IPL 2017: Non-stop Excitement, thanks to play-off system

It always has been a point of deliberation that what should be the format of a multi-team sport (say Cricket for our discussion) tournament. Over the years, administrators have been mulling for the right system. The objective, of course, has been that overall most deserving team should win and team’s performance during each match/stage should have some relevance and consequence for deciding the final outcome.
It has also been an endeavour that luck factor should be minimized and a good team should not get sudden death and should get another day to fight.
IPL started in 2008 with eight teams on double round robin setup, wherein each team played each other twice. Top four teams would qualify for the knockouts. There were two semi-finals, one between table topper and the team at number four, another one between the team at number two and number three.
The format and knockout system remained same till 2010. However taking a cue from other sports like Softball and Curling, system of play-off was introduced from 2011. In this system, top two teams will play each other in qualifier-1 for the place in final. The team at number three and four will play each other and winner play loser of qualifier-1 to decide the second finalist.
The introduction of play-off system has been an extremely positive step and their advantages are so much obvious and palpable. In traditional knock-out system, all four teams used to be at the level playing field. So the group topper who performed so very well at league stage is at par with the team at number four. Once in the knock-out, any of these four teams need to win two games in a row to lift the championship.
Play-off system gives additional advantage the top two teams as they are not subjected to sudden death. If they lost one game in the playoff, they will get another chance. Of course for the team at number three and four, its sudden death.
Play-off system makes league performance substantially more meaningful and competitive, as teams now vie for top two slots even if they are well poised to finish in top four. This particular drive makes each and every league match meaningful and competitive till the last league match.
Knock-out system may not auger well sometimes with well performing teams at league stage. 1992 ICC World Cup is most glaring example of this. New Zealand was group topper with seven victories out of eight matches. Pakistan on other hand could just make it to the last four. Pakistan won only four of their eight league matches. In fact, they were thrashed by 10 wickets by West Indies in a league match. In semi-final though, riding on a quickfire knock of Inzamam ul Haq, Pakistan defeated New Zealand. So just one good knock from opponent team wiped out all the accomplishment of New Zealand during the tournament. Had the system of play-off was around, New Zealand would have survived to fight another day.
Now let’s come to this year’s IPL. The advantage of play-off is so much apparent in IPL-2017. Mumbai Indian (MI) is currently group topper with two matches to go and their place in play-off is confirmed. But Rohit’s men can’t afford to relent in last two matches as poor show may push them to number three or four. Had there been traditional knock-out system in place, they would have been far more relaxed in last two matches. Similarly RPS’s captain Steve Smith knows very well that good show in last two matches can push his side in top two slots from the current number three.
Team at number six, seven and eight has no chance to qualify now. King’s Eleven Punjab (KXIP) is at number five. So while KXIP will try to knock off team at number three and four (RPS & SRH), RPS and SRH will try to take place of table toppers MI and KKR. This drive of five teams will keep the tournament on edge till last match.
So expect roller coaster excitement in remaining league matches. One last thing: when you enjoy the mail-biting finishes and fiercely fought matches, please be thankful for the very system of play-off.
Let be sure that if it was traditional knock-out there in IPL-2017 instead of play-off, some of those remaining matches would have been inconsequential.

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