IPL 2023: Impact Player rule largely responsible for this years six-fest

IPL 2023: Impact Player rule largely responsible for this year's 'six-fest'

If the number of sixes struck is the yardstick to measure the success of a T20 tournament, then Season 16 of the Indian Premier League is a runaway-hit by all accounts.

With four playoff matches still remaining in the 10-team, 74-match competition, the previous record for the most sixes in an IPL season – 1,062 in 2022 – has already been laid low, the count standing currently at 1,066.

The existing mark was eclipsed in the final league encounter between Royal Challengers Bangalore and holders Gujarat Titans on Sunday (May 21) at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru, an acclaimed six-hitting ground as much because of the length of the boundaries as its elevation that allows the ball to travel faster and farther through the air.

Change in attitude

It’s hard to believe in this day and age that there was a time when hitting the ball in the air brought more than just a rap on the knuckles from the coach. Playing in an orthodox fashion and adhering to the tenets of batsmanship as laid out in the coaching manual brooked no compromise, and batsmen were discouraged from taking the aerial route.

How all that has changed! Hardly is there a batsman who doesn’t pull off ‘maximums’, as the six has now glamorously been labelled. The air no longer holds the same mystique or fear as it did in the past, and even long-standing coaches have been compelled to alter their once uncompromising stance to ensure that their wards aren’t left behind in the irresistible, inevitable world of power-hitting.

Also read: IPL 2023 week 8 review: Kohli, Gill set records; heartbreak for RCB

It's no coincidence that more sixes per game, and per edition, are being struck with each passing season of the IPL. For one thing, the players have become stronger, spending as much time in the gym pumping iron and doing other strengthening exercises as on the park, honing their skills. Then, there is a strong slant towards what’s called range-hitting, a feature at every practice session during the IPL where there’s an unspoken competition to fathom who can hit the ball the longest and the hardest.

No total appears big enough to defend

That’s why no total appears sufficient anymore in the ever-expanding world of T20 cricket. This season alone, eight successful run chases in excess of 200 have been effortlessly mounted, Mumbai Indians alone accounting for an unprecedented four of them. Even a half-decade back, 200 was considered a guarantee for success nine times out of ten; that’s no longer the case because of the fearlessness of the modern-day batsman, coupled with excellent batting surfaces, not the largest of grounds, and more advanced bats with extended but light sweet spots, thanks to the highly-compressed wood, and thick edges that ensure that even swirling mishits wend their way into the stands.

This is the first time since 2019 that the IPL is being played on a home-and-away basis. When that format was in vogue before the pandemic shook up the world as we knew it, a plethora of surfaces with vastly different characters was on view. When you went to Chennai or Delhi, for instance, you knew that batting second wouldn’t be the easiest proposition because the pitches were sluggish to start with and gradually became even more becalmed as the match wore on. Once the ball got older and softer, stroke-making was fraught with danger; the harder one tried to smack the cover off the ball, the less distance the ball travelled, which meant that as teams travelled the country, they had to showcase adaptability and cricketing smarts to compensate for pitches that discouraged uninhibitedness.

Also read: Yashasvi Jaiswal hits fastest fifty in IPL history as RR annihilate KKR

This year, there’s been a certain similarity to pitches in most parts of the country, with perhaps only Lucknow being an exception. Both Chennai and Delhi have thrown up shirtfronts almost as the norm while Kolkata’s Eden Gardens too has been a batter’s ally. In Dharamsala, where Punjab Kings played their last two home games, the mountain town’s elevation more than made up for the longish boundaries; that 42 sixes were struck in just two matches illustrates that point.

Impact Player's rule leaves bowlers with nowhere to hide

The primary contributing factor to this year’s six-fest, however, is the introduction of the Impact Player, which artificially helps extend every team’s batting strength. That’s why when Gujarat were bowling against Bangalore on Sunday (May 21), for instance, Vijay Shankar could put his feet up in the dugout but when it was time to set out in quest for 198, he could seamlessly slot into the No. 3 slot and express his skills freely.

While dealing a body blow to India’s designs of unearthing quality all-rounders, especially of the variety that can ally powerful ball-striking with competent medium pace, the Impact Player has left the bowlers with nowhere to hide. Imagine picking up four wickets for not too many in the first half, and then realizing that at least three, if not four, more ball-bashers are lying in wait. Gujarat used the rule superbly by allowing Shubman Gill to protect his injured finger in the first half of the tournament, using him as a pure batsman alone, a tack Mumbai Indians too adopted by employing Suryakumar Yadav in that capacity.

Also read: IPL 2023: Impact Player rule has rewritten core values of cricket

The value of an added power striker in T20 cricket can never be exaggerated. Given that teams have only 20 overs at their disposal, an additional resource that can smite the ball is more than what the doctor would have ordered. Not all teams might have muscular batsmen of the same skillsets, competence, and the propensity to deliver under pressure, which is why some have benefitted from the Impact Player concept vastly more than others, but those who can summon those resources are largely those that have made the playoffs.

Skewed balance between bat and ball

Only thrice in the first 15 years of the IPL has an edition averaged less than nine sixes per match. The lowest sixes-per-game number is 8.58, a figure that can be attributed entirely to the fact that the 2009 tournament was played from end-to-end in South Africa owing to the general elections in India. Pitches there tended to favour quicker bowlers more than anywhere else in the world, and the timing of the event – during the southern hemisphere winter – was an additional challenge that batsmen couldn’t surmount successfully.

Over the last 16 years, the IPL has thrown up a little over 11 sixes each night on average; this year’s count of 15.22 is way above normal, therefore, but you can rest assured that it is no aberration. Unless there is a concerted effort to redress the skewed balance between bat and ball, T20 cricket will continue to be a matter of whose daddy is the strongest. Not that too many will be complaining vocally, of course.

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