How much impact will the Impact Player rule have?

The new rule is one of IPL 2023's major innovations and the teams are waiting to see how it plays out

Nagraj Gollapudi
Kolkata Knight Riders need 21 runs off the final over in their last league game of IPL 2022. Their opponents Lucknow Super Giants have been favourites throughout the contest, having ransacked 210 runs without losing a wicket. KKR have an outside chance of making the playoffs, and Rinku Singh threatens to pull off a heist. He hits the first three balls of the final over, bowled by Marcus Stoinis, for 4, 6, 6. Two balls later, however, Evin Lewis takes one of the best catches in IPL history to end Rinku's fairy-tale innings. With three needed off the final ball, Stoinis uproots Umesh Yadav's off stump.
"We were almost there," KKR's CEO Venky Mysore says as he recounts the final moments of the contest. "Then Rinku got out due to a freak catch by Evin Lewis. Still, we had one ball and we needed two [three] runs. Umesh Yadav went in to bat. Had the Impact Player rule existed, perhaps KKR coaches could have replaced Umesh Yadav, immediately after he finished bowling [his four overs], with a specialist batter. And that could have changed the entire equation."

'It's going to be 12 playing 12'

With the aim of innovation, the IPL has introduced the Impact Player rule in the playing conditions for the 2023 season. The rule allows a team to bring in an Impact Player at any point in an innings to replace a player from the XI after the toss.
The caveat is that only four overseas players can play for a team in the match; so if there are four overseas players in the starting XI, the Impact Player can only be an Indian player. The motive of the new rule was to provide more opportunities to Indian players, especially the talented, uncapped ones who don't find a place in the starting XI.
The BCCI implemented the Impact Player rule in the 2022 Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy initially, but the conditions were different. There, a team had to nominate an Impact Player before the toss and he also needed to be brought in before the end of the 14th over in an innings.
The IPL playing conditions state the Impact Player "will add a new tactical or strategic dimension to the game". But several franchise coaches and talent scouts, who watched the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy in person, said the Impact Player was utilised for "damage control" rather than as a tactical tool.
"I think it [naming the XI after the toss] has pretty much negated the impact rule. It's pretty much now a substitute rule. If you bat first, you swap out a batter and bring on an extra bowler [in the second innings] and vice versa"
RCB team director Mike Hesson
In fact, the tactical potential was further reduced when franchises were told, less than a month before the start of IPL 2023, that they could finalise their XIs after the toss. So for this season, the captains can take two separate team sheets to the toss - one for if they are batting first, and another for if they are bowling first.
How does that affect the utilisation of the Impact Player? "It's going to be 12 playing 12 because most teams will want their specialists to occupy their batting slots or their bowling slots," Sanjay Bangar, the head coach at Royal Challengers Bangalore, said on the franchise's website.
Their team director Mike Hesson said he and his coaching staff were excited when they first heard about the Impact Player rule. "We heard about the Impact Player rule before the auction, so obviously we looked at it and thought how we can maximise it, the potential for an allrounder to play a big part," Hesson said. "There was actually some strategy involved. It brought some intrigue. You could introduce the player at any time, whether a batsman is dismissed or not. So yeah I thought it was a nice development.
"I think it [naming the XI after the toss] has pretty much negated the Impact rule. It's pretty much now a substitute rule. If you bat first, you swap out a batter and bring on an extra bowler [in the second innings] and vice versa. So after the toss, you just give your batting XI or bowling XI, so there's no Impact rule, it's pretty much a straight-up substitute."

"Is there any further rocket science …?"

The IPL's decision to let teams announce their XIs after the toss is aimed at reducing the toss advantage, especially on grounds in India where dew sets in during the latter half of the game and hinders the team bowling second.
The SA20 was the first franchise league in which teams finalised their XIs after the toss. It was to help visiting teams minimise their opponent's home advantage in their conditions, and help the team defending a target to cope better with dew. As it turned out, there wasn't much dew at the SA20 venues.
That's unlikely to be the case during the IPL, where dew is likely to play a significant role at most of the 12 venues. The conditions, both players and coaches agree, will influence not just the starting XI but also the choice of the Impact Player. In case of an early collapse, a specialist batter could be brought in as the Impact Player to repair the innings. In case of a strong start, a power-hitter could walk in reinforce the advantage. In case the pitch turns out to be spin-friendly, even if three fast bowlers were named in the starting XI, a spinner could replace one of the quicks.
"If you are playing at Chepauk [Chennai Super Kings' home ground], a team can think of fielding three spinners," an analyst with one of the franchises says. "Start with three overseas players. Based on whether you are batting or fielding first, you can trigger either option. If you are bowling first, you start with three spinners. When you bat, you replace one of the spinners with an overseas batter."
A head coach at another team agrees, saying his job will be easier when it comes to deciding the starting XI. "They have made our lives easier. You don't have to even give the XI before the toss, you have to give 11 + 5 after the toss. If you are batting first, you use an extra batter. If you bowl first, then 100% one of your No. 9, 10 or 11 will be replaced by a batter. Is there any further rocket science in that?"
This coach points out that while one team will have an extra bowler when defending a target, the chasing team is likely to have an extra batter. "Every team will field a minimum of five bowlers in XI. But now you can bring in a death-overs specialist or someone who is successful in the powerplay to bolster your bowling."

Will more first XIs contain only three overseas players?

Historically, most IPL teams have always started with four overseas players in their XIs, but since 2019 a new trend has emerged. Since 2008, there have been only 52 instances of XIs containing three of fewer overseas players, and 37 of those have come in the last four seasons.
"Start with three overseas players. If you are bowling first, you start with three spinners. When you bat, you replace one of the spinners with an overseas batter"
An analyst on a strategy that teams could use in Chennai
We could see more of that this year thanks to the Impact Player rule. A team with a strong overseas bench could start with three overseas players and use the fourth as per requirement. For example, when Mumbai Indians are bowling first, they can start with three overseas bowling options: Jofra Archer, Jason Behrendorff and Cameron Green. For the chase, they could replace Behrendorff with Tim David or another overseas batter as Impact Player.
Gujarat Titans, who have few middle-order overseas batters, could also start with three overseas players and include more Indian allrounders, like Vijay Shankar and Rahul Tewatia, to provide batting and bowling depth. Then, in the second innings, they could bring in Matthew Wade (if chasing) or Josh Little (if defending) as their Impact Player.

Is Impact Player like the old Supersub rule?

Some are of the opinion that the IPL's Impact Player rule is similar to the Supersub that the ICC had trialled in 2005, which also allowed teams to use a 12th player during the game. But the key difference is that teams had to name their XIs and their designated Supersub before the toss.
The Supersub rule, which was recommended by the Sunil Gavaskar-led ICC Cricket Committee, was to encourage the use of allrounders but in practice teams were naming specialists as their Supersub. It made winning the toss even more advantageous , because the team that won the toss could choose to bat or bowl to maximise use of their Supersub, and often negate the impact of the opponent's Supersub.
The ICC ended up shelving the Supersub rule. "In practice, teams have elected to nominate a specialist player as the substitute and this is placing undue importance on winning the toss," Dave Richardson, ICC's general manager (cricket) at the time, said. "There is no desire to create a situation where 12 players are used to do the job of 11. So we did not support the alternate view of allowing substitutes to be nominated after the toss."
While an allrounder was best suited as a Supersub, experts are of the opinion that the Impact Player and XIs being decided after the toss will reduce the need for two-dimensional players. "Perhaps, in some ways, it takes the sheen away from allrounders and allows teams to manage their resources very differently," Mysore says. "What used to be the traditional definition of an allrounder, i.e., be able to get into the side as a pure batsman or a pure bowler, may be viewed differently."
ESPNcricinfo expert Tom Moody was the first to point out after the IPL auction that he feared the role of part-time allrounders would be diminished by the Impact Player rule. Delhi Capitals head coach Ricky Ponting also said recently that the Impact Player rule would push out the "bits-and-pieces" players and almost "negate" the role of the allrounder, unless he was "world-class" and could hold his spot as a specialist batter or bowler.
According to Bangar, the IPL need not have allowed teams to name XIs after the toss. "It's going to be slightly tougher for players who want to contribute in both departments, or who are capable of playing in both departments, especially lower down the order at No. 7. They may not be utilised that much, but their place may go to the specialist batter or specialist bowler. For me, it would have been more interesting had the toss thing not been introduced. Because it sort of takes away all the fun from how teams are going to use the impact substitute."
Several experts from different teams agree that the potential to use the Impact Player rule as a tactical ploy has been reduced. A member of a team's coaching staff said that when the IPL announced the Impact Player rule, he had thought of different ways to use it. "If you are 90 for 1 after nine overs, you have a free license to use the Impact Player where he is asked to play a very, very positive role and provide the momentum. Get 18-20 runs in six balls and he gets us to 130 in the next three overs, and we still have good batters following him with eight overs.
"Now, you can do that without bringing in an Impact Player as you already have seven batters if you are batting first, and then bring in the Impact Player [to bowl in the second innings]."
For now, though, there is a lot of curiosity about how the Impact Player will be used. The straightforward prediction is that the teams will be able to have both deeper batting and bowling line-ups. But soon, as one franchise head says, there is not going to be any unpredictability about the Impact Player.
It is possible the IPL will review the Impact Player rule after this season and perhaps even seek feedback from the teams. Mysore already has an idea: "One could consider extending this rule to overseas players as well and not restrict it only to Indian players."

Nagraj Gollapudi is news editor at ESPNcricinfo