Royal Challengers Bangalore v Kolkata Knight Riders, IPL 2017, Bengaluru May 7, 2017

The method behind Sunil Narine's madness

The West Indian's devastating ability to hit straight in the Powerplay - when teams rarely employ a long-off or long-on - has brought him great rewards

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WATCH - Narine smacks fastest IPL fifty

When Chris Lynn dislocated his shoulder after just two matches in IPL 2017, it seemed as if Kolkata Knight Riders' most logical move was to partner Robin Uthappa with Gautam Gambhir at the top of the order. After all, they are second only to Shikhar Dhawan and David Warner among the most prolific opening combinations in IPL history.

KKR, however, thought differently and handed a promotion to a rather unlikely candidate: Sunil Narine. It wasn't entirely surprising, given he had opened for Melbourne Renegades in the Big Bash League earlier this year. His batting credentials had received a significant boost in the Pakistan Super League as well, where his 116 runs in eight matches came at a strike rate of 181.

Even so, Narine was originally seen as nothing more than a pinch-hitter. With 194 runs off 103 balls in the nine IPL matches as opener, with a strike-rate of 188.34, he has become a power hitter. That fact was further substantiated when he reeled off a 15-ball fifty, the joint-fastest in IPL history, against Royal Challengers Bangalore.

Not only did Narine strike them big and clean, he did so with a calm head, terrific balance and impeccable timing. There was a certain insouciance in his strokeplay, as if he always knew he could bat like a proper top-order player.

His hat-trick of sixes against Samuel Badree showed how well he was able to pick length and read angles. The legspinner kept floating them up and the batsman kept clearing the long-off boundary, even if he wasn't always fully forward. Badree made it worse for himself by firing away googlies outside off, offering Narine the requisite room to open up. But the swing of the bat was never violent.

S Aravind didn't fare much better, even if he managed the odd variation. Having watched his length balls being hammered through mid-off and mid-on, he tried bowling a bit shorter, but still Narine was able to shift his weight back, and instead of going for an orthodox shot - the pull - which would have found the man in the deep, he slapped a four through mid-off. It was classy batting.

According to HawkEye data, 59 out of 116 balls that Narine has faced this IPL has been on a length or fuller. Match that to his most effective shots - he has amassed 140 of his 194 runs through drives - and it reveals a pattern. Bowlers have bowled to his strengths and Narine has feasted on them.

The midwicket region has been the most productive for left-handed batsmen in the Powerplay overs this IPL, followed by the covers. Narine, on the other hand, heavily favours mid-off - where he has blasted 69 runs off 18 balls - and mid-on - 36 off 13 balls. This penchant to hit in the V is why he has been so successful.

Unlike in the death overs when a long-on and long-off are standard boundary-riding positions, rarely are two fielders stationed there during the Powerplay. Additionally, a bowler with the new ball will either pitch it up while it is nipping around, or hit the deck as hard as he can. Captains, therefore, tend to post men on the square boundaries or behind the wicket. And Narine targets the ones that are unmanned; the ones he likes to access.

So how does a team stop Narine? Well, he has not been especially comfortable against the short ball. Pitch map data shows he has faced 14 of them and fallen three times. While he gets over two runs per ball on the pull, it has also claimed his wicket twice, and his control percentage on that shot is only 58. Hitting the blockhole may also not be a bad option - he has perished to two out of the four yorkers bowled to him. RCB could do neither.

And if Narine in full flow wasn't enough, Lynn has also been a rampaging presence at the top for KKR. He set the tone for the chase with 14 runs off the first over from Aniket Choudhary, 10 of which came down the ground. So dominant were the two batsmen that the KKR fifty took all of 11 minutes, and by the end of the sixth over, they had shellacked 105, the highest Powerplay score in IPL history.

Sunday's blitz exemplified how KKR have uncorked a winning formula with Narine. When he fires, they reap wild benefits and when he doesn't, it isn't a big deal, because he rarely ever eats up dots. That, in T20 cricket, is the definition of a gun player.

Akshay Gopalakrishnan is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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  • rama knian on May 8, 2017, 17:30 GMT

    [[[[[[[ So how does a team stop Narine? Well, he has not been especially comfortable against the short ball. ]]]]] Sometime ago, I pointed out how I trained for bouncers; I will reiterate.

    But first, their was a pic some months ago of Alex Hales duck into bouncers; this is the first thing you want to do ---- NEVER DUCK INTO A BOUNCER ! It is just better to evade it, and in difficult situation when you are going to definitely get hit, then let it glance off your body.

    The real training involves attaching a swivel to the ball and suspending it from different heights starting from around upper chest and eventually moving the ball up to your eye level; you swing the ball and stand in front of it, and practice evading it by moving your head out of the way , rotate your shoulders out of the way, pulling your head back as though evading a 'cuff' to head BUT NEVER DUCK INTO THE BALL. You repeat this action for hours until you are totally comfortable with any ball coming in at any angle

  • TheRealMvp•_• on May 8, 2017, 14:42 GMT

    Well that fell flat . From hitting an aussie bowler in a test match ( we think of starc,siddle,harris,lyon pattinson or soneone ) to hitting a part timer in an odi

  • ShekarRamlal86 on May 8, 2017, 11:46 GMT

    AFFUS11 that was 4 sixes of Glen Maxwell in an ODI in AUS

  • Cricketer_Panki on May 8, 2017, 11:43 GMT

    @AFFUS11- He hit four sixes off maxwell in a one dayer at perth...

  • affus11 on May 8, 2017, 10:35 GMT

    Dear Folks, I had no doubt in my mind when i once saw this bloke hitting an aussie bowler for 4 consecutive sixes in a test match !!! Correct me if wrong

  • Jono_M on May 8, 2017, 6:41 GMT

    He has become a substantially more valuable player in the process and I wonder how many other bowlers may now be employed like this? David Willey has also done it well in domestic english T20 but how long until we see others? Guys like James Faulkner and Chris Morris who clear the boundary well but are often wasted down the order may become excellent top order hitters too and there are probably many more like them.

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