How Impact Player rule has lit up IPL stage | Cricket

When the introduction of the Impact Player was announced prior to the start of IPL 2023, it sparked a frisson of excitement. On paper, the concept looked exciting, a vast improvement on the Super Sub idea that was briefly in vogue in One-Day International cricket in first half of the 2000s.

Khaleel Ahmed of Delhi Capitols celebrating the dismissal of Sam Curran ( Ravi Kumar/Hindustan Times )
Khaleel Ahmed of Delhi Capitols celebrating the dismissal of Sam Curran ( Ravi Kumar/Hindustan Times )

Under the Super Sub proviso, teams could name an additional, 12th player who could replace a player from the original XI, but the substitute had to be named before the toss took place, which meant in most cases, the side that lost the toss practically lost its Super Sub too.

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The Impact Player rule allowed franchises to name five substitutes, one of whom could come on as a sub. This ensured that the toss didn’t influence the efficacy of the process, a big tick in the box and clearly a learning from the Super Sub fiasco that died a quick, natural death.

One year and a few matches on, while the Impact Player has indeed lit up the IPL stage, it’s worth considering if what works for the IPL will work for Indian cricket too when it comes to Twenty20 Internationals. Most franchise-based leagues beyond the IPL haven’t embraced the Impact Player idea, nor has the International Cricket Council. There are no Impact Players in country vs country skirmishes, which straightaway means that while franchises enjoy the luxury of an additional asset in 20-over cricket, the same doesn’t extend to nations in the T20I cauldron.

On the face of it, that might not appear such a big deal, but in reality, it is. Even midway through last season, several senior players and coaches, Indian and international, lamented the diminishing importance of Indian all-rounders in the Impact Player era. The onus on specialists, which isn’t the ideal tack for T20s, meant there was little incentive for specialist batters to even cursorily turn their arms over. India had tried to ‘manufacture’ all-rounders by getting someone like Venkatesh Iyer to also chip in with a few overs of medium-pace for Kolkata Knight Riders and for the national team but with under the new dynamic, franchises are understandably loath to look for even one exploratory over from a ‘part-timer’ because they have the option of replacing one specialist with another in the diametrically opposite department.

The Impact Player rule can work, and it indeed has, within the limited framework of the IPL. Those a little long in the teeth, such as veteran leggie Amit Mishra, can retire to the dugout after his four overs, not required to field and certainly not to bat because a more accomplished willow-wielder can readily step into the breach. But by extending that luxury to someone like a Prithvi Shaw, franchises were doing the out-of-favour batter no favours. After a blazing Test debut in the winter of 2018, Shaw has quickly fallen off the radar, his commitment and work ethics under serious scrutiny. Delhi Capitals’ assessment of his fitness levels, which led to his use as an Impact Player, was a damning indictment of a 24-year-old, who ought to have worked harder and made himself indispensable on the park rather than taking the easy way out and being a part of only one half of an already condensed, 40-over showdown.

While the IPL has effectively been a series of 12 versus 12 matches since the start of the 2023 season – a nightmare for scorers and statisticians, who simply can’t wrap their heads around how 12 can form an 11, if you know what we mean – international cricket remains 11 versus 11 and there is nowhere to hide for the ageing, the shoddy and the unfit. There is also little room for the spawning of specialists, given that T20 cricket by its definition demands multi-dimensional, multi-faceted individuals who must be very good in at least two departments and better than good in the third.

There is a reason why India have struggled to make an impact at T20 World Cups; their only title came in 2007, before the IPL surged into existence, and their last appearance in a final was in 2014. One would have thought the IPL, and the familiarity it offers with high-profile, high-stakes action, would prepare the Indians better to tackle the challenges of a tournament such as the World Cup, but that would have bordered on the naïve. Having already realised that hosting and boasting the most successful T20 league in the world is no guarantee for success in global tournaments, the mandarins haven’t done Indian cricket any favours with this latest experiment, reiterating that what’s great for the IPL is seldom great for the Indian team.


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