Much has changed over the first ten years of the Indian Premier League. From the players and sponsors to the grounds and the teams themselves, several facets of the tournament have been reworked as the years have passed. However, one rule which has stood the test of time is that regarding overseas players. This is one area in which a radical change should be made.
Current IPL rules allow for a maximum of ten overseas players in the squad, of whom four can play in any given match. Most of the teams – at least the successful ones, anyway – use the same set of overseas players throughout the season, which invariably means that several world-class players are forced to warm the benches for extended periods of time. For example, more than half the matches in the season have been played and players like Usman Khawaja, Darren Sammy, Chris Jordan, Lendl Simmons and Martin Guptill have barely got a look-in yet.
To help fix this problem, there should be a limit on the number of games a single overseas player can play in the group stage, instead of a cap on the number of overseas players in each starting XI. At any given point of time, taking into account injuries and international commitments, an IPL squad has an average of eight or nine overseas players available.
Keeping this in mind, each overseas player should be allowed to play 7 out of the 14 matches in the group stages. The four overseas players rule could be used during the playoffs, once the match count for each player has been reset. An exception could be made if the designated captain of the team at the beginning of the season is an overseas player, in which case the captain will be the only overseas player who can play all 14 matches of the group stages.
Placing such a limit would lead to a fundamental change in the team selection strategy. In addition to the team composition and playing conditions, the number of matches each overseas player has played will also have to be taken into consideration before each match. By analyzing past records and current form, an overseas player can be used sparingly at a particular venue or against a certain opposition. It also gives the players some well-earned respite from the unrelenting torrent of games and energy-sapping match conditions. All in all, it makes an overseas player slot in the XI a luxury and not a default option.
This would also give a fillip to the Indian players, both capped and uncapped. The local players would have to step up and complete the duties an overseas player would have normally performed. For example, Kuldeep Yadav might be entrusted with the responsibility of bowling in the Powerplays once Sunil Narine has exhausted his quota of matches, and someone like Mandeep Singh or Vishnu Vinod will have to provide the firepower in the RCB batting line-up in the matches Chris Gayle and AB de Villiers have to miss out.
In conclusion, introducing such a restriction would bridge the gap between the stronger and weaker teams. To perform consistently over a long period of time, teams will have to depend on their overall bench strength and not just on strong performances from their star players. And it gives the cricket fanatic sitting at home some additional food for thought.