Reborn Sunil Narine shows no signs of stopping

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Mohsin Khan was sweating. Sure, Lucknow’s humidity was a factor, but Sunil Narine‘s early onslaught may have contributed significantly, too. In his second over, the fourth of the innings, Mohsin tried every possible delivery to outsmart Narine.

He began with an off-cutter, to try and have Narine access the longer square boundary on the off side. Not only was Narine nowhere near the pitch of the ball, but he had also backed away and a long way from the line of the ball. Yet, his pristine hand-eye coordination ensured he was able to reach the ball and scythe it one-handed for four over cover.

Mohsin went full next ball in an effort to hit the seam and dart it back in. Standing leg-side of the ball like a baseball hitter, Narine bludgeoned it through the covers. Now, Mohsin went wide of the crease and hit a hard length in an effort to cramp him for room, only to see him swat it wide of mid-on.

Finally, almost as if it was his last roll of the dice, Mohsin almost nailed the perfect short ball aimed at his head. Narine took him on with the pull and ended up getting a top-edge for six over deep backward square leg. The swing of the bat was uninhibited. He was fully committed to taking on the bowler, never mind that he had been beaten for pace. Narine had laid down a marker: four overs into their match against Lucknow Super Giants, Kolkata Knight Riders were 57 without loss.

As exhilarating as it was, there were fleeting moments when you wondered if Narine was on the edge. He can make you feel that way. But you go wow when he backs away to the leg side and unfurls that clean swing, because he’s able to access the square boundaries on both sides of the ground, at will, against similar deliveries. It wasn’t just Mohsin whom he dispatched mercilessly. Yash Thakur, who hits the surface harder and bowls with more zip, endured the same punishment when he bowled into Narine’s ribcage.

With Narine, the hitting is just one aspect. The conviction to pull it off match after match, defying the conditions, is quite something. It not only takes the pressure off the rest of the batting group, it has given KKR more ammunition to go hard from the get-go.

“The real bonus for KKR is what Narine is doing,” Tom Moody, Sunrisers Hyderabad’s 2016 IPL-winning coach, said on ESPNcricinfo TimeOut, “because what he’s doing, he’s doing in a great hurry. Therefore, if he has an impact, which he has had more often than not, it has a massive impact on the game. But if he doesn’t, he is not wasting anyone’s time and that allows others to contribute like they have done.”

Narine doesn’t attend batting meetings for the fear of complicating things. It’s simply a case of batting on instinct and backing himself because there’s no fear. It’s no surprise this upturn – having tallied a combined 154 runs across the previous three seasons, he went past the 400-run mark for IPL 2024 on Sunday – has coincided with Gautam Gambhir’s return to the KKR set-up as mentor.

On Sunday, KKR raised their hundred in nine overs, and Narine his half-century off 27 balls. And because the pace bowlers had been taken for plenty, KL Rahul got to a point where he had to get his spinners into the game.

At the best of times, Ravi Bishnoi relies on his skid and bounce off a length far more than turn. And so, it seemed perfectly acceptable when Rahul tried to cut off Narine’s boundary options by employing a sweeper cover, long-off and deep midwicket, just to bring some calmness to proceedings. But Narine showed he wasn’t a one-trick pony.

By using the pace to delicately glide the ball behind square, he beat short third with precision to pick up another boundary. And there was more surprise in store when he attempted a reverse-sweep off the next delivery. The timing was off, but just the audacity to add another string to his bow, never mind that it did not come off, was admirable.

All told, Narine’s innings was an adventure – of swings and misses, heaves not connecting, pulls eluding fielders, boundary riders tipping the ball over. His control percentage was astonishingly low at 49%. Yet, amid all this, there was an element of purity to the way he connected with the ball.

And when he doesn’t connect, Narine isn’t frustrated, because he bats the way he does because he knows KKR have firepower until No. 8. And even if it doesn’t come off occasionally, they can squeeze in even more batting, as in their previous game in Mumbai where Manish Pandey came on as Impact sub and rescued KKR alongside Venkatesh Iyer on a tricky surface.

“Think the most important thing is starting well,” Narine said of his methods at the presentation. “Once you have backing of support staff, you can’t ask for more. I’ve tried to give team good starts continuously, it’s working and hopefully it will work for rest of the tournament.”

There’s backing, alright, but surely beneath the deadpan exterior, there’s a deep sense of pride and warmth Narine feels towards the franchise. At different stages over the past 12 years, you wondered if this Narine-KKR bond would stand the test of time. Injuries, form, bowling action – they have all put him under the microscope at different times. But there was nothing but steadfast belief all along.

And so, the man who was at the forefront of KKR’s march to titles in 2012 and 2014 could now be scripting another fairytale a decade later. Who could have thought, even a couple of months ago, that he’d be doing it in this role, and in this manner?

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