Public acknowledgment and trust: How ‘Guru’ Gambhir turned Sunil Narine into a beast again

Gautam Gambhir hugging Sunil Narine during RR clash in Eden Gardens
Gautam Gambhir hugging Sunil Narine during RR clash in Eden Gardens (PC: X)

April 16 marks a bitter-sweet date for Sunil Narine. The Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) icon smashed his maiden T20 century in his 503rd appearance in the shortest format of the game, and his 168th in the Indian Premier League (IPL), on Tuesday against the Rajasthan Royals at the Eden Gardens. Interestingly, 11 years ago on the same date, Narine had taken a stellar hat-trick against the then Kings XI Punjab. However, despite his efforts, Narine and KKR ended up losing on both occasions.

Narine has been pivotal for KKR since debuting in 2012. His strike-rate of 164.84 is second only to Andre Russell (175.55) among players who have scored over 125 runs for the Kolkata franchise. Additionally, Narine has taken 170 IPL wickets at an economy of 6.74 and helped KKR win the IPL trophy twice. He has won the Most Valuable Player/Player of the Tournament award twice, establishing himself as a KKR legend and one of the IPL’s greatest players.

In IPL 2024, Narine’s role as an opener feels nostalgic, yet different. He currently ranks third in the Orange Cap standings with 276 runs at a blistering strike rate of 187.75. Moreover, he is the highest wicket-taker for KKR with seven scalps at an economy rate of 6.87, which is the fourth-best in the tournament this season. Sunil Narine is in exceptional form this season.

Despite Jos Buttler stealing the match away from KKR on Tuesday evening in Kolkata, Narine performed at his lethal best with bat and ball, despite suffering calf cramps during the second innings. A significant reason behind Narine’s rejuvenation with the bat has been the return of Gautam Gambhir to KKR, this time as a mentor. Gambhir’s decision to have Narine open the innings, both as a former skipper and now as a mentor, has been crucial.

For the Latest Sports News: Click Here

Gautam Gambhir and Sunil Narine
Gautam Gambhir and Sunil Narine (PC: Debasis Sen)

“When GG (Gambhir) came back, he gave me the confidence and assurance that I’ll open,” Narine told the host broadcasters during the innings break. “My job is to give the team a good start in as many of the 14 innings as possible and then keep going.”

Under Gambhir’s captaincy, Narine started opening from the 2017 season onwards. He enjoyed success in the 2017 and 2018 seasons, scoring 224 and 357 runs respectively at strike rates of 172 and 190. However, Narine’s role changed during the 2019 season, and he was demoted to the lower middle order mid-way through the tournament. Despite opening four times in the 2020 edition, Narine was quickly demoted again after failing to provide consistent starts. Until this season, he had only opened the innings for KKR thrice.

Though not angry, Narine was discontent with batting at number eight or nine. As a senior player, Narine had even proposed to the previous KKR hierarchy that he should open the batting, but the idea was dismissed. As a mentor, Gambhir has decided to use his trump card again – Narine as opener in IPL 2024.

Also Read: Sign-language commentary a big step towards more inclusive IPL