As a player, Sunil Narine has evolved a lot through the years, almost as much as his ever-changing mohawk. The Trinidadian arrived on the IPL scene in 2012 as a mystery spinner surrounded by unprecedented expectations of greatness in T20 cricket. It didn't take him much time to make an impact as he responded with a "Most Valuable Player" performance in his very first season and led Kolkata Knight Riders to their maiden title.
Narine has been with the Kolkata-based franchise since then and has won them many games with the ball, and bat. He might not be the same match-winner he was a few years back but Narine is still a very important cog in Kolkata's wheel. The mystery spinner was astonishing for them in the first three years but suffered a dip in form after he was forced to remodel his action when he was called for a suspect action in 2014. His bowling hasn't been the same since then but in the last few years, Narine has worked on his batting and has transformed himself into a ravaging opener.
If used properly, Narine is still an effective player with ball and bat!
Narine had played a bit of cricket for Trinidad & Tobago but it was his performance in the 2011 Champions League that forced the entire cricket world to sit up and take notice. He scalped 10 wickets in that tournament at an average of 10.50 and an economy rate of 4.37. Later that year, he even made his ODI debut for West Indies and was impressive in that series against India. Kolkata acquired him for an impressive USD 700,000 in the 2012 IPL auction and this decision proved out to be a masterstroke.
He took 24, 22 and 21 wickets in 2012, 2013 and 2014 respectively and played a key role in helping Kolkata win two IPL titles. No other bowler picked up more wickets than Narine in these three seasons. In total, he claimed 67 wickets at an average of 16.1 and an economy rate of just 5.8. With his bag of tricks - an assortment of carrom balls, knuckle balls, nifty straighter ones, the doosra, and his regular offspinners - Narine troubled almost every batsman. In terms of numbers, he was far superior to other bowlers.
Kolkata captain Gautam Gambhir used Narine very smartly and the offspinner did the job in almost every single game. Be it be his 4/13 against Delhi Daredevils in 2013 or 5/19 against Kings XI Punjab in 2012 or 4/22 against Royal Challengers Bangalore in 2013, Narine was constantly delivering for the team and was getting those big wickets. He had the best economy rate in all three phases of the game - powerplay, middle overs and death overs - amongst bowlers who had bowled at least 30 overs.
SUNIL NARINE 2.0
In 2011, Narine had to work with bio-mechanical experts at the University of Western Australia in Perth and change his action a bit after it came under the scanner in that same year. Everything went well for the next three years and Narine became a household name in franchise cricket. His juggernaut came to a halt in October 2014 when his action was reported twice during the now-scrapped Champions League T20 and was subsequently banned from playing the final in Bangalore.
Surprisingly, the problem was with his off-breaks not other variations. As a result, he was banned from bowling off-breaks in IPL 2015 but could bowl his other deliveries such as the quicker one, the knuckle ball, and more. He still featured in eight encounters but could only pick up seven wickets at an average of 33.4 and an economy of 7.3. He once again worked on his action but it was pretty evident that he had lost his zip and there was nothing more mysterious about him as the batsmen started figuring him out. The bowling average, strike rate and economy rate have gone up in the last five years, while the false shot percentage has come down.
His numbers have surely gone down in the last five years but by no means they are bad if we compare it with other bowlers.
It's a known fact that the surface at the Eden Gardens has become slightly more favourable to the fast bowlers in the last two-three years. Of course, Narine has underperformed and is no more the bowler he was a few years back but his numbers, especially his economy rate, in these last three-four years are still better than other Kolkata bowlers. And with the inclusions of Piyush Chawla and Kuldeep Yadav, Kolkata didn't just have to rely on Narine to do all the damage. He was still bowling those tough overs and despite that has a better economy than other Kolkata bowlers. With him in the side, someone like Kuldeep can attack more.
The wrist-spinners have become more of an attacking option in T20 cricket and almost every franchise or international team has at least one wrist-spinner in their playing XI. While finger-spinners (offspinners and left-arm orthodox) are more economical, wrist-spinners have a better strike rate and bowling average which tells you they pick up more wickets compared to the former. But that's a topic for another day. Now, if compare Narine with other fellow offspinners in the IPL, the West Indian spinner might not have a better average but has been more economical, barring 2019 which was simply not his season.
CAN BOWL, AND BAT!
IPL 2012-26: Matches 66 | Runs 47 | Average 6.71 | Strike Rate 87
IPL 2017-19: Matches 44 | Runs 724 | Average 19.57 | Strike Rate 179.2
Everybody knew what Narine could do with the ball in hand but he had no credentials as a batsman when Melbourne Renegades sent him to open the innings in BBL 2016-17. The left-hander slammed 21 off 13 deliveries and that's where his journey started as this destructive opener. Taking a leaf out of Melbourne's book, Kolkata sent him out to open the innings against Punjab in IPL 2017 and Narine smoked an 18-ball 37 and played a key role in helping his team chase down 171 in less than 17 overs.
Narine's head remains still and he doesn't move much while playing those big shots. Anything full or length, Narine opens up his shoulders and heaves it through the leg-side. The team management stuck with him at the top order and Narine repaid the faith by playing some blistering cameos - 42 (17) v Gujarat Lions, 34 (17) and 54 (17) v Bangalore - throughout the season. He even smashed a fifty off just 15 deliveries against Bangalore, then the joint-fastest in IPL.
In 2018, Narine was once again named Most Valuable Player for his all-round contributions. Apart from picking up 17 wickets, Narine also smashed 357 runs in that season at an amazing strike rate of almost 190. In the last three editions, only Andre Russell (196.7) has a better strike rate than Narine (179.2) - minimum 500 runs. But when it comes to the powerplay, no one even comes close to Narine.
Narine commenced IPL 2019 with a bang but he was soon found wanting against pace as fast bowlers started attacking him with short deliveries. He still managed to play a couple of fiery cameos but with someone as talented as Shubman Gill having to bat lower down the order, the team management decided to demote him down the order in the final three games. However, it didn't make any difference as Kolkata failed to qualify for the playoffs. Is that it? Is that the end of Sunil Narine the devastating opener?
Kolkata let go of Robin Uthappa, Chris Lynn and Piyush Chawla ahead of the IPL 2020, which means Narine "might" be expected to play a bigger role in the next season. The likes of Dinesh Karthik, Russell, Eoin Morgan and Nitish Rana will form a solid middle-order and the only way Kolkata can get the most out of Narine the batsman is if they once again send him to open the innings. He can still play those fiery cameos at the top which often turn out to be game-changing innings.
However, Kolkata have young openers like Gill, Tom Banton and Rahul Tripathi. The former will mostly open the innings and one of Banton or Tripathi can do what Narine does, give Kolkata rapid starts. Narine can rather be used as a floater and be sent out to bat if and when the team management feel they are behind the game.
In the bowling department, Kolkata bought another mystery spinner, Varun Chakravarthy in the 2020 auction and now they have backup for Narine if the Trinidadian fails to perform. This year's IPL (if/when it happens) is going to be very important for Narine and his performance will determine the 32-year-old's future in IPL cricket. But one thing is certain, Narine will try his best to ensure everyone that the "downfall" is still far away.