Sunil Narine and the never-dying mystery

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11 Oct 2021 | 07:25 PM
authorAakash Sivasubramaniam

Sunil Narine and the never-dying mystery

Heading into the 2021 IPL, the immediate future surrounding Sunil Narine was bleak

If there was a Hall of Fame in the Indian Premier League, Sunil Narine would be right there alongside some of the legends of the game. While others adapted themselves to the shortest format, Narine carved the shortest format into a world of his own. Two IPL titles, an integral part of the golden age for Kolkata Knight Riders, Narine has become a household name in Kolkata. 

But in a format that needs constant upgradation, like the constant software updates from Google and Apple, there was Narine, standing tall. He wasn’t just another cricketer playing the shortest format, he was a connoisseur of T20 cricket, a professor of the game who is constantly in his lab spending time on figuring the game to its extremes. 

There is a reason why you don’t doubt veterans like MS Dhoni, Dwayne Bravo and Chris Gayle, and Sunil Narine has now earned all the rights to join the crowd. He is just 33, he isn’t as old as the others on the list but his role is such that it has a shelf-life shorter than the others. 

His entire game was built around the mystery factor and once that was under the radar, his entire skillset was under the pump and naturally, he was dropped. But being the professor he is, with the urge of constantly upgrading himself, the Trinidadian returned to the IPL with a fairly straighter action. 

It was an action that wasn’t fairly tough for the batters to read. That’s where the 33-year-old combined his brain with his heart, of hiding the ball before the release. With just five wickets in the 2020 season, it was almost a guarantee that he was going to fade away like the other mystery spinners from the past. BUT!

Narine and the upgrade

It is hard to believe that the Caribbean star has only played 12 matches this season but such has been his explosiveness, he clearly stands as the biggest differentiating factor between Kolkata of the first leg and Kolkata of the second leg. Even though he has a changed action, the perceived notion that surrounds him and the casual throwing of the word ‘chucking’ makes it extremely tough. 

Nearly nine years after his first season, his performance holds of utmost value to the franchise. MS Dhoni and CSK, Virat Kohli and RCB, Rohit Sharma and MI, Sunil Narine and KKR, all of which could be compared. At least that’s how the Windies spinner has transformed the franchise. 

Having picked up 24, 22 and 21 wickets in his first three seasons, there was no way he could top that. Despite never coming close to the above tally, he has consistently made renovations to his own game. Since 2017, his role was far more complex than anyone else in the IPL: he was an opener, the strike-bowler, the run-container and basically a man who could do multiple jobs for the Knights.

In 2021, he isn’t quite on the same page as being a man of multiple jobs but he is far certainly ensured that his form with the ball has seen a major transformation. It isn’t everyday that a spinner accounts for Virat Kohli, Glenn Maxwell and AB de Villiers in the same match. And it isn’t everyday that you get both Kohli and de Villiers looking clueless after your delivery. To add to that, a glance at our report card from the game would paint the right picture: Narine has a contribution of nearly 18, with almost a +10 difference between him and second-placed Harshal Patel, such was his impact. 

Narine is almost like multiple people in one body, his constant innovations with his hairdos, tattoos and his deliveries are a stark contrast of his down-to-earth words and actions. He doesn’t celebrate in the face of the batsmen but his deliveries are always catching them chasing their own tail. Perplexed, confused, chaos, any word that you could associate on the same line is what Narine could do in just four overs or just around 20 minutes of time. 

Narine’s second home – the Middle East? 

Not picked in the West Indian squad for the World T20, it was almost like the mystery spinner had nothing to lose. After the first half of the tournament, KKR ranked fifth in terms of spin attacks in the IPL, with 12 wickets, an economy rate of 7.8 and averaging nearly 39.6/wicket. All of this despite them playing in Chennai. 

So, it was evidently surprising and astonishing when KKR were languishing at the bottom half of the points table. And the announcement of the tournament’s move to the Middle East only was like a freshly fried fries at McDonalds. The excitement of eating fries is unparalleled even when you know that it tastes the same every single time.

In cricketing terms, the IPL’s move to the Middle East was on the same scale of excitement for KKR. In just eight innings, they have not only turned around their season but as rightly pointed out in this article, have become a dark-horse. Riding fly on that horse is Narine and the spin attack, which since the move has led the bowling charts. 

22 wickets in UAE, at an economy rate of 5.6 and averaging just 19 runs/wicket, KKR are not just topping the spin charts but are ruling it? Of all the spinners, only Yuzvendra Chahal has picked up more wickets than Narine in the Middle East. But on Monday, the 33-year-old spinner showed why he is one of the finest in the world. 

Ruling the Royals’ roost

Unlike some of the other spinners, the conditions in UAE are perfect fit to Narine’s style of bowling. If the KKR spinner’s style of bowling was to be summarized in simple words: Test match line and length with added mystery. The delivery that caught Kohli was the sharp off-spinner, which was a great setup. In the past, the RCB skipper has had his fair share of struggle against the off-spinners.  

For de Villiers, however, it was sheer brilliance. It was full but bowled at a slower pace, catching the South African by complete surprise. He wasn’t nearly to the pitch of the ball and wasn’t in a place where he could commit to the shot. Caught in between two minds, the ball sneaked past the edge and onto the stumps.

While it is very easy to say that play Narine as a spinner who doesn’t turn the ball, it is his change of pace that catches the batsmen by total surprise. Just like his bowling, his batting too isn’t too conventional. That depends on which side of the convention you are, if you are on the boundary side, it is well within that.

Coming right after the dismissal of Venkatesh Iyer, Narine’s ulterior motive was simple: see the ball, hit the ball. Well isn’t that what any batter must do? In the West Indian’s case, it is what he does the best. No real pressure of pace, no real pressure of the run-rate, the southpaw came out to bat, managing to have his strike-rate at 600 after three deliveries, after tonking each one of them over the boundary rope. 

“Any good performance in a match-winning game is always good. Today was my day and I made the best use of it. All wickets I enjoy. I'm not that close to what I was before but I'm getting there. Hard work is paying off. Always get some heartbeats before the game. But cool and calm during the game. Prefer to have the ball in hand which you can control,” he uttered in the calmest of fashions, after picking 4/21 and scoring a 15-ball 26 on the same night.

Ravindra Jadeja’s performance against RCB might be the best all-round performance this year but this from Narine is certainly a good competitor to the Indian all-rounder. One thing that has become certain, year after year, Narine’s hunger and constant urge to improve only makes him a connoisseur of T20 cricket.

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Royal Challengers Bangalore vs Kolkata Knight RidersIndian Premier League, 2021Kolkata Knight RidersSunil NarineAB de VilliersVirat KohliGlenn MaxwellMS Dhoni

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