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Is it time for Narine to pass the baton to his understudy?

Last updated on 05 May 2023 | 03:08 AM
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Is it time for Narine to pass the baton to his understudy?

Sunil Narine's 2-over spell against Sunrisers Hyderabad could be a hint at his future with Kolkata Knight Riders

Nitish Rana took a gamble. 

With five overs left, Kolkata Knight Riders had just broken the ominous-looking partnership between Heinrich Klaasen and Aiden Markram. Sunrisers Hyderabad were still the frontrunners in the game, requiring only 38 runs off 30 balls with five wickets in hand. 

Only one thing was going Kolkata’s way here: they had overs left from nearly everyone. Sunil Narine two overs, Andre Russell three, Varun Chakravarthy three, Shardul Thakur one. Between their most experienced bowlers alone, they had nine overs left. The only thing left to be seen was how Kolkata utilize them. 

Surprisingly, Narine, Russell and Thakur didn’t bowl at all. Chakravarthy bowled three, the bowler who had bowled only 15.1% of all his overs at the death for KKR before today. The other two overs were bowled by Vaibhav Arora, who had bowled only 20 overs in IPL before this Thursday (May 4). Both conceded 32 runs in five overs between them. Kolkata pulled off a heist, yet again, winning by 5 runs. 

“Took a gamble with Shardul (in the 15th over) and Vaibhav and they managed to get both set batters and that's how we made a comeback in this game,” admitted skipper Rana after the game. 

The most surprising non-usage in Rana’s punt was not going to Sunil Narine. Only Russell has bowled more overs at the death for Kolkata in IPL since 2020 than Narine. 

Narine batted at seven and bowled only two overs in the game. He has batted at seven or lower six out of the times in the season. For the second time in a row and the third time in four matches, Kolkata have not used his four overs with the ball. The last time Narine didn’t bowl his full quota in an IPL game was back in the 2020 season.

Does this give you a peek into Narine’s future in Kolkata? 

If you have followed the Knight Riders in any capacity, chances are you know the aura of this Trinidadan in the team setup. Narine is one of the few players who have played more than 10 IPL seasons with the same franchise. Narine and Kolkata have grown hand-in-hand. He was one of the captaincy candidates when Shreyas Iyer was ruled out of the tournament. 

He has been a four-over banker for Kolkata ever since his debut in 2012. He has never gone at an economy of 8 or more in any IPL season. 

This year, however, Narine’s superpower of squeezing runs seems to be waning. He has gone at an economy of 8.8 while picking only seven wickets in 10 matches, at 42.6 runs apiece. With the bat, he averages 2.8 runs and 3.6 deliveries per innings. 

Narine has suffered mediocre seasons before but always enjoyed stable backing from the franchise. Now, Rana opting against Narine in a crunch situation hints at a shift from the side’s usual plans. 

One can relate it to Varun’s success this season. Another mystery spinner, Varun had a forgettable last season. Owing to an average of 55.3 and an economy of 8.5, he was dropped from the XI. The 31-year old has turned it around this season, averaging 21.5 at an economy of 8. 

In fact, Varun and Narine appear to have exchanged fortunes from the previous season. Both have featured in all the 10 games thus far. Narine has seven wickets while Varun has 14. 

Varun has bowled some significant spells for Kolkata. On a rank turner in Kolkata’s away fixture against Delhi, he snaffled 2/16 in four overs as compared to Narine’s 0/36. In Bangalore, Varun pouched 3/27 in four overs against Narine’s 0/41. This is not a shallow comparison but shows the apprentice rising to the occasion when the master has underdelivered. 

On Thursday evening in Hyderabad, Narine bowled two fine overs. However, Rana trusted his ‘best bowler’ Varun to do the job. 

Interestingly, Narine had bowled two overs for only 16 when Varun was brought on for the 16th over, with figures of 0/12 in his only over till that point. 

From a poor first over, where Varun was cut away for two boundaries from Markram, he conceded only eight in his last three overs, ending with 1/20 in four overs. All of his last three overs came at the death, only the second time he has bowled more than one over in the final phase of the innings. 

Saving only nine in the final over, Varun bowled from around the stumps, cramping SRH’s lower order batters for any room. He did bowl a hittable short delivery but asked Abdul Samad to hit towards the longer side of the ground and had him caught in the deep. Kolkata won by five runs in another valuable contribution from the Karnataka-born spinner. 

“Last year, I was bowling around 85 kph. So I went back and was trying out many things and I realized that once my revolutions go down, my speed goes down. So I worked on my revs and that really helps,” said Varun explaining his redemption this year after the match. 

In this game, Varun’s average bowling speed was 98.3 kph. 

Prior to this season, Narine had bowled 27.5% of his overs at the death as compared to 14.2% of death overs for Varun. These numbers are almost swapped, with Varun bowling 26.1% of his overs at the death. Narine, meanwhile, stands at 17.6% death overs in IPL 2023. 

Varun’s impressive economy of 8.3 at the death is the second-best among the 19 bowlers who have bowled eight overs or more in this phase in IPL 2023.

His success could be creating pressure on Narine. Such is the nature of this league that the overseas players always have to be around the top of their game. That is what marks Narine’s greatness in Kolkata’s colors. 

The situation has turned the tide now. His low returns put question marks on his otherwise immovable spot in the XI. In IPL since 2021, he averages 7 with the bat which diminishes his all-round value. And Kolkata can use an overseas spot elsewhere in the bowling line-up by drafting in either David Wiese, Lockie Ferguson or Tim Southee. 

There are no doubts that Kolkata need an overall revamp in their squad construction for the upcoming seasons. Can we see Kolkata release Narine after an association of 12 seasons? 

At the moment, it is a farfetched call but seems like a pragmatic approach if Kolkata have to revamp their fortunes moving forward. 

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