The tweaked format of the Indian Premier League playoffs this season has ensured that the race for the top two spots, which will give the teams two shots at making it to the final, will be hotly contested. However, more important than just making it to the top two is winning the first qualifier, which would lead to an additional four days of rest before the summit clash. The second finalists don't get a single day's break.
Chennai Super Kings coach Stephen Fleming agrees the team that wins the first qualifier at the Wankhede on May 24th, to be played between the top two teams in the final league table, will hold an advantage over their opponents in the summit clash.
"If you're not thinking about it (a top-two finish) then you're not planning well. The team that wins the first qualifier will definitely have an advantage as they get four days rest, while the opponents will enter the final on the back of two games over the past three or four days," said the former New Zealand skipper. The loser of the first qualifier will face the winner of the eliminator between the third and fourth placed team, at the Wankhede on May 25th, a day before the final at the MA Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai.
Fleming said the new format will keep the teams on their toes till the last match, ensuring that there are no easy outings. It also ensures the fans get their money's worth in each game.
A perfect case in point would be CSK's final league match against the Royal Challengers Bangalore. With both teams through to the playoffs, the match would have had little at stake in the seasons gone by. But when they face off in Bangalore of the final day of the regular season, taking the foot off the pedal would be the last thing on their mind.
"This format is great for the fans because it's not just about qualifying for the knockouts and then taking it easy. It's an unrelenting format, and maintains interest down to the last day of the regular season," Fleming concluded. The new format was introduced by the organisers, who added two new franchises as well to expand the field to 10 teams.