The much-debated IPL Impact Player is likely to have a significant effect on the India T20 team, writes Abhishek Mukherjee.

Unlike other sports, cricket has resisted full substitution for centuries. Of course, substitute fielders were allowed. Until 2011, there used to be runners too. Teams could also substitute the wicketkeeper if the opposition allowed (they do not need permission since 2018).

In other words, teams could substitute players, but not when it came to the two primary skills of cricket – bowling and batting.

In 2005, the ICC introduced the Supersub in 2005 for ODIs. Teams could name 11 cricketers and a full substitute at the toss. They could play the extra batter, replace a batter with a bowler when the former had played their part; or the other way round, if they bowled first.

In other words, teams had a cheat code to convert specialist cricketers into all-rounders.

This sounded fine in theory, but teams had to name their Supersub before the toss, not after. If both teams went in with a bowling Supersub, the team winning the toss batted first, holding an obvious advantage.

In an attempt to convert 11 versus 11 to 12 versus 12, the ICC converted ODI to a game of 12 versus 11. To resolve this, they did away with the concept altogether.

It took the ICC over a decade to work on these lines again, when they allowed a full substitution – albeit a like-for-like one – if a cricketer in the first XI was concussed during a match.

Perhaps encouraged by success of the the concussion substitute, the BCCI used the Impact Player rule in the 2022/23 Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, India’s domestic T20 competition, though they improved on the Supersub.

Teams could name, after the toss, four reserve cricketers, of whom they could pick one. Having completed the test run successfully, they implemented the concept in the IPL.

How are teams using the IPL Impact Player?

Against the Gujarat Titans, Chennai Super Kings substituted batter Ambati Rayudu with fast bowler Tushar Deshpande, some time after Rayudu got out.

The Titans made a ‘forced’ substitution, replacing the injured Kane Williamson with uncapped Indian batter Sai Sudharsan – a use similar in spirit to the concussion substitute.

Punjab Kings replaced batter Bhanuka Rajapaksa with all-rounder Rishi Dhawan, while Kolkata Knight Riders brought in Venkatesh Iyer for bowler Varun Chakravarthy.

Delhi Capitals bowled first, and brought in batter Aman Khan after Khaleel Ahmed was done with his bowling. What Lucknow Super Giants did was slightly different.

When Ayush Badoni fell off the penultimate ball of the Lucknow innings, Lucknow were left with Avesh Khan, Ravi Bishnoi, Jaydev Unadkat, and Mark Wood, none of whom had big-hitting credentials, unlike their Impact Player Krishnappa Gowtham, who strikes at 157 in the format.

Lucknow brought in Gowtham immediately after Badoni got out, and Gowtham hit a six off the last ball. The timing of the substitution was not decisive – Lucknow won by 50 runs – but it could have been, had Wood not bowled a devastating spell.

In the one-sided encounter between Sunrisers Hyderabad and Rajasthan Royals, the substitutions followed the pattern: the side batting first brought in the bowler, while the chasing side did the reverse. Hyderabad drafted in Abdul Samad for Fazalhaq Farooqi, while Rajasthan got Navdeep Saini for Yashasvi Jaiswal.

While four matches (eight substitutions) are not a sample size large enough to draw a conclusion, early trends suggest that most teams are likely to replace a specialist – batter and bowler – with someone superior than the original cricketer at the other discipline.

How will this affect Indian cricket?

India have played 65 men’s T20Is since the global lockdown. Across these matches, Hardik Pandya (eight times), Ravindra Jadeja and Axar Patel (twice each), and Washington Sundar (once) are the only cricketers to have faced and bowled three overs in the same match. And Pandya and Sundar have had run-ins with injuries, and have had to take long breaks as a result.

With the Impact Player, the supply chain of Twenty20 all-rounders at domestic level is going to take a hit. The outstanding ones will still find their way into the IPL, but the advantage they hold over specialists will be blunted to some extent.

The Indian cricket team, already with limited all-round options, will have it worse. In the long run, cricketers will see little incentive in pursuing multiple skills and burning themselves out in the most financially rewarding format of the sport.

Will this necessarily hurt India?

It may seem that it will, but the IPL is not any franchise-based Twenty20 league. Being the most expensive of its ilk, it is likely to influence global cricket leagues at some point. Other leagues, especially the ones where IPL franchises own teams, may implement or imitate the IPL Impact Player.

Perhaps the ICC will implement it at international level as well. Once that happens, the impact on Twenty20 cricket will not be restricted to Indian cricket alone, or even in international cricket alone. The re-evaluation of all-rounders will trickle down to grassroots level.

What about batting?

In Twenty20 cricket, a team almost always runs out of overs quicker than it runs out of wickets. Accommodating an ‘anchor’ in the XI, thus, may seem counterintuitive, but can be justified if a team has a long tail.

Since the Impact Player allows for the extra batter, teams can now take the extra risk. In the long run, teams that ask of specific batters to dig deep are likely to cease to do the same. The anchor may be phased out.

Over the years, India have tended to back the role in T20 cricket, and have been hurt as a result. It may come as a blessing in disguise.

Of course, there are other strategies as well. Gowtham would have replaced Badoni anyway, but what if the team was chasing, the asking rate was threatening to go out of reach, and the team’s best six-hitter was an Impact Player?

In that case, a team may choose to replace a batter – they have to retire, of course – with the Impact Player, and will alter the scales in favour of hitters (while compared to anchors) even more.

What about bowling?

Barring the obvious replacement, the bowling substitution can open up new avenues. There have been bowlers who specialise in bowling at different phases of the innings.

If If the ICC does implement it to T20Is, India can resolve this by simply bowling out a new-ball specialist, who thrives inside the powerplay with the field inside, in one spell and replacing him with someone who specialises in bowling at the death.

If one of them has batting credentials, of course, the decision may depend on which side bats first.