Even in 2022, Sunil Narine’s variations with his fingers are yet to be picked by the batters more often than not. The proof is there in the numbers, as the Kolkata Knight Riders’ off-spinner still is the most economical (5.25) bowler in the ongoing IPL among them who have bowled at least five overs.
Sunil Narine is not just a name for the ardent Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) supporters. He made his impact immediately on his debut season in 2012, taking 24 wickets in 15 matches at an impressive economy rate of 5.47 to help the Purple and Gold Brigade win the prized title. Notably, he was adjudged the Most Valuable Player (MVP), joining an elite list with Shane Watson, Adam Gilchrist, Sachin Tendulkar, and Chris Gayle.
The Trinidadian continued to keep up the good work in the following IPL edition as well, under the leadership of none other than Gautam Gambhir. He snared 22 wickets in 15 matches at a similar economy rate (5.46) as he had last season. But KKR, as a unit, did not do as much at that time. They finished eighth in a ten-team affair, winning six matches in 16 attempts.
But Gambhir roared back in 2014 in style. He inspired his side to win the coveted trophy twice in three years and again, Narine joined hands to make that happen. 21 wickets at 6.47 – the Narine mania goes on.
For the first time in four years, Narine’s economy rate crossed seven runs an over in 2015. He only played eight matches in that campaign and got seven wickets at 7.31. Given the fact the T20 format is nothing but the batters’ caravan, it was still a remarkable overall performance. But considering his lofty standards, some started to think that his mystery no longer remained a mystery.
During IPL 2015, Narine was in trouble with his bowling action. He was banned for bowling off-breaks, and then got clean chit with a ‘final warning.’ Unsurprisingly, he had to work a lot on himself to get everything fixed.
I have always told Venky [Mysore, CEO] that hopefully I don’t play for any other franchise, I have loved my stay at KKR so hopefully I start and finish here. I think it’s a great achievement. You don’t see many overseas players stay with one franchise. Luckily, I am one of them and hopefully I can continue to be with them in the future."
The continuous pressure from BCCI arguably ended Narine, one of the most prolific wicket-takers in the limited-overs format. Although he did not give up and took 11 wickets in as many matches in IPL 2016 at 7.09. It might not have been an unthinkable achievement, but for someone who has been working to fix his action, the records were astounding.
Then in 2017, fans came to know about a completely different Narine, who started to contribute with the bat as an opener. He was kind of a floater at the top, and his 224 runs at a blistering strike rate of 172.3 yielded franchise rich dividends. He took 10 wickets as well under the economy rate of seven runs an over, which signalled he was getting back his rhythm.
Narine in 2018 was a complete package. With the ball, he scalped 17 wickets, and simultaneously, he aggregated 357 runs at 189.89 with the bat. Although KKR did not manage to enter the final, losing to Sunrisers Hyderabad in Qualifier 2, the valiant all-round efforts from Narine were enough for him to win the MVP award twice. Till today, only Watson, and his countrymate, Andre Russell achieved the feat.
Narine’s carnage with the bat did not last long enough. It saw a steep decline from 2019, and his records with the ball in the next two editions were not great either. As a result, he started receiving criticism yet again.
For the second time in his career, Narine came up with a spirited show to remove the negative echoes around him in 2021. He did his part with the ball, taking 16 wickets at 6.44 to help KKR reach the final, only to lose against MS Dhoni’s Chennai Super Kings (CSK).
In 2022, Narine, fondly called ‘Sunny’ by his teammates, became the first KKR player to appear 150 times for them. It was, of course, a remarkable achievement, but the way he kept things simple down the roads, was more crucial, and clinical as well. At 33, he is easily the greatest player of all time for KKR.
Well played boys. Stupendous effort by @ShreyasIyer15 @AaronFinch5 @y_umesh congrats to #SunilNarine for the 150th match & @Bazmccullum for that innings 15 yrs ago. I know we lost but if we have to go down this is the only way to do it! Keep ur chins up….— Shah Rukh Khan (@iamsrk) April 18, 2022
Numbers do not lie, never ever. Narine’s economy rate (5.25) in IPL 2022 proves even after being around for more than a decade, the batters do find difficulties while playing against him. They rather go with a defensive approach to tackle him to keep them safe. Sometimes they get success, oftentimes they do not. There are only a few bowlers who can maintain this unmatchable consistency; Rashid Khan is one of them.
Kolkata adores Narine, alongside Russell. The duo, if everything goes right, will finish their career at the franchise, similar to their countrymate Kieron Pollard at Mumbai Indians (MI). Narine was KKR’s most lethal wicket-taking weapon in 2012, and he still remains the same in 2022. This speaks volumes. Undoubtedly, when he bids adieu, he will sign off as one of the greatest overseas bowlers of the lucrative cash-rich league, if not the greatest.
Though Narine has taken only seven wickets so far this season, he was never on the receiving end in the first ten matches, not even for once. His spin partner, Varun Chakravarthy, who was KKR's leading wicket-taker in the last two editions, failed to keep up the good work. As a result, Chakravarthy has been dropped. But Narine, his idol, teacher and a veteran of 150 IPL wickets, is still going strong without even a scratch.
Consistency has always been the key, and in the T20 format, it matters the most. Narine, at INR 6 crore ahead of the 2022 IPL mega-action, was a steal. However, due to poor strategy and tactics at the auction table, where, for an example, they did not get a single left-arm pacer, KKR's struggles in the ongoing edition is clearly visible. But Narine, with as much as he could, has been doing his job magnificently.
The Indian Premier League will never get another Sunil Narine. It is certainly impossible.