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IPL: A Sunil Narine act that never goes out of fashion

The one-franchise man is into his 13th season with KKR and has even slowed down a tad, but he still leaves batters in a spin

It’s still early days but the first match returns will fall well short of immediately justifying the ₹24.75 crore Kolkata Knight Riders forked out for Mitchell Starc, who ended up conceding 53 runs — including 26 runs in the penultimate over — in Saturday’s humdinger against Sunrisers Hyderabad.

Sunil Narine in action for KKR.(AP)

KKR’s moneyball however doesn’t start and end with Starc. It has a place for underrated power-hitters like the ₹20 lakh pick Ramandeep Singh, who set up KKR’s innings with a 17-ball 35. Or the ₹1.5 crore pick Phil Salt, who despite playing his first IPL match, displayed remarkable tenacity to help KKR navigate the choppy middle overs with a responsible fifty.

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Prominently placed is Andre Russell — picked for next to nothing ( ₹60 lakh) in 2014 and retained through the years — who choreographed the final flourish with a 25-ball 64. More sincere but equally complex perhaps is the relationship KKR has forged with Sunil Narine that nudges the franchise into persisting with him. There have been more ups than downs, but with fitness slowly becoming an overarching concern — Narine giving up on even trying to return to his crease on Saturday being a case in point — KKR could be forced to think otherwise someday. But as long as Narine keeps bowling like he did on Saturday, trust KKR to keep deferring that thought.

Averaging 4.75 without conceding a boundary in a slugfest that produced 412 runs is no mean feat. But this is not new. Interesting is how Narine keeps doing this in his 13th season on the trot when data analysis and innovative batting threatens to sort out even the most mysterious bowler. Which is not the case with Narine as once presumed because he basically is an off-break bowler. It’s

his stifling lines though that tend to keep batters on their toes even when the fielding restrictions are on. Which is also why KKR have made Narine open the bowling. He has also bowled in the death but has been most successful in the middle overs where his economy is 5.87.

It’s also a typical Gautam Gambhir move, using Narine in the middle overs to arrest the momentum of the innings, not only by drying up the runs but facilitating dismissals. When Narine came on in the seventh over, Sunrisers Hyderabad were ahead of the asking rate of 10.28. A two-run over from Narine meant Sunrisers were immediately seeking a boundary to release the built-up pressure. First ball the following over Russell was hacked wide of deep third for a four but next ball he got Abhishek Sharma. Another quiet over and Suyash Sharma almost got a breakthrough off his own bowling.

Had KKR reviewed a leg-before appeal, Narine wouldn’t have had to wait till his last over to dismiss Rahul Tripathi. But by keeping at it, Narine ensured Aiden Markram caved in to Varun Chakaravarthy in the next over. There wasn’t much turn as this wasn’t a typical summer pitch at Eden, with low and slow bounce, but Narine kept varying his speed and length. “I think it’s simply that the batters find him difficult to pick,” Sunrisers coach Daniel Vettori said later at the press conference. “In the night, with the ball getting older and darker, you can’t premeditate, predict what he is going to bowl because of those variations. He has good pace, is incredibly accurate and asks questions all the time.”

That spell of 4-0-19-1 again highlights how Narine continues to be basic but effective in an age where the bowler needs to innovate to stay ahead of the batter. Accuracy, pace and two-three spin variations are the ingredients he started out with in 2012 and pretty much stuck to till now. Factor in the progression of a career in which the economy of the first three seasons never went beyond 6.35 and Narine still retains pretty much the same intensity despite a bowling action correction.

This makes him the all-season bowler KKR would be happy to retain again and again.


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