By: Chinmay Vaidya
So far in our IPL preview series, we've looked at the importance of having players on the runs and wickets leaderboard and whether teams eventually regress to the mean. The most important question heading into every season is how many points does a team need to make the playoffs. Four teams get into the postseason, but the top two teams have multiple chances to make the final. It's great to make the playoffs, but it's even better to land one of the top two spots and get into the first qualifier.
The calculation here is really simple. Each franchise plays the other seven teams twice for a total of 14 matches. Over the years, the IPL may have varied between eight, nine and 10 teams but the playoffs have always had just four squads. This offers some form of standardization for calculating how many points a team needs on average to make the postseason. Each win is worth two points and a tie is worth one.
I went back and tracked down all the playoff teams and teams within one win of a playoff spot over the last 11 IPL seasons. Basically, this factors in the strength of the top four teams. In some seasons, the top four teams are so dominant the others don't stand a chance at sniffing the playoffs. This essentially happened in 2011 and 2013, where only five teams were truly in contention for four spots. On average, there are 5.9 teams in contention for a playoff spot. This is the essence of what makes IPL so entertaining; most teams remain in contention throughout the whole season.
Over 11 competitions, the average number of points needed to make the playoffs is 15.6. On four occasions, a team with 16 points got into the playoffs in the fourth spot. A team with 14 points also snuck into the fourth spot on four occasions, including last season. That means 7-8 wins will put a team in playoff contention, but getting into the fourth spot means playing in the eliminator. The same goes for the third spot, which has an average of 17 points. The eliminator match was introduced in IPL 2011, which gave the top two seeds two chances to qualify for the final. Since the introduction of the eliminator, only two teams have made the final from this match. One of them, Sunrisers Hyderabad, won the championship in 2016. The goal should be to land in the top two, so how many points does a team need for those spots?
The first and second spots require 20.1 and 18.1 points on average, meaning a team has to win 9-10 games out of 14 to be in this position. Usually, these teams get off to fast starts in the season and establish themselves as the top teams quickly. It's unlikely for a squad to jump into the top two spots late in the season, but it has happened before. The Mumbai Indians had just 10 points after 10 matches in 2015 before surging at the end to finish with the second seed. The Indians ended up winning the title. In 2017, Rising Pune Supergiant had 10 points after nine matches. Pune ended up getting the second seed.
The bottom line is, the best team tends to win around 10 games out of the 14 it plays in any given season. This can fluctuate based on the way talent is distributed and which players perform, but for the most part the league plays out in this way. A team is in playoff position with 7 wins, but really needs 8 to guarantee a spot on average. With 2019 being a World Cup year, we could see some key players getting additional rest in crucial matches, leading to further variance in the tournament. Buckle up, it's going to be a fun ride.