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The reincarnation of Sunil Narine, the T20 opener

Last updated on 03 Apr 2024 | 09:35 PM
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The reincarnation of Sunil Narine, the T20 opener

Twice in two games, the Trinidadian's whirlwind batting has made things too easy for KKR upfront

What does batting look like without a fuss? You may think we are talking about some elegant batter like Damien Martyn, VVS Laxman or KL Rahul. 


The batter we are talking about is Sunil Narine

When he swung Axar Patel on the last ball of the eighth over over the mid-wicket fence, there was a palpable nonchalance about the shot. The replays focused on Narine’s face as he swung his bat. Usually, when going for a big shot, especially through mid-wicket, you can see some change in expressions on the face of the batter while instilling power into the shot. 

However, Narine simply shifted his weight on the backfoot and slogged it cleanly. There was absolutely nothing on his face as he powered the ball. The eyes didn’t go wide. No clenching of lips or sticking the tongue out. Even the eyebrows didn’t flinch. 

That was the case with each of the seven fours and seven sixes that Narine hit against Delhi Capitals on Wednesday (April 3). 85 runs at a strike rate of 217.9, without breaking a sweat. 

Gautam Gambhir was the first Kolkata Knight Riders’ captain to try the Narine opening experiment. Gambhir left KKR before the 2018 season, but they continued with Narine, the opener. In those two seasons combined, he hammered 565 runs at a strike rate of 187.7. But teams learned how to bowl to him. 

Back of a length was the answer. 

Among Narine’s 27 dismissals against pace as an opener in IPL, he has been out to the back-of-a-length deliveries 11 times and to short balls on another five occasions. 

KKR moved away from the experiment gradually. Narine opened for KKR only three times in three seasons between 2021 and 2023. 

Gambhir returned to the Kolkata franchise ahead of the 2024 season and is now a mentor, and Narine is also back as an opener. He belted the Bengaluru side for 47 off 22 balls. After adding his runs in Vizag, Narine now has 132 runs in 61 balls. Against Hyderabad, he was run out for 2. 

Both RCB and DC tried to bounce him out, and Narine scored 37 runs off 19 back-of-a-length and short deliveries in these two games. 

Expecting the ball to be pitched short against him, the Trinidadian has added a thunderous pull shot in his strokeplay. Against RCB, he bashed Alzarri Joseph and Yash Dayal over the square leg boundary. In Vizag, he gave the same treatment to Ishant Sharma. 

When in his radar, that is the ball angling into his body, he swats them away like flies from his face. And since he scores runs all over the ground, he becomes a tough batter to deal with. 

The strike rates are ridiculously high when the ball is bowled closer to him. Bowling away from him is the only region in these two games where his strike rate drops under 200. In fact, it comes down to 100. But since he is a pinch hitter, the temptation of dismissing him makes the bowler bowl in his radar. 

Mitchell Marsh briefly displayed how to bowl to Narine in Vizag. He bowled six balls to the left-hander, conceding run-a-ball. Bowling from over the wicket, he kept pitching it short to Narine but angled it away, making it tougher for him to reach the ball. Ultimately, he got him out on one of the highest deliveries he has faced in this season. 

But it was too late by then for Delhi. His swashbuckling knock elevated KKR to 164/2 in only 12.3 overs. Kolkata were in sight for a good first innings score and to break the record for the highest team total in IPL. They ultimately fell short by five runs. Against RCB, his 22-ball 47 brought the deficit under 100 with 14 overs left in the second innings. Twice in two games, his whirlwind batting has made things too easy for the Knight Riders upfront. 

Narine, the opener, is a move without a downside. If he gets out early, the team is not losing out on an important batter early in their innings. If he kicks on to score even 20-odd runs, there is a headstart for the rest of the batters. Narine’s biggest plus point is that he gets out early when it's not his day. On 20 occasions as a KKR opener, when the left-hander has gotten out for 10 runs or less, he has an average of 4.9 balls per dismissal. 

He is a peculiar batter against whom conventional bowling isn’t the best option. He can leave the best of the bowlers embarrassed with his bat swing. And the nonchalant body language, coupled with the best poker face in modern-day cricket, adds salt to the wounds. Gambhir’s return to KKR might well have reincarnated Narine, the T20 opener. 

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