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5 reasons why impact subs are bad for IPL

IPL’s impact sub rule is high on entertainment, but has destroyed the trade-offs that make cricket truly engrossing

Some players, like Gujarat Titans bowler Mohit Sharma have been reduced to being designated impact subs.(PTI)

By Sumit Chakraberty

LAST PUBLISHED 26.04.2024  |  07:30 AM IST

T20 cricket was already a slam-bam affair compared to longer forms of the game. Relatively small grounds and mostly easy wickets made it even more so in the Indian Premier League (IPL). And yet, some IPL administrators wanted to give “entertainment" a bigger push, with more fours and sixes.

So they came up with an “impact sub", which essentially gives a team an extra batsman. In a 20-over game, that’s a huge deal. It means a team can have seven specialist batsmen plus an all-rounder or two. And yet, when it’s their turn to bowl, they can still have a full complement of their five best bowlers and more.

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With eight or nine batsmen, a team can keep going hard for 20 overs even if it loses two wickets every five overs. There’s almost no fear of getting bowled out or running out of batsmen in this scenario. So we are getting used to 250 plus scores.

Is that high entertainment though? What makes cricket a nuanced game are the choices it forces captains, coaches, and players to make. On a particular surface, for example, should you aim for 250 and risk getting bowled out for 150, or settle for 200?

The fundamental problem with the impact sub is that it has destroyed these trade-offs that make cricket truly engrossing. We anticipated this, in an article in Lounge, two years ago, titled Why the IPL does not need a ‘supersub’, before the rule was introduced in IPL 2023. Now, several players, including Indian captain Rohit Sharma, are speaking out on the damage it’s doing.

Also Read: Why the IPL does not need a ‘supersub’

While Sharma talks about the harm to Indian cricket because all-rounders are sidelined, it is sucking the life out of T20 cricket in even more insidious ways. Here are five reasons to drop the impact sub:

Diminishing value of wickets: After Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) got off to a blistering start in Delhi on 20 April, left-arm leg-spinner Kuldeep Yadav of Delhi Capitals (DC) struck three quick blows. Then Axar Patel removed Heinrich Klaasen with the first ball of the 10th over. SRH’s top four batsmen were back in the hut with 11 overs to go.

Normally, a slowdown or even a collapse would have ensued—a fair price to pay for being ultra aggressive with the bat. But with extended batting resources, the loss of wickets barely made a dent in the scoring. SRH ended up with 266 and won easily.


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This is just one example of the diminishing value of taking wickets because teams have an extra batsman. Yadav’s triple-strike on a batting paradise in a small ground counted for almost nothing. When there are no consequences to going gung-ho with the bat, it’s no fun to see 250 plus scores.

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Choice of playing 11: Eleven players in a team is one of the fundamental characteristics of cricket. Over decades, it has created a fine balance between batsmen and bowlers. Indian coach Rahul Dravid must have agonised over the fifth bowler before picking Shardul Thakur for his all-round promise, and leaving out strike bowler Mohammed Shami from the playing 11 of the 2023 ODI World Cup at the outset. Shami came in after four matches and became the highest wicket-taker of the tournament.

These are the sorts of choices that coaches and captains had to make when picking a playing 11 in the IPL too, which fans enjoyed debating. Now the impact sub, who is really a 12th member in the side, has destroyed this strategic aspect of the game. The rule says, you can have your cake and eat it too.

With an impact sub, Imran Khan would not have required his ingenuity of picking five specialist bowlers to win the 1992 ODI World Cup for Pakistan. Every team would have had five specialist bowlers instead of fiddling with all-rounders.

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Lowering stature of bowlers: The T20 game is already stacked against bowlers. Most wickets are flat, grounds are small, and the white ball stops swinging after four overs. Now the impact sub has added the pressure of the top order swinging at every ball with impunity.

This is reducing bowlers to a defensive mindset more than ever. Australian captain Pat Cummins, who can bowl at over 150 kmph, looks like an off-spinner in the IPL. His slower balls have made him economical, and he says stoically that a bowler conceding less than 10 an over is a win in the new normal.

His compatriot, Mitchell Starc, who is new to the scene and still bowling flat out at great cost, will also become a left-arm spinner in due course.

The impact sub has robbed us of the pleasure of seeing the world’s top bowlers attacking the batsmen, instead of just bowling slow or wide to reduce the hitting. If batsmen have no fear of getting out, and it doesn’t matter much if they do get out, the contest is one-sided.

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Shrinking space for all-rounders: There are different kinds of all-rounders. The pure ones like Ravindra Jadeja and Hardik Pandya can get into the playing 11 as a specialist bowler or batsman. Their other skill is a bonus, and the impact sub does not affect them.

Then there are top order batsmen who can bowl a few overs, like Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly earlier. Chennai Super Kings (CSK) batsman Shivam Dube bowls in domestic cricket. But his bowling is no longer required in the IPL because CSK have five specialist bowlers along with a long batting lineup in the impact sub era.

All rounder Shivam Dube is only required to bat as an impact sub by Chennai Super Kings. (PTI)

And finally, we have the likes of Shardul Thakur who may not qualify as a specialist batsman or bowler but could get into the playing 11 with their ability to do a bit of both. The impact sub has made them mostly redundant, and they will have to focus on developing one of their skills instead of being an all-rounder. And since international T20 cricket has no impact sub, the Indian team may rue the lack of players who diligently practise both batting and bowling.

Complicating enjoyment: Time was when you knew the playing 11s at the start of a game. Now teams have five options for the impact sub, and different lineups depending on whether they are bowling or batting first. It has complicated the game and made it harder to follow, which is not great for entertainment.

More fours and sixes are entertaining, but a surfeit of them has the same effect as having too many gulab jamuns at one go. We have 250 plus scores now but all those games became one-sided, denying fans the joy of close contests.

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The impact sub does reduce the chances of a game fizzling out with a batting collapse. But if that is the intention, why limit it to one impact sub? Let a team have an unlimited lineup of batsmen to keep smashing the ball until the cows come home.

Cricket has gained from innovations like the introduction of T20s and leagues, fielding restrictions, and the decision review system (DRS). The IPL has contributed by increasing the number of bouncers per over to two, which restores some balance for bowlers. Other good moves are fast-tracking the DRS and codifying the batsman’s waist and head heights to avoid subjective calls of no ball and wide.

But the impact sub is a flop, and should be dropped. A fan poll on ESPNcricinfo showed only 12% want it to continue. So the claims that it is making the IPL more entertaining are questionable.

Sumit Chakraberty is a writer based in Bengaluru.

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