By Karthik Parimal
Questions were raised when Sunil Narine, who entered the auction with a base price of $50,000, was grabbed by the Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) for a whopping $700,000 – an amount that was 14 times more than the initial value. Was his spin worth that much? Also, with big names like Jacques Kallis, Brendon McCullum, Brett Lee, Shakib Al Hasan, Ryan ten Doeschate and Eoin Morgan in the side, would Narine possibly feature in the playing eleven at any stage of the tournament, considering the fact that only four foreign players can make the cut?
However, Narine seemed to have different plans. He registered a five-wicket haul and finished with figures of 4-0-19-5 against Kings XI of Punjab on Sunday, and showed exactly why he deserved to be an integral part of the KKR side when he left the opposition batsmen flummoxed with his off-breaks. It was a startling sight to see the Punjab batsmen – without exceptions - unable to read Narine. It is not an easy task to deceive a player of Adam Gilchrist’s calibre with spin, but Narine did so with nonchalant ease. Shaun Marsh, who scored a quick 64 in just the previous game against the Pune Warriors India (PWI), was another batsman who was left baffled as he failed to read a delivery that went straight through his defences. But it was Praveen Kumar’s dismissal that in general summed up Punjab’s bewilderment. Kumar is no mug with the bat, but the way he completely played down the wrong says it all.
This is not the first time that Narine has put batsmen in a spin. During the recently-concluded One-Day International (ODI) series between Australia and the West Indies, Narine was the highest wicket-taker with 11 wickets to his name in five matches, and had an astounding average of 14.45 alongside an unbelievable economy rate of just 3.32. This was the series that shot him into the spotlight, and it’s surprising then that he wasn’t picked for the ongoing Test series.
Michael Hussey aptly described Narine’s absence from the West Indies’ squad when he said, “Personally I was pretty happy that he's gone over to the IPL. I, and all the guys, found him a huge challenge in the one-day series. It did take me a good two or three games to get used to his action, his deliveries and what he was trying to do with the ball. I think it's a bit of a win for our team that he's not here."
In one of my earlier articles, I had mentioned that Shakib Al Hasan was a better option compared to Narine and Marchant de Lange for the KKR. But with Sunday’s performance, Narine has managed to silence sceptics like me. KKR’s move of replacing Brett Lee with Narine has paid rich dividends and their bowling department appears more strengthened with now with the kind of variation they have.
Narine’s performance was reminiscent of his spells during last year’s Champions League T20. Although Mumbai Indians (MI) won the trophy, it was the men from Trinidad & Tobago (TT) who had won the hearts of many. Two bowlers from TT in the form of Ravi Rampaul and Narine ended up being the highest wicket-takers in that tournament. This was the first time that the latter had proved his credentials with the ball on a big stage. His mesmerising spell of 4-0-8-3 helped TT defend a meagre total of 123 against the mighty Chennai Super Kings (CSK). He played six games for TT in that tournament, and picked 10 wickets and averaged 10.50. His economy rate of just 4.37 was mindboggling by Twenty20 standards.
The immense potential this spinner possesses augurs well for the West Indies as the T20 World Cup soon approaches. The fact that he does not hold a West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) central retainer contract could soon change if he can continue to fox the batsmen. West Indies has failed to produce a quality spinner since quite some time now, but the presence of Devendra Bishoo and Sunil Narine could possibly change that. Bishoo too has been efficient with the ball, but unlike Narine, he lacks variations. Narine’s spell of 10-0-34-2 in his very first match that came against the Indians, who are generally very proficient against spin, is a testimony to his genuine talent.
It is known that the West Indies have produced excellent tearaway bowlers over the years, but here’s a chance for them to nurture and groom a potential world-class spinner like Narine, who could be a force to reckon with in years to come. In a short period of time, Narine has promised a lot, and looks better and better with every game he plays.
(If cricket is a religion and has many devotees, Karthik Parimal would be a primary worshipper. This 23 year old graduate student, pursuing his Masters in Engineering, could be an appropriate example of how the layers of what inspires, motivates and keeps one happy run deeply in our daily lives. He, unlike others, is not too disappointed about not making it big by playing for the country, but believes that he plays the sport every day with his heart by watching and writing on it)