Mandeep Singh had the air of a man who has endured one too many swings of misfortune. Rain meant Punjab were denied a chance at a semi-final tilt through circumstances beyond their control. Their opponent, Tamil Nadu, had won more games (nine) in the league phase than Punjab (five) had, which meant it was Tamil Nadu who progressed past the quarter-final in the Vijay Hazare Trophy 2019-20.
The catch was, Tamil Nadu played in Group C which had ten teams, while Punjab were in Group B which had nine. So even if Punjab had won every single league game, they would have been eliminated at Tamil Nadu’s expense.
“Going out like this is very unfortunate and I think it’s a very bad rule, to decide something like that,” Mandeep said after the washed out quarter-final at the Alur 1 ground in Bengaluru. “Fighting it out in the A, B groups – the two groups that have the best 18 teams… Had it rained yesterday, Pondicherry would have qualified (ahead of Karnataka, in the tournament’s first quarter-final). Doesn’t make any sense, but cannot help it.
“Teams will prefer to play in groups C and D then, if the rules are like that. Very unfortunate and really not happy about this.”
While the quarter-final between Karnataka and Puducherry wasn’t rain-affected, if there had been a no-result, Puducherry would have gone through.
Both teams had seven wins each in the league stage, and in the absence of a head-to-head result, Puducherry’s net run-rate (3.523) was better than Karnataka’s (1.17) and would have carried them through even though both figures were the result of vastly different circumstances, achieved against significantly dissimilar quality of opposition.
Mandeep was also unhappy that the schedule didn’t keep a reserve day for knockout matches.
“For the knockouts, there should definitely be a reserve day,” he said. “For the league stage, it’s fine, though the BCCI did reschedule the games. But if there is a day [between the quarter-final and semi-final], then there has to be a reserve day for the knockouts.”
The Tamil Nadu-Punjab quarter-final was cut short when it was evenly poised. In the other one, Mumbai were utterly dominant over Chhattisgarh but they couldn’t see the job through because of the weather and were also knocked out. Shreyas Iyer, the captain, was in agony.
“It’s really disappointing. We gave our heart, soul and tears for this amazing tournament, and unfortunately, the way we started the season, rain was affecting every game,” Iyer said. “So we can’t blame anyone in this situation. We’ll take it in our stride and move forward. The boys are also very… disappointed from inside.”
When the downpour that would eventually lead to both games – played on neighbouring grounds at Alur I and Alur II – being cancelled arrived at 3pm local time, the Mumbai players on Alur II showed how keen they were to get a full 20 overs in by lending a hand to the groundstaff in pulling the covers on the ground. But it was all for nothing and disappointed as Iyer was, he also pointed out that the playing conditions for the tournament had been set beforehand and agreed to by all.
“We had our BCCI meeting before the tournament started and they had specifically said that these are going to be the rules and regulations if it rains,” he shrugged. “So we’ve got to take that into consideration and move ahead. Can’t think about it now.”
Mandeep admitted he hadn’t been aware of the rules governing washouts in knockout matches, but held that the playing conditions as they were, made little sense, while drawing fresh attention to the inequity of having teams in Groups A and B mapped onto the same points table.
“Honestly, I didn’t see it (the playing conditions). Maybe our association is aware because I am more focused on my team, my players,” Mandeep said. “And we never thought something like this would happen. Groups A and B are very tough. While being in Group A, you are competing with the teams in Group B and vice versa. Let’s say we had won all our eight games, even then we would have been eliminated. So there is not much logic there.”