Those two spinning pals of mine, C Varun and S Narine

Shreyas Iyer and Varun Chakrabarthy
Shreyas Iyer and Varun Chakaravarthy (PC: BCCI/X)

Time and again, Kolkata Knight Riders have relied on Sunil Narine and Varun Chakaravarthy to bail them out. The two came into play in a big way once more on Friday, after Shreyas Iyer turned to them during the Powerplay, with KKR defending a lowly total of 169 at Wankhede Stadium. It had been 12 years since KKR’s last victory over Mumbai Indians in Mumbai, and after the first innings, consensus among the pundits on broadcast and social media was a home team win.

For KKR, the turnaround started with Narine and Varun. The spinners operated in tandem, finishing with identical figures of 2/22 in their four-over spells. They provided crucial breakthroughs, starting with Varun dismissing Naman Dhir with his first ball, after being brought on in the fifth over. Narine sent back Rohit Sharma for the 10th time in all T20s in the next over.

The spin choke intensified post the Powerplay as Varun, in the subsequent over, conceded just three runs before Narine gave away five. As the pressure on the batters increased, Varun got Tilak Varma in his third over and gave away seven runs from it. After a change of ends, Narine got rid of Nehal Wadhera. Varun was brought in to bowl the 15th and kept it tight against a rampaging Suryakumar Yadav, conceding just nine runs. Credit should go also to captain Shreyas, for using his five bowling options to perfection.

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KKR after win vs MI in Mumbai
KKR after win vs MI in Mumbai (PC: BCCI/X)

Shreyas was effusive in his praise for the spin duo, emphasising their precision in execution. “They were unreal to be honest (the two spinners). Absolutely spot on in terms of execution with line and lengths,” he said in the post-match presentation. Seasoned MI spinner, Piyush Chawla also commended KKR’s bowlers for their performance on a challenging surface. “It was a fresh wicket, a bit sticky at the start. Credit goes to KKR bowlers. They bowled really well.”

The last time KKR beat MI at Wankhede, Narine was the game-changer with 4/15 in 3.1 overs, as the visitors defended a meagre 140 runs. He had found a spin partner in Iqbal Abdulla, who returned figures of 1/23 in four.

In IPL 2024, Narine’s stellar batting aside, his bowling has been exceptional, making him a frontrunner for the Most Valuable Player award, with 13 wickets and an economy rate of 6.73. In a tournament where runs have been scored for fun, Narine has conceded 40 in just one match in Bengaluru. Varun, the mystery spinner, went for 55 in KKR’s opening game. But he has played a perfect foil for Narine after that. Like Narine, Varun has 13 wickets, although his economy rate is a tad higher at 8.64.

KKR players
KKR players (PC: BCCI/X)

“To win by 20-odd runs out there was great. The two spinners were phenomenal again. They troubled the scoring and really put the pressure back on Mumbai. It is the nature of T20 cricket. It is never over until it’s over. To close it out the way we did was fantastic,” KKR’s Mitchell Starc said in the post-match press conference.

Though Narine and Varun have eye-catching stats in IPL 2024, KKR have not been able to use them with optimum effect at Eden Gardens due to the track being on the flatter side. The two can cause havoc on the slower tracks of Lucknow, Rajasthan and Ahmedabad in their remaining away games.

Looking ahead, as pitches slow down due to the extreme heat and dry conditions across India, the spin duo of Narine and Varun is expected to become more potent. Keep an eye on them as they aim to spearhead KKR’s campaign with their sharp, deadly and ruthless spin in the remainder of the tournament.

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