Narine reborn after swim against many tides

Sunil Narine for KKR
Sunil Narine for KKR (PC: X)

It’s not common for one player to tick all the boxes that matter in a T20 competition. On course to registering what could arguably be the most dominant all-round display in the 17-year-old history of the Indian Premier League (IPL), Sunil Narine is doing that. He is the only constant in the top-10s on the lists of runs, strike rates, wickets and economy rates.

That Narine is leading the race for the Most Valuable Player by a distance on all popular cricket platforms is half the story. The IPL gets a player of the tournament every year. Rarely does an individual make such a sweeping impact on all the indexes. Seventh on runs, 10th on wickets, eighth in terms of strike and second in economy (see graphic) — this can’t have many precedents.

This is staggering because it has been a swim against the tide for the Kolkata Knight Riders star. Batting had at best been something he clicked in only occasionally in the past. In the three previous seasons, he did nothing of note, before unleashing bedlam in the company of Phil Salt this year. In sending shockwaves, Narine the makeshift batter has left behind the specialist T20 opener.

“The most important thing is starting well and it’s good to have the backing of the support staff,” Narine told the media last week. “You have to pick your strengths and your spots. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t,” added the player. Other than notching up a maiden T20 hundred this season, he has hit more sixes than Travis Head, Heinrich Klaasen and Rishabh Pant so far.

That this turnaround happened when the player named after Sunil Gavaskar is about to turn 36 (on May 26) gives it a filmy touch. It’s an age for cricketers to get better at what they are good at. This is not the time to master something new. By turning the clock back and reinventing himself with the bat, the player from Trinidad and Tobago has set an example which will be difficult to eclipse.

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Sunil Narine in IPL 2024
Sunil Narine in IPL 2024 (PC: RevSportz)

This has defied conventional wisdom in more ways than one. All-rounders are sought after in T20s and the IPL paraded many of them before the advent of the impact player. Only a handful of them are openers. They usually bat deeper and contribute cameos. Mayhem from the start and sustaining it until reaching a substantial score regularly makes Narine stand out on this count.

He has had to fight the odds for years. Once a sorcerer with the ball, whose doosra hoodwinked Sachin Tendulkar and others during KKR’s IPL-winning runs in 2012 and 2014, Narine had become less than half the force after the ICC banned doosra in 2015.

Like others reliant on it, Narine struggled to earn his keep. The KKR association continued, not with the same impact. From dictating terms to offering easy pickings was a steep fall. So, it appeared to be more than a rumour when word started doing the rounds before the season that KKR won’t retain him.

Not as spectacular as his batting, the comeback of Narine the bowler has been no less remarkable. Shielding the ball from the view of the striker like a fast bowler looking for reverse swing, Narine has kept batters guessing. Bowling a mixed bag with delicate variations in angle, he has taken wickets, contained runs and formed a match-winning spin pair with Varun Chakaravarthy.

“It’s going very well, Varun is picking up wickets. It’s making my job easier to keep things tight. The boys are anxious and eager to play. No matter the situation, they are up for the challenge and contributing,” Narine downplayed his own contributions. But make no mistake. With Salt to miss the business end due to England commitments, KKR will bank on their old talisman to end a long wait.

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