Purchased for $700,000 in the auction, Sunil Narine debuted for KKR in IPL 2012 and delivered the club its maiden IPL title in his first year, picking 24 wickets from 15 appearances. But what if the Knight Riders had encountered a roadblock in the form of Narine getting banned for chucking?
We know that Narine, after debuting in 2012, turned the complexion of the IPL on its head, transforming KKR from a threatening mid-table side to world-beaters. We also know that three years after making his IPL debut, the mystery spinner was called for chucking, due to which he had to remodel his action - a move that significantly sucked the bite out of his bowling and hindered KKR. But what if the intervention had happened three years earlier? What if Narine was called for chucking as early as IPL 2012?
After being unleashed in the Rajasthan Royals encounter, Narine gives the world a sneak peek into his mystery and potential in just the second IPL game of his career, clinching a five-wicket haul against Kings XI Punjab. However, tragedy strikes KKR immediately as after the on-field umpires deem the West Indian’s action to be illegal, tests prove that Narine had, in fact, been chucking. With his action found to be illegal, the IPL bans Narine from taking further part in the competition.
The ban is a dagger in KKR hearts, with the club losing their x-factor, so in a desperate attempt to find an able wicket-taking replacement, the franchise turn their attention to 25-year-old rookie leg-spinner Sarabjit Ladda. The trade-off with Ladda was that, due to his attacking nature, he’d take wickets aplenty, but, at the same time, leak runs in abundance. Knowing they have no attacking option in the bench, KKR proceed with Ladda. Despite Ladda leaking 9.5 runs per over on average, the move bears fruit as he ends up taking 17 wickets in 8 games to take KKR within striking distance of making it to the playoffs.
With 15 points and a positive NRR to their name, a win against bottom-placed Pune is all KKR need to reach the playoffs, but, defending 137, an Anustup Majumdar assault on Ladda takes the Warriors over the line and breaks Knight Rider hearts. The IPL trophy evades KKR for the fifth season running and all they can do is watch CSK lift the trophy for the third consecutive year.
Back in the Caribbean, meanwhile, the Sunil Narine ban causes chaos within West Indies, who were solely reliant on the mystery spinner ahead of the WT20 in Sri Lanka. So having lost their trump card, the selectors traverse through the domestic scene and lay their faith in young Veerasamy Permaul, who impressed in the 2011/12 Caribbean T20 League season. Heading into the WT20, the management, interestingly, pit Permaul as an opening bowler alongside Samuel Badree and they reap rich rewards for their tactical masterstroke as the duo run riot in the group stages.
Awaiting the Windies in the semi-finals are Australia, who they already beat earlier in the competition courtesy a 4/16 from Permaul, but a match-up masterstroke from the Kangaroos, who promote No.7 Wade to open alongside Warner to counter the two spinners, remarkably sees the Men in Yellow chase down a target of 205 with three overs to spare to book a place in the final against the Lankans.
Stoked with the ‘southpaw promotion’ tactic, Australia replicate the same in the final versus a spin-heavy Lankan side but the ploy falls flat on their face as Mendis and Dananjaya run through the Aussies to bowl them out for 28, the lowest score in WT20 history, to deliver the Island Nation its first major trophy in 16 years.
The 28 all-out is seen as an all-time low, but a defeat at home at the hands of the Proteas two months later leaves Australia on the brink and sees heads roll. Senior players are dropped and head coach Mickey Arthur is given the sack, but while a Ricky Ponting press conference is assumed by the general public to be a farewell speech, the former skipper drops a bombshell and reveals that he has been appointed by Cricket Australia as the Head Coach of the national team with immediate effect.
This spells bad news for Mumbai Indians, who were eyeing to rope in Ponting as the skipper for the 2013 season. So with Plan A down the drain, MI shift their focus to plan B - Michael Clarke. With the Australian skipper making himself available to break away from the ruckus back home, MI rope in Clarke for $700,000 on the back of an intense bidding war with Pune. The Warriors are disappointed, but added funds due to the release of Robin Uthappa means that Pune, instead, get both Glenn Maxwell and Johan Botha for their base price.
Lacking an x-factor with the ball, Pune also go all-in for Ajantha Mendis, but much to their dismay, they lose out on the Sri Lankan to KKR, who have now successfully replaced Narine. Mendis is not the only ‘Pune poach’ KKR make as they also acquire the services of the released Robin Uthappa.
With the pieces almost in place, Pune trade Anustup Majumdar for Sarabjit Ladda, appoint Johan Botha the skipper and enter into the season settled, but with just 2 wins in the first 7 games, once again they leave their fans in trepidation. Needing to win 8 of their last 9 games to make the playoffs, the Warriors enter the dreaded clash against RCB at the Chinnaswamy but Glenn Maxwell’s off-spin toppling Chris Gayle in the first ball means that they register a convincing 8-wicket win to get their season back on track. The RCB win turns out to be a watershed moment as Pune remarkably go on to win each of their next 8 games to not just qualify for the playoffs, but finish in the Top 2.
But while its joy for one Maharashtra franchise, it is agony for another, as Mumbai are in tatters. Michael Clarke refusing to step down as skipper after a hideous run with the bat invokes rift within the side and after the management finally strip the Australian of captaincy, the armband shifts hands three more times. The club sink to an all-time low when Bangalore smash the highest score in the competition, courtesy a Gayle 175*, and after two months of non-stop struggle, Mumbai finish bottom of the table with just 2 wins in 16 matches.
Back to Pune, the Warriors win their 10th match on the bounce to get the better of CSK in Qualifier 1, but the victory comes at a cost as orange-cap holder Aaron Finch ruptures his tendon in the game. There is visible concern within the fans, dreading the prospect of playing the final without their best player, but hours before the Grand Finale versus the Knight Riders, the Pune management pull the ultimate rabbit out of the hat. In an announcement that sends shockwaves through the entire tournament, Pune reveal that they have roped in the now-cleared Sunil Narine as the injury replacement for Finch.
A home final at the Eden, which was supposed to be the ultimate dream, turns into a nightmare for the Knight Riders, who slump to a 88-run defeat in front of their loyalists, courtesy a 4-8 from the pearl which slipped away from them, Narine. Skipper Johan Botha leads the celebration and hands over the trophy to a hobbling Finch, who lifts the trophy with pride, hoping to spend the next cycle with this franchise he’s fallen in love with. His dreams are shattered, though, as the Warriors, four months later, are officially terminated from the IPL on the back of a financial dispute.
The date is February 12, 2014 and after two long years, Gautam Gambhir and Sunil Narine are finally reunited, but this time at Mumbai Indians. But this transfer doesn’t take centre stage, though, as social media goes gaga over Rohit Sharma, who has just been roped in by Kolkata Knight Riders to help him start a new chapter in his love story with Eden.