Mystery alone won't work for Narine in Tests
There was nothing mysterious about West Indies offspinner Sunil Narine's returns of 3 for 343 in the two-Test series against Bangladesh. He was met with a definite plan by the home batsmen, and most of it was based on attack. He was hardly given time to settle down into a rhythm and let his mystery dictate terms during most of his spells in the series.
The starts of his spells were given an early setback with a charge and a boundary, or a string of boundaries sent him out of the attack. Three wickets at 114.33 later, Narine is having to instruct himself into becoming a bowler who has more dimensions and not just the mystery.
West Indies captain Darren Sammy and coach Ottis Gibson have been staunch in defending Narine but are aware of the challenges that face a bowler who has entered the team as the main spinner with little experience in the longer format. Gibson would like him to be a lot more accurate while at the same time believing that he needs more time in the middle.
"The key, whether there is mystery or not, is to be accurate with whatever you deliver," Gibson told ESPNcricinfo. "Shakib Al Hasan tied us down with accuracy though the ball wasn't spinning massively. It made batsmen work hard for runs. That is something Sunny [Narine] has to learn and he will over time because he works very hard on his cricket.
"The greatest skill you have is accuracy because you have to know how to tie the batsmen down. The mystery will always be there, but you back it up with accuracy. Then you are a weapon."
Bangladesh understood Narine's inexperience. Their tactic against Narine was born out of the threat he poses with his finger-work. His ability to spin the ball both ways with the same wrist position is part of his mystery. Shakib, his Kolkata Knight Riders teammate, could have picked up his tricks while bowling together in the nets. Shakib definitely had a big say in the mode of attack against Narine.
Had they let Narine settle down, Bangladesh would have been in more trouble as they had been already succumbing to West Indies' pace and their own flamboyance. Narine took three wickets in his fifth spell after Bangladesh had lost six wickets in the first innings of the first Test. He went wicketless in the second innings. Narine also had no success in the second Test, a game in which the West Indies attack dominated Bangladesh. He gave 91 runs off 19 overs in the first innings as Bangladesh took comfort in seeing him come on after the quick bowlers troubled them. The ineffectual performance resulted in Sammy using Narine sparingly in the second innings - nine overs, which went for 48.
"The Bangladesh players have gone after him a bit," Gibson said. "It's not a massive concern but it is obviously something we keep an eye on. We are not really concerned at this stage.
"I think he's got a unique sort of action. His mystery is with his fingers. He has to continue to believe in that because this is what got him here. The learning for him is how to take Test wickets."
And to learn how to do so, Narine has to go back to his roots and play first-class cricket for Trinidad & Tobago which begins in February next year. "He hasn't played lot of first-class cricket either, so that's some place he'd have to go back and play some games, find out what it's like to take wickets in first-class cricket and the patience you need to play in Test cricket," Gibson said.
Narine is very much like Veerasammy Permaul at this stage of his career, according to Gibson. The left-arm spinner took eight wickets at 31 apiece in the first two Tests of his career. Narine is merely five Tests old. But he has to carry the added tag of being the main spinner, one that has stuck to him because of his reputation as a deadly Twenty20 bowler.
"He's new to international cricket, especially the Test format," Gibson said. "He's played a lot more white-ball cricket than he has red-ball. He got picked for his exploits with the white ball. He came into the team as the main spinner. [Veerasammy] Permaul was making his way in the game, so was Sunny. He's a young kid, only playing his fifth Test match."
Sammy is quite sure Narine will bounce back, as early as the ODI series against Bangladesh. He believes the pressure of scoring runs quickly plays into the hands of Narine, who has more wicket-taking deliveries than the orthodox slow bowlers. "I am not worried about his form going into one-day cricket because I know that's where he is made his name, in one-day internationals and Twenty20s," Sammy said. "He's at his best when there's scoreboard pressure. I know he is a very good spinner in limited-overs cricket, so hopefully he could improve in the Test arena."
Ajantha Mendis has found it hard to adapt to the longest format, especially building spell after spell with accuracy, and hasn't figured in a Test since May 2011. Narine could take lessons from Mendis' career. Bags of wickets in the Twenty20 leagues have brought Narine fame but as Bangladesh have shown and seen, mystery can be conquered in a short time but accuracy has to be mastered.
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent