Saurabh Somani is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo
AUS v WI (W) (1)
WC Warm-up (5)
Irani Cup (1)
T20WC QLF (2)
This season, the Vijay Hazare Trophy final pits two star-studded teams renewing an old rivalry for the title. But apart from Karnataka and Tamil Nadu's dominance, the major theme this year has been rain, and some questionable playing conditions, which led to two teams that had seemed to have an advantage at the break being eliminated in two washed-out quarter-finals.
Why was there no reserve day for the knockout matches?
This was among the questions put to Sourav Ganguly on his first day as the BCCI president. While Ganguly agreed that having a reserve day was something to be looked at, he also held that the regulations for knockout games were in place well before the tournament, and how Mumbai and Punjab were knocked out was simply a matter of rules being followed.
"When the Vijay Hazare started, the rules were put down and sent to all state associations," Ganguly said. "We will assess it, try and make it simpler. The rule was that whoever won more matches went through, which is also a way of saying you give value to your performances in the group stages. So it's not something which is completely wrong. Yes, the pertinent point is whether a reserve day could be kept for the knockouts. The quarter-finals, semi-finals are very important, which is a practical thing. So yes, that could be an option, which could be taken. But you must remember, whatever happened, it was as per the basis of rules that were there from the start of the tournament."
When contacted, Saba Karim explained the rationale behind the schedule being tightly packed for the knockouts.
"To keep a reserve day at this point is very difficult because we have to keep so many factors in mind," Karim told ESPNcricinfo. "We need to ensure players get adequate rest. We also give breaks for Diwali [October 27 this year] and New Year. We did our level best to revise the schedule in the league stage, but here [in the knockouts] we don't have enough time. Weather is something we cannot fight. And issues can keep cropping up. If we give reserve days here, some team might say, 'Why not reserve days in T20s, why not in the Ranji Trophy?'
"However, having said that, we do have a captain's conclave at the beginning of each season so if the captains feel strongly about this, it can be discussed there."
How does the rule work in case of a washout, and is it fair?
According to the BCCI's current rule, the first criteria to break a no-result in a knockout match is to see which team has more wins up to that stage. If that is equal, then teams are split by head-to-head results (if applicable) and move on to the net run-rate (for league plus knockouts).
Sounds straightforward enough, but as Punjab captain Mandeep Singh pointed out, "Let's say we had won all our eight games, even then we would have been eliminated. So there is not much logic there."
Mandeep was pointing to how Punjab, in Group B, could have won all eight league games, but still lost out on a semi-final berth because Tamil Nadu had come from Group C, which had ten teams, and therefore nine games.
When all teams in the knockouts aren't playing an equal number of matches coming in, it's inherently unfair to use number of wins as one of the criteria. The BCCI has taken note too. "This has come up now, so we'll have a rethink on it," Karim said. "That is why we circulate the playing conditions at the beginning of the season, and if state associations and teams have any issue, they can bring it up. So now that we see this issue has cropped up, we'll have a look at it."
Is that all there is to it?
Not quite. There is also the aspect of the difference in quality between the different groups. Groups A and B are the toughest, with most of the top-rated teams - based on past performance - taking part there. Group C's average quality is weaker, and Group D is made up mostly of the teams that have been included in the BCCI fold from 2018-19. Most of the units from the northeast of the country have had to cobble teams together in the absence of an existing cricket culture, infrastructure, or talent pipeline. If you are a well-run team with some depth in talent, it's easier to stack up wins in Group D than in any other group, because the likelihood of coming up against a similarly well-drilled team is much lower. But when you're counting wins in the event of a washout in a knockout game, all wins are equal. In reality, it's obvious that some wins are more equal than others.
"Fighting it out in the A, B groups - the two groups that have the best 18 teams... Had it rained yesterday, Pondicherry [Puducherry] would have qualified [ahead of Karnataka, in the tournament's first quarter-final]. Doesn't make any sense," Mandeep said.
Puducherry swept aside all opposition to make it to the quarter-finals. But while they showed that they belong at a level higher than the Plate Group, what their results would have done in the event of rain is put them in the semi-finals ahead of Karnataka. Both teams had seven wins each, but Puducherry had a higher net run-rate.
What is the solution?
It's a tricky one to solve. As explained earlier, the wide disparity in quality among the 38 teams make equitable distribution very difficult. The only thing that can be done is to manage washouts better for the knockouts, and have a reserve day for each game, even at the expense of stuffing an already crowded calendar.