Not content to rest on its laurels as the most successful and lucrative franchise competition in the world, the Indian T20 league continues to innovate.
In that spirit, for 2023, they have decided to introduce the concept of the Impact Player, who will have the same role as a substitute in football. Somebody who can be introduced off the bench and, hopefully, have a big impact on the outcome of a game.
The governing council of the league has indicated that it will introduce this as a new tactical and strategic element to the sport.
The Impact Player can both bat and bowl, and, in most circumstances, can only be an Indian.
What is an Impact Player
An Impact Player is somebody who will not start a match, but can be introduced at any time and can fully participate in a match. There will only be eleven players on the pitch at any one time, though. Introducing an Impact Player means that somebody else has to be replaced and they can play no further part in the match thereafter.
How it will work
Each team will begin a match with four listed substitutes at the toss. They can choose any of these to act as their Impact Player.
A captain can nominate the Impact Player, and bring them on before the start of an innings, at the end of an over, when a wicket falls, or if a batter retires injured. They can also be introduced into the bowling attack, but they cannot bowl the remaining balls of an over which is already in progress when they come onto the field.
Why the role is primarily restricted to Indians?
The role is primarily restricted to Indians because of the rule that no franchise can have more than four overseas players in their starting XI. However, if they began a match will less than their full quota or decided to replace one of the overseas players, then there is no reason why the Impact Player has to be an Indian.
In terms of the bowling team an Impact Player can still bowl their full four overs if they are introduced sufficiently early in an innings.
Should the start be delayed, or a match reduced to a certain number of overs per side, an Impact Player can still be introduced, but their overs would be pro-rated like everybody else’s.
For Indian T20 franchise teams this offers all sorts of tactical options and may influence their recruitment decisions at the auction in Kochi later this week.
With four substitutes available to them, they may want to choose an expert batter, a death-ball bowler, an all-rounder or a top-notch fielder, depending on the match situation at the time.
They may also need to consider, even more carefully than they are now, who they are playing in a particular match, and choose their four substitutes with their strengths and weaknesses particularly in mind.
And, it also offers the possibility for more players to take part in a game.
In time, it could give rise, as in football, to the concept of the “Super Sub”, somebody who makes a name for themselves coming off the bench. Whilst most players would always prefer to start a match, given it is just an 11 a side game, then it offers the chance to put themselves in the shop window as far as other franchises are concerned.
Potentially it also offers a solution to the question of player burn-out which has become increasingly pertinent the more crowded that the cricketing schedule has become. Franchises could choose to rest key players for one game but could keep them in reserve and bring them into a game if they see that the match situation demands it.
Will other competitions follow the lead?
Whilst this is just an Indian T20 innovation for the moment, other leagues will be closely following how it works, and, if it proves to be a success, will consider adopting it themselves. And the ICC will also be monitoring developments closely.
Substitutes are not entirely new in cricket. They have been used for victims of concussion for several years now.
What is different this time is their use, not in case of injury, but for tactical reasons, introducing a new dimension into T20 cricket.
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Image request: Brijesh Patel (IPL heads)