IPL 2024: How much impact has the Impact Player rule had so far

Allowing teams to substitute players mid-match has led to a growing reliance on specialists, diminishing the importance of all-round players.

Published : May 09, 2024 12:40 IST - 7 MINS READ

Biggest beneficiary: Dube’s power-hitting in the middle overs for Chennai Super Kings has earned him a spot in India’s T20 World Cup squad.
Biggest beneficiary: Dube’s power-hitting in the middle overs for Chennai Super Kings has earned him a spot in India’s T20 World Cup squad. | Photo Credit: EMMANUAL YOGINI

Biggest beneficiary: Dube’s power-hitting in the middle overs for Chennai Super Kings has earned him a spot in India’s T20 World Cup squad. | Photo Credit: EMMANUAL YOGINI

For a sport contested between 22 players since time immemorial, the addition of two members to the mix has almost irrevocably altered the lexicon of cricket. If the Indian Premier League (IPL) was the disruptor of international competition, the Impact Player rule has only further fed into the lore of the cash-rich league’s subversive image.

After 54 matches, the average run rate of the ongoing tournament stands at a whopping 9.58, the highest ever for any T20 series or competition involving more than four matches. The fact that this landmark has coincided with the Impact Player rule’s second iteration is not a mere coincidence. Nine of the 10 highest team totals in the IPL have come following the introduction of this innovation in 2023.

Though Sunrisers Hyderabad tops the charts with its 287-run total, the 250-run benchmark has been breached with abandon — eight times — this season. A 262-run target has been dismantled with eight balls to spare, and T20 batting, which seemed to have entered unchartered territory initially, has forayed into the stratosphere.

Understandably, the bowlers are left to feel like collateral in a spectacle that seems increasingly tailor-made for batters and fans. And while the skills of the likes of Jasprit Bumrah and Sunil Narine stand out even amidst this carnage, all-rounders have been handed the shorter end of the stick.

Made with Flourish

By allowing teams to swap one player for another at any point in the match, the sport has increasingly come to revolve around specialists, limiting the role of those with the ability to add value with both bat and ball in varying degrees.

The Impact Player rule affords the team batting first the luxury to field seven specialist batters and then bring in a specialist sixth bowler by subbing out a batter in the bowling innings. It’s vice versa for the team chasing — captains carry two team sheets to the toss.

“Eventually, cricket is played by 11 players, not 12 players. I am not a big fan of ‘Impact Player’; you are taking so much from the game just for a little bit of entertainment. I can give you so many examples; guys like Washington Sundar and Shivam Dube are not getting to bowl. For us (the Indian team), it is not a good thing,” Rohit Sharma, who will lead India at the T20 World Cup in less than a month, voiced his concern.

Washington, an economical off-spinner and a handy batter lower down in the order, has been particularly hard-hit. Having featured in just two of Sunrisers Hyderabad’s first 10 games this season, the 24-year-old has been starved of opportunities at a franchise keen on resetting the T20 template. On both occasions, Washington came on as Impact Player in the last over of Sunrisers’ batting innings and could only bowl five overs across two matches.

For his teammate Abhishek Sharma, who has batted with abandon in the PowerPlay thanks to the cushion provided by the Impact Player rule, the innovation has been a double-edged sword.

Made with Flourish

“Everybody knows that I can bowl. But because of this Impact Player rule, there is always an extra bowler. It is going to happen with all-rounders. It happened last year, and it is happening this year as well,” Abhishek, who has bowled just three overs so far, said.

Dube, whose power-hitting in the middle overs for Chennai Super Kings earned him a spot in India’s T20 World Cup squad, has been employed purely as a batter and has bowled just a solitary over in 11 matches. In six of those games, Dube has been part of Impact Player swaps, either coming in as a batter after Super Kings have fielded or being subbed out at the end of the batting innings.

Though Dube has never consistently bowled a healthy diet of overs in the IPL, he was coming into the tournament on the back of having bowled a significant 67 overs in five Ranji Trophy games for Mumbai. He, however, bowled just four overs in eight matches during the last Syed Mushtaq Ali domestic T20 competition.

Krunal Pandya, Shardul Thakur, Rahul Tewatia, and Ramandeep Singh have also been unable to display their wares in both departments since the advent of the Impact Player rule. It is quite telling that the only Indian players to have scored more than 100 runs and picked five or more wickets this season are Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, and Axar Patel.

Last year, only Axar, Jadeja, Krunal, and Shardul made the cut among Indians. In 2022, before the Impact Player rule, seven Indians (Hardik, Ravichandran Ashwin, Krunal, Axar, Shardul, Jadeja, and Washington) had achieved the dual feat.

While Shardul has played just six out of CSK’s first 11 games, largely owing to the defending champion’s preference for a specialist bowler with a similar skillset, Krunal’s batting position at Lucknow Super Giants has seen him face just 59 balls across nine innings. In 2022, he batted at No. 4 and 5 in eight out of 13 innings, while this year he has been slotted only at No. 7 and 8.

Meanwhile, Tewatia, who burst onto the scene as a bowling all-rounder in 2014, has been typecast as a death-overs specialist with the bat and is yet to bowl a ball in Gujarat Titans’ first 11 games.

This is not to say that all-rounders have become completely extinct in the context of the Impact Player rule. After all, the list of players who have scored more than 100 runs and picked five or more wickets this season includes the likes of Sunil Narine, Andre Russell, Sam Curran, Rashid Khan, and Cameron Green.

However, these are well-established names that add value with bat and ball to an almost equal degree. But what warrants urgent attention is the development of India’s next supply line of all-rounders, which the Impact Player innovation seems to impede. The fact that the last two editions of India’s domestic T20 tournament, the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, have also opted for the provision hasn’t helped in identifying the next generation of all-rounders.

Hardik is still India’s only seam-bowling all-rounder of international repute, and, with his performance under a cloud, he too has made use of the cushion of an extra bowler provided by the Impact Player rule. In 11 matches, he has not bowled at all twice and has completed his quota of four overs in just four games.

With India’s team balance largely dependent on Hardik’s ability to deliver his full quota of overs at the T20 World Cup, where the Impact Player provision doesn’t apply, it doesn’t bode well for the national team.

Though it’s still a long shot, Sunrisers Hyderabad’s Nitish Kumar Reddy perhaps comes closest to replicating Hardik’s skills among Indians. But he too has largely been employed as a specialist batter, having bowled just 7.1 overs in seven matches.

India has long been plagued by the inability of its top-order batters to roll their arm over, and that shortcoming has spilt over into the upcoming global showpiece. The onset of the Impact Player rule has also diminished the role of part-timers, such as Deepak Hooda and Riyan Parag, and has left in its wake a legion of unidimensional strongmen, emboldened by the mirage of a Promised Land (read Impact Player rule), that doesn’t exist on the international arena.

Undoubtedly, the provision has helped unlock the potential of the likes of Ashutosh Sharma and Abishek Porel on the big stage, but is that a trade-off Indian cricket is willing to make at the cost of the development of future Hardiks and Jadejas?

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