Al Muthu used to be a cricket nut. Now he wants nothing to do with it. So much so that he's scheduled his vacation during the IPL and travelled 3.147 billion lightyears away from earth for a bit of peace and quiet.
*IPL horn blares*
Al: No, no, no, no, no, no.
Waiting for him at the interplanetary arrival lounge is his old friend looking all too pleased with themselves.
Icome Inpeace: Ehhh... Ehhh....
Al: What is this?
Icome: It's Planet Eyepeeyell. We changed the name as soon as I came back from Earth that last time. Remember? When you taught me all about the greatest sporting tournament in the history of forever. What do you think?
Al: It's awf-- remembers he is on an alien planet with highly advanced people who could turn him into potpourri -- the hook. It's off the hook...
Icome: So are you excited for the new season?
Icome: But it's bigger and better this year!
Al: They say that every year.
Icome: But this time it actually is.
Al: Tell me one way it's does snooty air quotes bigger and better.
Icome: Teams get to pick their XIs based on the outcome of the toss. They have provision for an impact player who could literally change the game. There's DRS not just for wickets but for wides and no-balls.
Al: I said one way.
Icome: Can you even imagine? A captain, if he has to bowl first, can stack his XI with bowlers and then swap one of them out for a batter in the chase.
Al: It's restricted to Indian players though. The impact player coming into the team can't be an overseas pick. No wait, he can be, if there are fewer than four overseas players in the first place.
Icome smiles cryptically: That was a test.
Al: Okay fine, I might have maybe sneaked a peek on ESPNcricinfo while standing in line to get my CSK jers--
Icome: I knew it.
Al: Shut up.
Icome: Sure, but you have to appreciate the ingenuity. Rajasthan Royals, for example, can leave Devdutt Padikkal or Yashasvi Jaiswal out of their XI if they are bowling first and bring one of them in when it's time to bat. In the meantime, if the pitch is turning, like it does in Chennai, they can call up M Ashwin or KC Cariappa to back up R Ashwin and Yuzvendra Chahal. If it's seam-friendly, or even neutral, they can opt for the extra pace of Kuldeep Sen. The impact player can, potentially, even out home advantage.
Al: Is it weird that I can't stop thinking about how much more fun school would've been if they had an impact player rule. I'd take my math test and ace it. Someone else would sit through PE.
Icome: Yes. It's weird. Definitely weird.
Al: Moving on. The BBL tried something like this and ditched it …
Icome: Which is exactly why the impact player has been given much greater leeway than the BBL's x-factor substitute. He can come in at any time in the innings and take full part in the game irrespective of the work the person he is replacing has already done. Like, a team can bowl their powerplay specialist out up front and then replace him with a death-overs specialist who will still be allowed a full four overs. Incredible, right? The scope of an IPL impact player is much larger than anything the cricket world has ever seen.
Al: Y'know, you should DM the BCCI. They'll really like you.
Icome: And I like them. Especially now that they've allowed captains the chance to finalise their teams after the toss. The SA20 did it first, which perhaps signalled to the IPL that they've got competition when it comes to innovation. Whatever happened, the fact is, now, before every game, a team gets to pick two sets of XIs and two sets of impact subs based on whether they will be batting or bowling, then depending on the outcome of the toss you lock one in and away you go. This could even minimise the effect of dew on the result. It won't end it, because teams bowling second will always be at a disadvantage in conditions where it's hard to grip the ball, but they'll at least have extra options: an extra batter for when they're batting and the ball is gripping and slowing off the pitch and an extra bowler for when they're bowling and it feels like the runs just won't stop.
Al: Okay, I'll admit, these new rules are cool. They're actually a little like get-out-of-jail-free cards ... except your options are limited. So you'll have to be clever about it. You'll have to plan ahead and, since it's the first time, there's also an element of hoping for the best.
Icome: It's a Shawshank situation.
Al: You know Shawshank?
Icome: You could say that.
Hard cut to flashback scene of Icome at a bar with Frank Darabont talking about how he celebrated the very first time he was able to get out of eating his veggies as a kid - going out in the rain, kneeling down on the ground and raising his arms up high.
Al: Why did they extend DRS to wides and no-balls anyway?
Icome: To make sure the right decision is made so everybody can calmly get on with the game.
Al: You mean like VAR in football?
Icome: What? No!
Al: Why not? It's a line call, being adjudicated with the help of technology, by a human being and last I checked we are still prone to error.
Icome: At least it'll prevent incidents like captains storming the field to berate on-field umpires.
Al: Okay then. Let's do an exercise. It's the last ball of the match and there's one run to win. You're the third umpire. You're called in because the batter has moved right across his crease, forcing the bowler to shift his line even further outside off in order to stay out of reach. The batter plays and misses. He appeals for a wide. It's not given. For the record, the ball has landed well past the "wide line" but since he's shuffled across it's also kind of within his reach. DRS has brought you into play and you have to decide. Is this a wide or not?
Icome: Uhh... yes... no... wait... I hate you.
Al: So when's the first game?
Icome: Bro. You did not just ask me that.
Al: Pretend I did.
Icome: March 31st - Defending champions Gujarat Titans take on four-time champions Chennai Super Kings.
Al: MS Dhoni's last season.
Icome: Only on earth.
Icome: I've said too much.
Al: It's nice that the tournament can be spread out across the country now after the Covid-19 pandemic seasons, even if every team won't play the other both at home and away. How did they work the schedule again?
Icome: Each team in Group A plays the five in Group B twice and the four in their own group once, totalling 14 league matches per team.
Al: Seems reasonable, if a bit quirky. Like here, look, Titans, Sunrisers Hyderabad and Delhi Capitals are all alternating between one game at home and one game away all season. CSK will play four of their last six games at home - potentially a huge advantage given how tight the playoff race gets around that time, while RCB are almost the opposite: starting their season with several matches at home and ending it almost exclusively on the road. Some franchises are going to have their work cut out coping with travel and recovery.
Icome: Yeah, but it's also exciting, right? 74 matches in 58 days with 18 double-headers. That's nearly 300 hours of T20 cricket with afternoon games starting at 3.30pm local time and evening games at 7.30pm local time. There's nothing like the start of a new IPL season, and as you can clearly see, the appetite for it extends beyond planetary borders. This place will have serious drip when CSK play Mumbai for the 1000th match of the IPL on May 6.
*Cue the horn again*
Icome: That's just the best sound.
Icome: Our intelligence agencies swear by it.
Al: Intelligence agencies?
Icome: Yeah, they use recordings of it in their enhanced interrogations - 100% results.
Al: That makes sense. So is there any player you're rooting for?
Icome: Joe … Well, it feels like this season might be the start of the Gen Z era. Shubman Gill has never looked better. Harry Brook is all the rage. Cameron Green is pure gold. Sam Curran is beyond belief. And Jofra Archer man. The way he bowls, he could easily pass for one of us.
Al: Yeah. Too bad Jasprit Bumrah's injured. Seeing those two bowl together would've been epic.
Icome: But the best part of any IPL is the new guys who take the chance to own the stage. Like Ruturaj Gaikwad did in 2021. And Umran Malik did in 2022. Ricky Ponting, the Capitals coach, is already taking up a kid called Aman Khan and his power hitting. Then, we've got Joe Root playing his first IPL. Josh Little, the first Ireland player, to be part of the tournament. Ben Stokes ostensibly the captain in waiting at CSK, though the hierarchy there might already be wondering how long the USD 1.9 million asset will last given the turmoil his body's already been through.
Al: Speaking of which, what's the deal with player availabilities?
Icome: The South Africans will come in on April 3. The Sri Lankans after April 8. Australia and England might get precious about their players given the Ashes start on June 16. But otherwise most of the international contingent will be free to take a full part in the tournament. Injury has become a bigger concern than availability with Rishabh Pant out, which has left David Warner as captain of the Capitals, and Shreyas Iyer out, leaving Nitish Rana in temporary charge of the Knight Riders.
Al: How do you know so much?!
Icome: Why do you know so little?!!
Al: I'm on vacation.
Al: So I'm trying to maintain some boundaries. It's healthy.
Icome: Your coffee cup has Virat Kohli's face on it.
Al: Shut up.
Icome: So, excited yet?
Al: I have to tell you the truth - and not just because I passed a sign that said my nose will grow every time I lie.
Al: But, I am absolutely not excited. On an unrelated note, do you guys have teleportation? I just remembered I have a ... dentist's appointment in, umm... Ahmedabad.