RCB Unbox, Royal Challengers Bangalore, IPL, Chris Gayle, AB de Villiers
At the Unbox event at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium last Sunday, RCB inducted two of their legends, Chris Gayle and AB de Villiers, into their Hall of Fame and retired their jerseys, numbered 333 and 17, respectively | Pic: Twitter/Royal Challengers Bangalore

Post-toss team announcement, Impact Player: Tweaks promise to spice up IPL

Last Sunday, exactly a week before their first match of the new Indian Premier League (IPL) season, Royal Challengers Bangalore fired the first off-field salvo with a unique ‘Unbox’ event at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium. More than 30,000 fans paid good money to watch their heroes at practice, an unprecedented development in cricketing circles. On an evening that was also marked by foot-tapping music, RCB inducted two of their legends, Chris Gayle and AB de Villiers, into their Hall of Fame and retired their jerseys, numbered 333 and 17, respectively.

The audience just couldn’t have enough of Gayle, de Villiers, and RCB talisman Virat Kohli, the only man to have played for the same franchise since the inception of the IPL in 2008. Unbox was RCB’s first serious fan-engagement of the season. With the IPL returning to normalcy and the competition reverting to the home-and-away format for the first time since 2019 — the untold havoc of the pandemic in the intervening years is too fresh and painful to bear repetition — the aim is to spice things up, become bigger and better, fuse cricket further with entertainment, offer the primary stakeholders an experience like never before.

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It’s almost as if RCB took a leaf out of the IPL book itself, because long before Unbox, a couple of innovations to the tournament were announced, in keeping with making the IPL the most arresting, compelling, non-international cricketing spectacle. Both are interesting and well thought out; just how impactful they will be remains to be seen, but there is no disputing the new dimension these tweaks bring to the playing conditions.

The toss loses power

First among them is a dramatic break from convention, indeed from regulations. Teams no longer need to announce their playing XIs before the toss. The captains can walk out with two different teams, and depending on whether they win or lose the toss, they can then hand over the final XI to their counterpart. It was a tack first used in the South Africa T20 tournament earlier this year with no little success, but given the scale and the magnitude of the IPL, clearly this development will be viewed closely and with keenness because there if it is an unqualified success, there is the possibility that this could become the accepted norm in international T20s too, going forward.

For too long now, the sport has hinged on the vicissitudes of how the coin toss turns out, no matter where it is 20-over cricket or the traditional five-day game. In no other sport does the simple fact of flipping a coin come with so many ramifications. By allowing the teams to name their XIs once the formality of the toss is dispensed with, there is a greater levelling of the playing field. Especially given that dew generally has such a pronounced effect during this time of the year, this change will go a long way towards alleviating the disadvantage that the team losing the toss was hitherto burdened with.

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It’s likely that some absent-minded captain might hand over the wrong team list to his opposite number, a genuine possibility considering that skippers are not used to carrying two sheets of paper with them. That will undoubtedly add to the drama and the theatre, which again is in keeping with the avowed theme of the IPL. Lest we should be inclined to dismiss this possibility as just a smart-alecky remark, let’s not forget that captains have often forgotten what changes they have made to their playing XIs. And as recently as earlier this year, Rohit Sharma blanked out on winning the toss in a white-ball international against New Zealand, not remembering for at least 10 seconds if the team decision had been to bat first or bowl first!

Impact Player

The other major tweak is the introduction in the IPL for the first time of an “Impact Player”, someone not in the starting XI but who can come into the game at any stage and take full part, never mind what the player he is replacing has already done or not done. It essentially means that a team can play a match with 12 players though, of course, at any time, only 11 fielders will be on the park and only 11 will be allowed to bat.

In some ways, the Impact Player can go a long distance towards making up for the lack of a quality all-rounder. For instance, if a team has batted first, it can replace a batsman with a specialist bowler when it’s their turn to defend a target, or vice-versa. Teams are not compelled to use the Impact Player just because the option is available, but plenty of thought will have to go into who the Impact Player will be and exactly when, if not if, he should be introduced.

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The Impact Player can only be an overseas star if the original starting XI has no more than three foreigners because fundamentally, only four from abroad can play in a match, never mind if that involves 11 people (until now) or 12 (going forward). The Impact Player can be anyone from among the five substitutes named in the official team sheet exchanged after the toss, which means while there is greater leeway in terms of what the specialisation of that individual could be, it precludes picking anyone from the extended squad willy-nilly.

The Impact Player is an improved version of the Super Sub that was briefly in vogue in One-Day International cricket in the middle of the 2000s. The Super Sub, however, had to be jettisoned almost as quickly as it was introduced because he had to be named before the toss. That meant that the Super Sub for the team that lost the toss was practically neutralised, and in an oblique way, it became 12 versus 11 with the dice heavily loaded in favour of the one that hit it lucky with the coin. This is a far fairer and more exciting introduction, which, coupled with the post-toss exchange of team sheets, should add more thrills and spills to the spectators, and necessitate the coaching staff in the dugout to work on the go, make spot-decisions under pressure and hope that haste doesn’t make waste. Can’t wait to see how that pans out, can you?

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