It is a rare situation when there is more emphasis on a bowler’s wardrobe than his skills. Unfortunately, that is the case with Kolkata Knight Riders’ main man Sunil Narine. Before he was called for a suspect action in the ongoing IPL he plied his trade in full sleeves. After he was cleared and his name removed from the list of bowlers with a dodgy action, Sunil has turned out to bowl in short sleeves. It was a rare and seemingly innocuous sight but a crucial one for the overall credibility of the individual and our game.
Chucking has been a nuisance for the game. I am of a firm opinion that anyone who is a repeat offender should be dealt with severely. For starters, he should not be allowed to bowl with a full sleeve shirt. For a very long time, repeat offenders have got away by bowling with full sleeves on. I have a quiet chuckle when some of them claim full sleeves are “more comfortable” or “it is a habit since a young age”. It is hard to imagine how bowling with full sleeves in hot conditions can be comfortable. Similarly, there are more chances of cricket-aspiring youngsters turning out in short sleeves than otherwise hence the claim that “it is a habit since young age” has little or no ground.
I’d push for short sleeves for one more reason. It is tough for on-field umpires to gauge if the bowler bowling with full sleeves is flexing his arm beyond permissible limits. There is no guarantee that a naked eye can accurately judge the amount of flex in short sleeves but still, the odds are much better. That also brings me to my other point that any shortcoming in a bowling action should be picked only on the basis of video footage. This job should rest with the third or fourth umpire in close conjunction with a bio-mechanist.
In Sunil’s case, I am not sure whether he decided to turn out in short sleeves himself or was it one of the pre-conditions for his action being cleared. Either way it sent out important messages. If it was Sunil’s initiative then he is making a statement. He is clearly saying that he has nothing to hide, although I’d have liked if he was bowling with short sleeves ever since he was first called. On the other hand, if it was pushed through by IPL officials as a precondition then they are saying that while we have cleared your name we are still closely monitoring.
This further gets underlined from the fact that IPL’s press release which announced Sunil’s clearance read: “The Committee also noted that Narine should reproduce the same action going forward in the IPL 2020 matches as presented to the Committee in the video footage.” They were referring to the footage submitted by KKR for an official review based on which Sunil was cleared. None of us have seen that footage but it is fair to assume that it's his remodelled bowling action which he has displayed in the two comeback games he has played so far.
With the remodelled action Sunil isn’t the same bowler. A fact acknowledged by KKR in the way they have used him in two games. When he was reported on October 10th he bowled the crucial final over of the match against Kings XI Punjab. He successfully defended 14 runs that Punjab needed to win. To put things in perspective he bowled the 8th, 10th, 18th and 20th over in that tight game. His overall figures were two for 28 in four overs. In his comeback game on October 24th against Delhi Capitals, the short-sleeved Narine bowled 8th, 10th, 13th and 15th overs. Overall four wicket-less overs for 37 runs. In the last game against Punjab, he didn’t bowl in the first six or final four overs.
While Sunil is a repeat offender but his critics will have to give it to him the speed at which he has remodelled his action. He was called on October 10th and cleared on 18th. It is not easy to press pause and then press reset for something that is so deeply entrenched in your muscle memory. Just to draw a loose example, it is like me driving a left-hand drive car.
Then, there are emotions like ego and insecurity. Historically Sunil has been a top performer in this tournament but with the new action, he is more into a supporting cast rather than be in a lead role for KKR. It is one thing applauding a younger team-mate like Varun Chakravarthy but another seeing your name slip down on the leaderboard. Someone who survives largely on franchise cricket episodes such as these definitely hurt his stocks. It is a cruel world out there, which in no time can label someone from a “must-have” category to “maybe”.