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Which IPL team has made the best use of the Impact Player rule?

Some teams pick only three overseas players in their XI to give themselves options, while RCB have played the same combination whether they are batting or bowling first

Hemant Brar
Hemant Brar
Nandre Burger celebrates his first IPL wicket, Rajasthan Royals vs Lucknow Super Giants, IPL 2024, Jaipur, March 24, 2024

Nandre Burger has had a big impact as the Royals' Impact Player  •  AFP/Getty Images

"Why are RR only playing three overseas [players]?" tweeted England's Sam Billings when Rajasthan Royals announced their XI against Delhi Capitals.
An IPL team can name up to four overseas players in their XI, but Royals knew what they were doing - making sure they got the most out of the Impact Player rule. In fact, the same combination had brought them success in their opening game against Lucknow Super Giants.
Batting first against DC, they named Jos Buttler, Shimron Hetmyer and Trent Boult in the XI, and Rovman Powell and Nandre Burger among their five Impact Player subs. This way, they kept their options open.
If their batting failed, they could bring in Powell as the Impact Player in place of a dismissed batter. But if the innings went well and Powell was not needed, they could bring in Burger to give themselves a sixth bowling option during Delhi's chase.
And that is how it played out. After being reduced to 36 for 3, Royals promoted R Ashwin up the order, but when he too fell in the 14th over, their captain Sanju Samson and director of cricket Kumar Sangakkara deliberated whether they needed Powell.
"The way we started, the first ten overs, we were like, 'Okay, Rovman, be ready. You might have to bat today'," Samson said after the match. "Myself and Sanga had around four to five chats between the 13th and 17th over: should we [bring Powell in], should we not, should we, should we not? Finally, after the 17th over, we decided one extra bowler might be handy."
Which team is using the Impact Player rule the smartest?
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Rajasthan Royals
Royal Challengers Bengaluru
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Mumbai Indians
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Thanks to Riyan Parag's unbeaten 84, Royals posted a formidable 185 for 5, and then brought in Burger for Hetmyer for the second innings. This allowed them to cover up for the absence of a world-class allrounder in their side and have six specialist bowling options.
This strategy, however, works only when Royals are batting first. Even then, if they collapse and bring in Powell like they almost did against DC, they would be left with only five bowlers.
The only time Royals have bowled first so far, against Mumbai Indians, they started with four overseas players and - in the absence of an allrounder - with only five bowling options. It worked out all right, but could have gone wrong if a bowler had an off day, something that happened for Royals against Punjab Kings last season.
Mumbai tried the same tactic - three overseas players in their starting XI - against Royals but brought a batter, Dewald Brevis, as Impact Player after losing two wickets in the first over. That meant they could not bring in an extra bowler in the second innings, though it did not matter as Royals chased down the target of 126 inside 16 overs.
Mumbai had tried this plan last year too, in the Eliminator against LSG. Even then, they had to bring in their Impact Player in the first innings.
Overall, this ploy was rarely used last season but many teams have woken up to its advantages in 2024. LSG adopted a similar strategy against Punjab when they named only three overseas players in their bat-first XI. Ashton Turner, one of their Impact Player options, was padded up but once it became clear he was not needed, they brought in fast bowler Naveen-ul-Haq.
Royal Challengers Bengaluru, arguably, have extracted the most out of the Impact Player rule, even though the results have not gone in their favour. The presence of two allrounders - Cameron Green and Glenn Maxwell - allows them to play just four frontline bowlers, irrespective of whether they are batting or bowling first.
In RCB's game against Chennai Super Kings, they had only four frontline bowlers in their batting-first XI. But the presence of Green and Maxwell as bowling options gave them the option of bringing in another batter as Impact Player.
When they were reduced to 78 for 5 in the 12th over in Chennai, they might have thought about bringing in Suyash Prabhudessai for a dismissed batter like Rajat Patidar. In the end, it was not needed as Anuj Rawat and Dinesh Karthik batted for the rest of the innings. That allowed them to bring in Yash Dayal, a fifth frontline bowler, as Impact Player. While RCB lost the match, their Impact Player strategy was spot on.
In their next their match against Punjab, RCB were bowling first but still went in with only four specialist bowlers, and both Green and Maxwell. During the chase, Mahipal Lomror came in as the Impact Player, and smashed 17 off eight balls at No. 8 to take RCB home in a last-over finish, thus vindicating their strategy once again.
Most other teams - CSK, Punjab, Kolkata Knight Riders, Gujarat Titans and Sunrisers Hyderabad - have stuck with last year's template until now. If they are bowling first, they go in with six bowling options, including an allrounder. When it's time to bat, they replace one of the specialist bowlers with a specialist batter. Vice versa, if they are batting first.
Many of them even have a designated Impact pairing. Punjab have Prabhsimran Singh and Arshdeep Singh, CSK have Shivam Dube and Matheesha Pathirana, and Titans have Sai Sudharsan and Mohit Sharma.
There is one more nuance. Even when teams have four overseas players in their starting XI, they name a couple among five potential Impact Players. That is to ensure if an overseas player goes off the field (for injury or other reasons), the substitute fielder is also of international quality. After all, why have someone else as a substitute if you can have Glenn Phillips?
(All stats and numbers updated till the DC vs KKR match on April 3)

Hemant Brar is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo