Deep Backward Point

Blog against the machine.

Tag: IPL

The Case for a Longer (or Shorter) IPL

How many matches should there be in an IPL season? Depending on who you ask, the answer to this question could vary between zero and a hundred.

Today, however, I’m interested in the following question: how many matches should each team play in an IPL season to guarantee that most of the results are attributed to skill?

Put another way, how many matches does an IPL team have to play for us to be confident that their ranking in the points table is fair? In baseball, a team plays 162 games “which naturally reduces the presence of outlier performances”, says Neil Paine in his recent piece on this topic in the new FiveThirtyEight.

Neil Paine:

Using an unbelievably useful methodology from arch-sabermetrician Tom Tango, I calculated the number of games necessary in each sport to regress a team’s record halfway to the mean — meaning, we’d know half of its observed outcomes were due to its own talent (while the other half results from randomness). For pro basketball and football, the numbers are similar: In the NBA, it takes about 12 games; in the NFL, 11 games. But in baseball, it takes a whopping 67 games for half of the variance in observed winning percentages to come from the distribution of talent and half from randomness.

Naturally, I did the math for the IPL. My intuition beforehand was that IPL seasons are way too short to be certain that the results were fair.

I ran Tom Tango’s methodology on the first six seasons, and the results are all over the place. The results of two of the seasons (IPL1 and IPL6) suggest that the season is too long, the relative quality of the teams was clear sooner. However, the results of the remaining four seasons suggest that the IPL is too short.

Way too short.

Number of Games Required in the IPL for Confidence in a Fair Result

While the most recent IPL suggested a 12 game season was sufficient, IPL 4 was so closely fought that only after 126 games could we have been confident that more than half the games were a reflection of skill.

All of this indicates that the sport–and the league–is so young that the difference between teams, and between seasons, is still vast. We have not regressed to a mean, and we don’t know what the mean would look like.

Some IPLs are closely fought, and some are not at all

Some IPLs are closely fought, and some are not at all


If the BCCI wants to make a case for a longer IPL, they will have to nurture either or both of the following conditions:

  1. Ensure that IPL teams are more closely matched.
  2. Modify the T20 format so that it’s harder for one team to pull away so dramatically.

#1 will take time, especially because the team ownership and staff seem to still be learning the nuances of the format. From the outside, it appears as though nobody really knows how to reliably win at T20. Having better players may not be enough if you don’t know how to use them. And the format is so young, and played so infrequently, that lessons are hard to come by.

At the same time, there appears to be a resistance to entertaining #2. Many people have suggested changes to the T20 format to balance the contest–not merely between bat and ball, but also to reduced the outsized role of chance and acts of god. Sure certain elements of T20 may be more entertaining and lucrative as a media product, but if the goal is to build a quality sport that can sustain interest across a long season, changes may be required. Of course, this may not be the goal.

Finally, the financial viability of a longer season is outside the scope of my blog, but I will say this: an NFL team reaches a “fair” result after 11 games, but they play 16. The MLB reaches a “fair” result after 67 games, but they play 162. The NBA reaches a “fair” result after 12 games and they play 82. The length of the seasons are vastly different, but they all end well after it has convincingly been established that the points table is an accurate reflection of skill.

The IPL does not, yet.

This is the second piece in my series on the IPL and T20 cricket. Read the previous post, where I set the stage: What we talk about when we talk about the IPL.


What we talk about when we talk about the IPL

What is it we are talking about when we talk about the IPL? We are talking about a new sport, with the language of an old sport.

We are talking about colonialism, and the reaction to colonialism. When you criticize the IPL from outside India, remember that you are doing so with the full weight of past colonial wrongs, even though you did not cause them or intend them through your critique. The colonial past is.

Colonialism is the baggage carried by every Englishman–or anglophile– who criticizes the IPL for being lightweight, or lacking gravitas, or exotic. The IPL is an Indian product, and a signifier of modern Indian power. A criticism of the IPL is often perceived in that context.

There should be a term similar to mansplaining that would mean a white man explaining the nuances of culture–or cricket– to an Indian. I’m sure an Indian Solnit could write a long and painful article titled "White Men Explain Things to Me". I agreed with everything The Economist wrote recently about the Indian election–imploring the Indian electorate to stop Narendra Modi– and yet I hoped they would just shut up.

And so, when you explain the pitfalls of the IPL, know that even though you may not be biased, your readers feel the weight of centuries of condescension.


What is it we are talking about, when we talk about the IPL? We are talking about class warfare. Even the supporters, the promoters of IPL are excruciatingly classist. How many times have I been told that for the fictional common man and housewife, at the end of a hard day’s work, the IPL is the ideal form of entertainment. Oh the stupid working man, he knows nothing better. The class warfare is even stronger, if less explicit, from the detractors. The IPL has reduced cricket to a tamasha, we are told. The language of describing the Test cricket fan versus the T20 fan is the language of class warfare.

So what is it we are talking about when we talk about the IPL? We are talking about a fear of change.

So dear reader, when you talk about the IPL, know what it is you are really talking about. You may not think you are prejudiced, but we all bring our lenses to the party. You describe the IPL through your lens, and the people you are talking to see you through theirs.


And yet, and yet, I strongly believe that T20 is a broken format and the IPL is an incomplete tournament. Over the course of the next few weeks, I will describe why. But I know the baggage we all bring to this conversation, and I will do my best to respect that. I do not enjoy T20s or the IPL, but I harbor no illusions about the future of cricket. I am going to enter this minefield with my eyes wide open. See you on the other side.

Dear Fan, You Are Complicit

Dear fan,

Are you planning to watch the IPL this year? Cheer for CSK? Wear Royals blue? Howl at the auction and moan about your uncapped wonder?

Congratulations. You, my friend, are complicit in a great con. You are guilty.

The next time a spot is fixed, it’s on you. The next time an owner makes a shady side deal, it’s on you. The next time one of the game’s caretakers takes a gamble that’s not cricket, dear reader, you are responsible.

Every time the powers are asked about the sickness in the sport, they respond that we’re giving the people what they want. The people keep watching. The people want the spectacle and we give it to them.

You are the people. You are bought and sold and sold again. The BCCI sells you for a cent. Star Sports buys your eyeballs for pennies, and sells your soul back to Pepsi for a nickel. You are the decimal point in a spreadsheet.

The fastest way to reforming the IPL–and the BCCI–is empty stadiums and dropping TV ratings. If you don’t like what you’re hearing, then don’t watch. Just this year, at least this year. Don’t watch.

Send a message. Withhold your time and attention. It’s all you have.

I'm Mad as Hell

(Photo credit: duncan)

In the World of Tamashas, There is No Room for Half-Measures

2013 has been an especially bad year for the BCCI’s image, with the IPL corruption, Haroon Lorgat and Tim May. I believe it is a tipping point in cricket’s relationship with India.

Gideon Haigh writes the kind of in-depth state-of-affairs article that few do the research, have the ability or own the cojones to write.

In the hundred years and more that authority emanated from Lord’s, cricket was run along the lines of an English public school, at least as defined by Lytton Strachey: anarchy tempered by despotism. Under the economic dominion of the BCCI, the world is converging on the opposite model: despotism tempered by anarchy, the anarchy coming mainly from within India itself.

Sharda Ugra zooms in, elaborating on the despotism—how BCCI came to own the media message surrounding Indian cricket.

The Gavaskar-Shastri duopoly was a beginning. As revenues skyrocketed through the IPL, BCCI set up its own independent TV production unit. This new team (partly cannibalised from Neo Sports/Nimbus who owned the TV rights to cricket in India until 2012) even purchased its own outside broadcast vans. Ownership over Indian cricket was to be established at every level.

Ugra talks about how the BCCI controls the message on TV (by producing broadcasts themselves, employing the commentators, and supplying them with a list of taboo topics) and controls player access.

There is another aspect of this that Ugra touches on lightly, but is worth highlighting. A threat of punitive action has a chilling effect, for sure. But on the flip side, withholding rewards can also have the same effect.

Last year, the BCCI paid large sums of money (at the time ~$13 million total) to former Indian cricketers, to “honor” them. This is great, and shouldn’t be belittled. However, everyone was entitled to the money, except Kapil Dev. Because Kapil Dev had been involved with the ICL, and had not “accepted amnesty”. Had not groveled sufficiently.

The message was clear: stick to the BCCI line, and we’ll make you rich.

Srinivasan: Some day, and that day may never come, I will call upon you to do a service for me. But until that day, consider this justice a gift on my daughter’s wedding day.

There is considerable power in controlling future earnings of all international cricketers of your country. These are your current and future  columnists, TV pundits, coaches, IPL consultants and newspaper rent-a-quotes. It’s a powerful lobby to have on your side (or at least not against you), perhaps the most powerful of them all.

Haigh (via his reading of James Astill’s recent book The Great Tamasha) sees this to its logical conclusion—where the ICC will shrink in power, and the IPL will grow to fill the vacuum. A sport produced by the BCCI for the Indian market. With feeder leagues around the world, I suppose.

Finally, Russell Degnan sees this future and zooms out:

If the BCCI wants to control cricket then they have that option. They have the market strength and sufficient control over the major stars of its biggest market to pursue that end. But [..] [c]ricket’s biggest threat won’t come from the internecine fighting amongst the boards; it will come from globally dominant sports that have better products to sell. And cricket, great sport that it is, has a rubbish product to sell. Over-long events, uncompetitive structures, no context to fixtures, lack of media access to players, incoherent last-minute fixturing and an obsession with local appeal over the total package.

What if the great tamasha (spectacle) that you are trying to capture in a bottle isn’t that great after all. In the world of tamashas, there is no room for half-measures. “The more you tighten your grip, the more star systems will slip through your fingers“.

During the recent England-Australia ODI series, much of my cricket-obsessed timeline was tweeting about soccer. I was half-kidding when I wrote this tweet. I have no time for soccer. But most of the world does, and soccer has a great product to sell.

How many writers besides Haigh could write the following in Cricinfo?

Morale-boosting tributes from selected kiss-ass courtiers – congratulations, Mr Shastri, on a Sardesai Lecture that had it been delivered in North Korea would have brought a blush to the cheek of the Dear Leader!

It’s not an idle question. There are people who could write it, but not on Cricinfo, because they work for Cricinfo. There are people who could write it, but not on Cricinfo, because they are not published on that large of a platform. And there are people who couldn’t write it, because they share a paymaster, a green room, a studio with the courtier himself. Or wish to in the future.

England, Be Proud of “Pom Africa”


I’ve wanted to write about the xenophobia of many in England who regularly test their immigrant cricketers for their “Englishness”. And I’ve wanted to write about those outside England who mock and criticize England for the same. But David Mutton just did it, and did it better than I would have:

I am English, British and a European, a New Yorker and as the years go by I will increasingly become an American. Any child I am lucky enough to bring into this world will be an American citizen, and if by some miraculous inversion of genetics they become a sporting star then they will almost certainly represent the United States. There are hundreds of millions of us with these dual allegiances and shared cultures. And it is something to celebrate.

Amen. Wish you had a country that attracted the best and brightest from around the world.

A similar, but different, sort of phenomenon surrounds the IPL (and the Indian market in general). The best cricketers from around the world increasingly make their money from the Indian market.

There are still no questions of national allegiance, but team allegiances are murky. India is the new frontier.

There’s a gold rush analogy, or one about a wild west for hired guns in there.

Either way, in the end you’re left with Califonia.


Conflict of Interest

Nitin Sundar, on the Indian Premier League finalé:

It all ended in ironic fashion as N Srinivasan, in his capacity as BCCI secretary, presented the winners medals to players of the Chennai Super Kings, the team he owns. Conflict of interest, anyone?

The IPL Cheerleader Controversy: Why the Surprise?

Before I wade in to the Gabriella Pasqualotto story, I would like to say this: I like the Alternative Cricket Almanack, I think the writers have a great sense of humor and they’re generally top-notch. Also, I realize I’m late to this story.

Here’s the background: Alternative found an IPL cheerleader willing to blog about her experiences. She blogged about her experiences, including some remarks about certain cricketers. She was fired from her job.

Outrage ensued.

My question: why is anyone surprised? This is precisely what I expected the day I saw the first blog post. And the first blog post wasn’t even harmful. The question to ask yourself is this: if you blogged about people you worked with at your job, including details about their personal life, do you think you would get to keep your job? I think not.

Alternative claims that all the IPL administrators had to do was discreetly tell them to take the blog posts down, and that is what would have happened. I’m inclined to believe them, though in my experience when a blogger gets a take-down request like that, their first instinct is to blog about it. So I’m not sure the IPL would have taken that route– bloggers are not known to be discreet. Especially not ones that have been printing details about cheerleaders and cricketers at after-parties.

How Lalit Modi and the BCCI (Almost) Killed Willow TV

UPDATE: Willow TV CEO, Vijay Srinivasan, tells me that Willow is alive and well. Willow will broadcast the English summer. Updates to the site are underway. He has disputed the article. Every financial deal I have reported in this article is backed-up by either an article in a reputable news source or an official corporate release. I have simply laid it all out on one page. Perhaps reports of Willow’s death are exaggerated, but to all appearances they have been on life support since March.

I’ve tracked this story for a couple of months now, both as a blogger and as a long-time Willow TV customer, and I finally have a breakthrough. Willow TV was a victim of the BCCI/Modi saga. The details are as follows:

Willow TV— the website that has provided legal live streaming of cricket on the Internet in the United States for 8 years– is on life support. The web site has not been updated since the World Cup. There are no working links to subscribe to their service. Customer support has been non-responsive. The silent masses wonder– what’s up with Willow TV? (see Samir Chopra’s recent woes that inspired my investigation.)

What Happened to Willow?

Willow TV was acquired by a company called Global Cricket Ventures in 2010. Earlier, there had been interest from Anil Ambani, but after that deal fell through, GCV stepped in. GCV had the rights to the Champions League T20 as well as the IPL. Add to that the World Cup rights in 2011, Willow TV seemed destined for greatness. In late 2010, an India-focused private equity firm called Elephant Capital invested $10 million in GCV for a 50% stake. The Willow TV World Cup broadcast, after some initial hiccups, was a success. They streamed the matches to browsers, IPTV devices (PS3, Roku, Wii, etc.), iPhones, Androids and iPads everywhere and even got their own channel on satellite television.

It was a great pleasure and gave US viewers a taste of a possible future where cricket was available all the time on any device of their choosing.

Enter: Lalit Modi

I don’t have all the details, but here is what I know: GCV sub-licensed the IPL on-line and mobile broadcast rights from World Sports Group (WSG). Last June, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) scrapped the agreements for global media rights with WSG. The reason? An alleged improper facilitation fee of $90 million paid by broadcast firm by Multi-Screen Media (MSM, owners of Set MAX TV Channel) to WSG. The BCCI claimed that former IPL chief Lalit Modi had struck the deal independently without prior knowledge of the board.

Coup de grâce? Lalit Modi is the father-in-law of Gaurav Burman, one of the directors of Elephant Capital.

So, suddenly, WSG->GCV->Willow TV was left without rights to the IPL and CLT20. This time the IPL online rights went to Indiatimes. And everything went further downhill.

In March 2011, Elephant Capital decided to pull their investment out of GCV and since then all their online properties have gone silent. It appears they have no more money to run the operations.

WSG went to court after being stripped of the TV rights, and it seems the court has instructed them to settle with BCCI in a civil court. The BCCI, for its part, is in no mood to do business with anyone from the Lalit Modi era.

And that’s what happened to Willow TV. They were at their peak, offering a great service across a range of devices when the rug got pulled from under them. Their only crime was that they were acquired by a company who was in bed with a company who allegedly did a shady deal with Lalit Modi.

[Of course, this doesn’t excuse the fact that they are unresponsive, opaque and apparently, giving people a hard time when they want to cancel their subscription.]


Yet– hope springs eternal. If you have a working subscription, the current Pakistan tour of West Indies works just fine in a browser, though they’ve dropped IPTV device, phones and tablet support. And I did get a mysterious email from them a month ago about IPL streaming that made me very happy for a couple of weeks. But mostly, it’s a near-dead web site and a service on life support. Indiatimes streams IPL in the US with a three hour delay. A three hour delay for an IPL game. I have no words.

For a few weeks in 2011, Willow TV showed us a glimpse of a possible tomorrow. Cricket available where you want it, when you want it. I miss it already. Read the rest of this entry »

The B Team Goes to the West Indies

Kartikeya is disappointed in the Indian seniors for choosing not to play the ODI series in West Indies:

I hope the West Indies teach India a lesson in the upcoming ODI games. I understand the need for rest, but to choose the IPL over International Cricket is unconscionable, especially when playing for India is high paying employment.

I empathize. But I also find it interesting that while the rest of the world frets over the health of Test cricket, the top Indian players choose to ignore meaningless ODI series.


Andy Zaltzman is back blogging after a month of cricket detoxification:

In an effort to make the pre-Twenty20 era of cricket retrospectively more exciting, the IPL is being officially backdated. The 1976 IPL has been won by the now defunct Visakhapatnam Visigoths, led by Indian Test legend Gundappa Viswanath and part-owned by legendary film director Satyajit Ray and Scottish pop stars the Bay City Rollers. In a tense final in Madras, they defeated the Delhi Daredevils, for whom Geoff Boycott scored an undefeated 23 off 65 balls as his team narrowly failed to chase down the Visigoths’ total of 93 for 4, an imposing total for the time. The losing semi-finalists were the Punjab Pranksters and the Chennai Benevolent Dictators, later rebranded as the Super Kings.