When Punjab Kings pipped Rajasthan Royals by five runs on Wednesday, in what was a worthy addition to their glorious history of dishing out humdingers, it begged the question as to how many fans sat up to witness the climax. The game concluded at 11.42 p.m., the latest finish in Indian Premier League (IPL) 2023 so far.
Long nights in the IPL aren’t new. Strategising between deliveries, changing fields constantly and timeouts have long-affected timekeeping.
But this season, over-rates have been excruciatingly slow, pushing matches beyond four hours. Not a single innings that has seen the full quota of 20 overs has stuck to the stipulated 90 minutes.
In this edition, to speed up play, an in-game penalty of having one fielder fewer outside the 30-yard circle for overs not bowled within time was introduced.
But with allowances being made for referrals, injuries and things beyond the players’ control like change of ball because of dew and ball retrieval from the crowd, this rule has largely remained on paper.
Reviewing wide and no-ball decisions has added to the delay.
In the Kings-Royals match, a wide review (of Shikhar Dhawan) took an agonisingly long time, and the conclusion wasn’t to everybody’s satisfaction.
Former Australian cricketer and expert Tom Moody even tweeted: “2 minutes 30 seconds for the wide review which was ultimately judged incorrectly!”
The end result may be that viewers will lose interest and the sport the ability to find newer audiences.
It would be disingenuous to think that an average working Indian would be fine watching late-night matches routinely. The same can be said of students, parents, the elderly and those who frequent stadiums.
When the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) proposed The Hundred (100-ball tournament) in 2018, one of the main aims was to finish a contest within a two-and-a-half-hour window.
“T20 has become a longer format and it is [taking] more than four hours,” said Andrew Strauss, ECB’s then director of cricket. “We want kids to be able to go to bed earlier and it is worth saying it is going to be on terrestrial TV (BBC).”
In India, inexpensive internet plans — IPL 2023 is being streamed for free — means the game doesn’t require slots on free-to-air television (Doordarshan) to attract eyeballs. But viewership numbers do matter.
“Parents and students are not able to watch the matches fully as they finish very late,” said R. Chithra, a parent. “An early finish will enthuse early risers like students to follow the games seamlessly.”
In late 2018, tennis introduced the 25-second shot-clock between points to quicken the pace. Maybe it’s time for the IPL to explore something similar.
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