The final standings for the league stages of the Indian Premier League this year indicate just how close it really was. Yes, Sun Risers Hyderabad almost doubled Delhi Daredevil’s point tally with eighteen points to the latter’s ten, but closer inspection displays the intrinsic competitiveness of this year’s tournament. Hyderabad, who topped the table, finished with a net run rate of 0.28, which means that in terms of runs, they scored less than six runs more than their opposition each game. Obviously, this number is brought down by losses, but table-toppers in previous years have outstripped the rest of the pack by incredible, superfluous margins. Delhi had a net run rate of -0.22, which means that producing about four runs less than their opponents per innings on average was enough for them to finish last.
The eight top runscorers for the season came from seven different teams. Royal Challengers Bangalore, who were widely criticized for their weak bowling, still had Umesh Yadav, the fourth highest wicket-taker in the tournament. Andrew Tye, the top bowler in the tournament by some distance with 24 wickets, failed to drag the King XI Punjab out of a miserable seventh place finish.
After the first few rounds of matches, the ordinary IPL season tends to fall into a rather predictable trend, where there are distinct outliers in terms of high and low performance, with only a couple of teams straddling the line between qualification and getting knocked out in the league stages. This year, every team apart from the stoic Chennai Super Kings experienced immensely vacillating fortunes. Punjab led the table with brilliant performances from key players, but suddenly, in the second half of the season, couldn’t get points on the board anymore. Mumbai overcame their usual early-season jitters with a supreme upswing, only to fall short in a deciding match against Delhi, who had nothing to gain after already cementing their last-place finish. And, most curiously, Rajasthan Royals, unfancied as ever, managed to sneak in victories here and there and profit from an unlikely sequence of events to end up with a playoff berth that even they could not have anticipated at the half-way stage.
As a self-admitted Test match snob, what I enjoy most about the long form of the game is the constantly changing fortunes of the match, and how dense and complex the narrative can become. A single game may struggle to do that in the IPL, but, over the season, I have seen enough theatre and entertainment that I might have even enjoyed it if they hadn’t had Sanjay Manjrekar dressed up like a travelling circus performer at every game I watched.