Indian Premier League (IPL) teams will be allowed to name five substitutes, one of whom can come on as an Impact Player at any stage of the match, provided the over has been completed or a wicket has just fallen. The Impact Player must be Indian, so you are not allowed to swap one overseas player with another. However, if only three overseas players are in the initial XI, a fourth can come on, in place of an Indian.
Key ways for a team to use the rule are:
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Bring in an extra batter after a collapse, extending the order
Bringing in a bowler for an unused batter
Adding a spinner on an unexpectedly helpful surface, or vice versa
Bring in a death bowler to replace a Powerplay bowler who has completed their spell
The main use, the simple way to exploit the rule (particularly for teams who are broadly happy with their starting XIs), would be to introduce a specialist batter for a specialist bowler, or vice versa, at an opportune moment. Delhi Capitals could use the rule to engineer some balance. Starting with either Manish Pandey or Chetan Sakariya, depending on batting or bowling first, then subbing in the other, would seem a sensible way of managing two one-dimensional cricketers. Gujarat Titans could go with a similar tactic, but with Abhinav Manohar and Mohammed Shami; ditto for Mumbai Indians, with Vishnu Vinod and Hrithik Shokeen.
Other teams might not even see the need to change their balance. For example, Chennai Super Kings look suited to simply introducing a batter for a dismissed batter (increasing their batting depth), given the wealth of bowling options likely to be in the starting XI itself due to their large number of all-rounders. Conversely, some teams might use the rule to get so-called “balancing” players out of the XI. RCB could look at the role of someone like Shahbaz Ahmed – he is neither a four-over banker nor a top-level threat with the bat – and use him as a place holder for whichever role becomes most obviously useful. Lucknow Super Giants could do similar, given their preponderance of all-rounders.
There are more creative ways to use the Impact Player, and certain sides would do well to use it. If Sunrisers Hyderabad hadn’t spent so much money on Harry Brook – necessitating that he start and play – then Aiden Markram’s team would suit starting with only three overseas players (Markram, Klaasen/Phillips).
However, this rule should not be looked at uncritically. Of course, changes to the format of cricket are nothing new. Overs have been eight balls, six balls, five balls; in top tier cricket, there have been any number of different lengths of match, from potentially infinite down to 60 balls. Yet, with the brief and notable exception of the Supersub rule in ODIs, the one genuine constant has been the absence of tactical substitutions – even injury replacements are relatively new. The X-factor player in BBL was a brief experiment which teams widely ignored and was introduced alongside other ‘gimmicks’ the Bash Boost and the Power Surge.
The Indian situation
It would not be too cynical to suggest that the introduction of this rule is a consequence of India’s player pool. A wide range of powerful and elegant batters, an ever-increasing stable of ever-quicker fast bowlers, strong depth in spin bowling stocks, but the one area where India have struggled to produce elite talent in reasonable quantity is all-rounders. In the last three years, only four players in IPL have recorded a positive Batting Impact (a CricViz measure for white ball cricket), as well as a positive Bowling Impact: Moeen Ali, Rashid Khan, Jofra Archer, and Hardik Pandya. Only one Indian recording the statistics of a genuine all-rounder, with 10 teams and almost 100 Indians involved, is a disappointment.
The introduction of the IP rule makes this specific lack of talent less relevant, and less likely to damage the spectacle and quality of play. In that light, this is a sensible move from IPL decision makers. Similarly, the notion of a country manipulating the rules of its domestic league for macrocosmic benefit is by no means a bad thing; and is arguably the bare minimum a board should be across.
Equally, one could argue that identifying a weakness in your player pool and making changes to your league which make it less likely you produce those players, is a misuse of the opportunity. It’s reasonable to assume that the rule will make its way into international cricket in some shape or form, given the political dynamics at play in the global game, and so perhaps an ongoing lack of depth among India’s all-rounders won’t unduly affect their performance in world events – but it’s a gamble.
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