“As the memory of past misfortunes pressed upon me, I began to reflect upon their cause—the monster whom I had created, the miserable daemon whom I had sent abroad into the world,” in short - the experiment to promote the illustrious all-rounder Sunil Narine to the top of the batting order.
It was a complete tale of madness - the Melbourne derby in 2017, as it looked like both the teams were ready to surprise 'em all with their frenzied selections on the first day of the new year. Earlier in 2013, against Kolkata Knight Riders, MS Dhoni surprised everyone by promoting Ravichandran Ashwin as the opener alongside Michael Hussey but here, we were talking about Aaron Finch promoting Sunil Narine in a completely astonishing move. The result, a 13-ball 21, and enough nods convinced the Kolkata Knight Riders personnel that this was the right move to be made in the 2017 edition of the IPL.
Narine wasn’t destined to be at the top of the order but an injury to Chris Lynn ensured that the mad man’s experiment finally gatecrashed the KKR wedding, and so the ‘mystery spinner’ was made the opener. Against Kings XI Punjab, there they walked out - Gautam Gambhir and the West Indian trodding at the Eden Gardens. Sandeep Sharma was against Sunil Narine, an impressive seam bowler against a newly found opener, and he was immediately met with a slap. The approach was clear, the all-rounder was going to smash the bowlers for runs, written well in bold letters.
For Punjab, however, they didn’t possess a world-class pacer on that surface, which meant they had to pay a price, which is conceding 37 runs off 18 deliveries. His job was done, his partnership with the KKR skipper took off excellently and the management had a smile as wide as the Eden Gardens strip. In the very same year, Kolkata possessed a record that every other team dreamt of but couldn’t achieve - a powerplay run-rate of 9.40, bettering every other mainstream opening combination. The mad man’s experiment worked like a charm.
When Chris Lynn walked back in, the left-right combination at the top of the order smelled of instantaneous success and worked within two minutes, even before the preparation of a bowl of Maggi. In 25 innings that followed, with the two at the top, Kolkata amassed 557 runs at an average of 22.28 but at a high strike-rate of 190.11 and in the same year, he was the 12th best batsman in the shortest format, scoring 739 runs at a strike-rate of 155.6. However, crucial to his bulk of runs was the approach that the opposition took, bowling spinners in the powerplay.
While they didn’t exactly mean bowling spinners to Narine, the ploy eventually worked in his favour, which allowed him to go freely about his innings, due to him facing 24.6% of his balls against spin. It quickly became the most-sought-after and dangerous opening wicket partnership in the league and KKR’s success too joined in.
“Unbelievable (batting from Narine). He has done it for a couple of years now. We don't talk too much. Just keep it simple. I am traditionally a slow starter. It is a long tournament, we are building nicely with important wins,” said Chris Lynn after a 2019 IPL game, against Rajasthan Royals at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium, which ends part one.
Part Two began when Chris Lynn was ruled out with an injury and was out of the KKR set up. In those 11 innings, Sunil Narine scored 194 runs at an average of 14.91. It was during his time, the franchises understood the method behind his madness, spin bowling. When they took it away from him, the runs started to dry and the confidence began to wrath. Against left-arm pacers and right-arm pacers, Narine just averages a combined 20, getting out 10 times. Against right-arm medium pacers in specific, he got out 13 times averaging just 21.8 whilst nearly averaging 30 against off-spinners, getting out only five times in total.
The jolt was overnight and overwhelming but it was not unexpected and, certainly, it wasn’t for the first time. There were forever hints that Narine’s struggle against quality pace would be found out sometime - KKR were just riding on the luck-ride till then before eventually, it started to cost them dearly, which is in the 2020 IPL. To make it more circumstantial, alongside Gill, his new opener, Narine has only scored 27 runs at an average of 6.75, which certainly is the end of the curve. The after-effects were visible, everyone was shouldering more responsibility and weren’t quite getting the freedom in the middle-overs, the boundaries upfront started to dry and the Knight Riders were scratching the bottom of the barrel.
His confidence too has been on the low, his face shows it all, the experiment which became an instantaneous success bouncing off his bowling confidence too withered away. He now averages 59.40 with the ball, picking up two wickets while conceding 119 runs in 4 innings, at an economy rate of 8.50. It now brings up the question to the management, a specific one, do you pick Narine in the team?
"But he's done it so well, opening the batting for the Kolkata Knight Riders. It would be stupid not to continue with it as well. But fortunately, Brendon has to make those tough calls with the batting order," said David Hussey before the CSK encounter.
If you think you know the answer, there is another question that pops up immediately - how about the players waiting on the bench who can make a better impact with the bat and the ball? That’s where it becomes more complicated but one thing remains pretty clear, it is high time to end crazy man’s experiment to open with Sunil Narine!