The introduction of any innovation is accompanied by excitement, anticipation, apprehension and understandable doubts surrounding its efficacy. So it was with the ‘Impact Player’ rule, ushered in for Season 16 of the Indian Premier League (IPL).
An Impact Player is one outside the playing XI who can be drafted into the team at any stage of an IPL game to augment the batting or the bowling, depending on the requirement. First trialled at the inter-state 20-over Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, it was extended to the IPL, which prides itself in being the leader when it comes to novelties designed to make the game more interesting and attractive.
In the Mushtaq Ali Trophy, the Impact Player could not take the field beyond the 14th over of either innings. The IPL went a step further; the said individual could come on at any stage of the game. It was a tweak that caught franchises unawares, because at the mini auction, teams were under the impression that the 14-over restriction would remain in play. “This amendment came after the IPL and we were not aware of it during the auction, but it’s still a level-playing field because the rule is the same for all teams,” Sanjay Bangar, the Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) head coach, had pointed out a day before his team kicked off their campaign on April 2.
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12 vs 12
Less than halfway through the league phase of the tournament, if there is one unmistakable takeaway, it’s that the Impact Player has ensured that cricket has veered from its 11 vs 11 norm. With hardly any franchise not making use of the option, the core values of cricket have been rewritten with the battle now extended to 12 vs 12, even though at any given stage, there can only be 11 on the field and only 11 can bat in an innings.
By ruling that despite the additional resource summonable, no more than four overseas players can be a part of the extended 12, the IPL has remained true to its avowed objective of promoting and nurturing Indian talent. Beyond that, the near constant has been the introduction of an additional batting resource by the side chasing, and of an extra bowling option by the team defending a target, as is to be expected.
The Impact Player is a boon for teams that don’t have the luxury of several all-rounders to fall back on. Chennai Super Kings (CSK), for instance, boast Ravindra Jadeja, Moeen Ali, Mitchell Santner, Ben Stokes (when he is available to bowl again in a few days’ time) and Dwaine Pretorius, apart from Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who too like all capable wicketkeeper-batsmen must fall in the all-rounder category, and so would not have been terribly handicapped if the Impact Player novelty hadn’t come into the picture. But where teams are more reliant on specialists, the temptation to dip into the Impact Player-ocean is irresistible. And while the choice of which batsman to introduce in that capacity might be straightforward, the side bowling second can fall back on the events of the first 20 overs and the prevalence or otherwise of dew to opt either for a paceman or a spinner, depending on how the game pans out.
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Captain as Impact Player
Mumbai Indians (MI) were the first to think out of the box when they named only three overseas players in their first XI for their opening match against RCB in Bengaluru on April 2. They then brought on Australian left-arm quick Jason Behrendorff as the impact sub for Suryakumar Yadav in a well thought out move that didn’t exactly pay off because they didn’t have enough runs on the board to test the hosts on an excellent batting surface, but it showed that there is more than one way to skin the cat.
Mumbai also became the first outfit to use their captain as an Impact Player, but that was more out of necessity than owing to a strategic masterstroke. In normal course, Rohit Sharma might have missed their fixture against Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) last Sunday in its entirety because he was stricken with a stomach bug and could not have played a full part in a 40-over contest. But in the situation as it exists now, Rohit ceded captaincy responsibilities to Suryakumar. Fortunately for the five-time champions, they fielded first and when they came back out to chase down 186 for victory, out walked Rohit with regular opening partner Ishan Kishan. The duo added 65 in just 29 deliveries to give impetus to the chase, and Mumbai rode on that frenetic start to blaze to a commanding victory.
Several Impact Players have lived up to that tag, not least the unheralded leg-spinner Suyash Sharma, who bamboozled RCB with his bag of tricks in KKR’s massive win at the Eden Gardens nearly a fortnight back. On balance, it would appear as if bowlers are less handicapped when they join a game midway through, because they warm up that much faster while running around in the field compared to batsmen who might sit still for 20 overs of the first innings and then be expected to immediately kick off a run-chase.
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As happened with Prithvi Shaw on Saturday against RCB in Bengaluru. Having cooled his heels in the first half, Shaw looked out of the game when he accompanied David Warner at the start of Delhi Capitals’ (DC) chase. After making his skipper see red by turning down a legitimate second run, Shaw ran himself out in that same first over, unable to get his legs going after being inactive for nearly two hours since the start of the game.
“The one thing I certainly don’t like is that it can’t just be batting hours only for certain batters,” said Shane Watson, the Delhi batting coach. “I’d have hated it if I was only batting and then sitting on the bench. I am an all-rounder, but even if I don’t get to bowl, I’d rather be out in the middle fielding and contributing to the team.”
While the easy option is to write off the Impact Player rule as a misadventure – as many have already done – it’s worth remembering that it is a work in progress and, like all such projects, will get better with a little tweak here, a little change there.
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