings) and the Mumbai Indians ratcheted up the drama with not just one, but two Super Overs before the Kings XI squeezed home.
It was the first time in history - IPL or otherwise - that a game had gone into a second Super Over, and it finished well past midnight.
But, while it was exciting and rare as a spectacle, the IPL has now decided to cap the time available after regulation time to one hour to determine the winner of a game. In case a winner cannot be determined within that hour, then both teams will get one point each.
"If the teams' scores are equal after both innings have been completed then a Super Over shall be played," the IPL said. "If the Super Over is a tie, then unless exceptional circumstances arise subsequent Super Overs shall be played from the actual finish time of the tied match for an hour's time until there is a winner. The Match Referee will inform the teams as to when the last super over will start. Should it not be possible to play or complete the Super Overs needed to determine a winner, the match shall be tied."
Short run goes to the third umpire
Kings XI had a rollercoaster campaign in IPL 2020, including losing out in the very first Super Over finish of the tournament to the Delhi Capitals. However, in the penultimate over of regulation time, Mayank Agarwal dug out a yorker from Kagiso Rabada towards a vacant mid-on, and then turned back for the second run. His partner Chris Jordan was running to the danger end, and square-leg umpire Nitin Menon ruled that Jordan had not dragged his bat across the line at the wicketkeeper's end and ruled one run short. TV replays subsequently seemed to suggest from one angle that Jordan had indeed got his bat over the line, and that it might have thus been a legal run. Had that run not been ruled short, the match wouldn't have ended in a tie, and the Kings XI would have won in regulation time instead of losing in the Super Over.
Captain KL Rahul said after his team was knocked out that the short run had come back to "bite them very hard", since they would have qualified for the playoffs had they had two more points.
To avoid such incidents, the IPL has now said that on-field umpires should refer a short run to the the TV umpire, who will be the final authority. "If the short-run is called an automatic check by the third umpire takes place to confirm or overturn."

Nagraj Gollapudi is news editor at ESPNcricinfo