Rule of the Subs: How usage of Impact Players has evolved in 2024

While the Impact Player rule was introduced in 2023, the usage has changed significantly in the ongoing IPL season. Here is a look at it's evolution and impact
Shivam Dube of Chennai Super Kings.
Shivam Dube of Chennai Super Kings.(Photo | AFP)

CHENNAI: When the  Impact Player (IP) rule was introduced in the 2023 Indian Premier League, something fundamentally changed with the way teams operate.

For starters, there was a predominant need to be proactive as a batter because teams have that extra batter who could potentially come into play. The perfect example is someone like Ruturaj Gaikwad. The Chennai Super Kings opener had a 590-run season at a strike rate of 147.5, but in the 15 innings he batted, Gaikwad had just four fifties. Gaikwad was the enforcer at the top for CSK, coming in and scoring the quickfire 30s — something that is unlike for a batter like him. But he had made peace with it because of the IP rule. “With the impact player rule, you have to make sure you don’t hold yourself back,”  he had said when asked about not converting the starts into big scores.

It is just one side of the cause and effect, and it has remained the same in 2024 as well. However, there is something else that has changed. When the IP rule came into play months before the IPL season, initially, people needed some time to understand how it works. How it fundamentally changes the way the game is played. It is no more a 11 vs 11, but a 12 vs 12. Teams had already been formed and to put it simply, last year the emphasis was on adding the extra 20-odd runs. While some teams had a consistent use of IP rule for specific players, it was not the case for all. CSK, for example, kept Ambati Rayudu as IP substitute on most occasions irrespective of the situation while a team like Rajasthan Royals were using Dhruv Jurel as the extra batter in the lower-order because of their long lower-order (read bowlers).

This year, however, it is a lot different. Knowing that the rule will be in place, teams seem to have constructed their squads in such a way that they can have ultra-specific roles for certain players. For CSK, Shivam Dube has become the IP player, Mohit Sharma for Gujarat Titans, Khaleel Ahmed for Delhi Capitals and Arshdeep Singh for Punjab Kings. While it might seem like they all have a fixed role to play for their respective teams — and they do — there is more to it. Although, they are the go-to IP subs for their respective teams, who comes in for them, how and when changes according to various factors from toss to opponent to conditions. This is not just about being proactive and going for the extra 20 runs, but also about maximising the strengths as much as they can.

Take the case of RR. Unlike Jurel last year, they have gone in with three overseas players into the field almost every time they batted first. And then, depending on how the batting goes, they have replaced a top-order batter with a frontline bowler in Nandre Burger. If they bowl first, Yuzvendra Chahal seems to be the IP player replacement with a batter coming in. To an extent, it seems like teams have come into the season with a better understanding of the rules and are working their best to outplay the opponent. Sankar Rajgopal, who used to work as a R&D Consultant and Analyst at Punjab Kings, explains the phenomenon: "Like any rule which sort of shakes the foundation, people take time to realize that. It was meant to be a 12 versus 12 last year as well. Just that teams may perhaps be looking to fill a gap that they have. Whereas, I think, this year, what is happening is that teams sometimes look at the strengths and add to their strengths as well," Rajgopal, who now works as Creative Director at Viacom18 Media, said.

"When you're constructing a squad of 18 to 25, there are bound to be gaps in every team. Look at Rajasthan, for example, last year, they were using the impact player for a finisher because their batting lineup was quite short. Whereas, now, they're utilizing their top-order better and doubling down on the bowling, which adds to their existing strength," he added.

If teams learning to make the most of the rule is on one side, players, too, have understood the need to upskill and add to their armour, especially the batters. Till the 26th match of the season (Delhi Capitals vs Lucknow Super Giants), 56 batters, who have either been subbed or come in as one, have cumulatively hit 1352 runs in 884 balls. The cumulative strike rate is about 152.9, and the average does not matter as much in this context. Dube, once again, is among the top few with 176 runs at 160 SR. There are many cases where teams have used another top-order batter as an IP sub when there is a collapse in the powerplay to try and salvage the situation (Mumbai Indians, Royal Challengers Bengaluru, and DC for example) while trying to keep the intent going. "I think, this year, we're seeing now a real appetite for taking advantage of the extra depth that impact sub brings," said Cricket Strategist & Recruitment Analyst Dan Weston. "We're seeing the value in terms of the threat of losing three wickets in the powerplay is now not quite as much for teams, so that now they could be like 60/3 after the powerplay with an impact sub and actually they're not in that bad shape. Whereas, in previous years, losing three in the powerplay, everyone thought it was a disaster because there's the limit of the batting line ups, and I think that teams have taken a little bit of time to adapt to it," he added.

On one side, there are also cases where bowlers went for runs without making any impact whatsoever after coming in as a sub. Bowlers like Mohit, Khaleel are used as IP sub no matter what while a few other teams are flexible with the substitution. That only 47 players involved with the IP rule have bowled compared to 56 batters tells how teams are still learning how to make the most of it on a given day. There is still a lot to be looked at with regard to the IP rule, including understanding how a batter or a bowler's stats are analysed in the IPL to the international level. But, as Rajgopal said, when something shakes the foundation of the sport, it takes time for everyone to make sense of it. And we will know and understand the Impact Player rule better in the forthcoming seasons.

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