A Knight of many battles, veteran West Indian mystery spinner Sunil Narine has been thrust into a new one nearly half-way into Season 13 of the Indian Premier League.
Shortly after the Kolkata Knight Riders wrapped up a thrilling 2-run win over Kings XI Punjab, their fourth this season, Narine was reported for a suspect action by the on-field umpires, who added that while he may keep bowling in future games, another report could see him ‘suspended’ from rolling his arms over in this edition of the tournament.
The report specified that he had been placed on the ‘warning list’ but would be permitted to bowl till he is reported again.
In the event of a fresh report, he would be placed on suspension until cleared by a committee of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), which deals with suspect bowling actions.
While the franchise was quick to issue a statement saying while they were surprised as no concerns had been voiced by match officials in the previous six games that he had featured in for the KKR this season, they were ‘respectful of the processes that the IPL has put in place to have his action reviewed’ and was hopeful of a resolution soon.
The franchise was left with three choices in the wake of the report – either bowl him at the risk of being reported again, play him as a batsman or leave him on the bench.
The think-tank went with the third option and the result was a crushing defeat to a resurgent Royal Challengers Bangalore. Narine was the chief architect of the nerve-racking win over the Kings as his canny spell, especially the 18th and 20th overs, choked the Punjab franchise in pursuit of 165.
His importance to KKR’s bowling unit can’t ever be overstated as he leads their spin attack and his four overs are often decisive in which way a game goes.
Hence the question that ought to be crossing many minds in the KKR dressing room at the minute is will his absence in the middle of the tournament impair or impact the team’s prospects of making the play-off stage and progressing beyond? If the loss to the RCB is any indication, the think-tank ought to be worried.
With tough assignments in hand and the battle for the play-offs hotting up, the Kolkata franchise could ill-afford to put their ace spinner in the sidelines, especially so when one considers that he has been their go-to slow bowler this season.
While 5 wickets in 6 matches doesn’t entirely reflect how well he has bowled this season, a telling piece of statistics that attests to his performance is that he has operated at an economy of 8.09, which is among the best this year in terms of runs conceded per over.
Playing him as a batter makes little sense as the move to send him in as an opener hasn’t been fruitful.
The franchise would rather go in with a genuine bowler or batsman than play Narine and not have him bowl.
While the franchise has options galore in the pace department, Narine’s absence does leave the KKR attack short of quality spinning choices. The think-tank would have to consider bringing back chinaman Kuldeep Yadav, who failed to come good in the matches he played and eventually lost his place to 29-year-old Varun Chakravarthy.
While Chakravarthy has since settled into being a steady operator with 5 wickets under his belt already, there are lingering doubts on whether Kuldeep has worked hard enough on the sidelines to return a better bowler.
In the three matches he played this season, the chinaman struggled to land his top spinners or pull out his trick deliveries to effect breakthroughs. Just a lone wicket at the expense of 74 runs is not what the think-tank would have expected from one of their star operators and an India regular.
The only other spinner the think-tank may consider playing is uncapped Tamil Nadu slow left-armer Manimaran Siddharth.
While one may see an element of wisdom in springing an unknown quantity on rival batters, it still doesn’t take away from the fact that their spin attack would be woefully short on big-match experience at a time a play-off berth is at stake.
By the time Narine returns with a remodelled action, the play-off berths will have been decided. Also, the lingering questions over his bowling action might also knock his confidence off-perch and see him struggle for his best bowling form at the business-end of the tournament.
His first brush with infamy in international cricket dates back to November 2015 when he was reported for suspect action following the third ODI between West Indies and Sri Lanka in an away series.
However, he was called twice earlier, in 2014, during the Champions Trophy, an event which has since been done away with.
As things stand, the only way for KRR is to plan their future battles without Narine and not around him, even as the think-tank works to bring him back fit, fresh and firing once the clearance on his action comes through.