April 13, 2013

Unravelling the Narine mystery

How does the KKR offspinner continue to bamboozle batsmen? Because he knows when to bowl what

It's hard to remain a mystery today, what with all the footage available for replays in slow-motion and every player painstakingly scrutinised. The action has shifted from the 22 yards to the editing table.

Yet Sunil Narine continues to beat technology and stay ahead of most analyses. Even though he has been scanned time and again, he manages to get the better of batsmen and fascinate spectators.

He's not the first mystery spinner; there have been quite a few who batsmen couldn't decipher immediately, if at all. Yet there's something about this lad from the West Indies, with a peculiar hairdo and an equally peculiar action that has enthralled aficionados worldwide.

In his debut IPL season, last year, Narine took 24 wickets and helped Kolkata Knight Riders win the trophy for the first time. But it isn't just his ability to take wickets that makes everyone sit up and take note, it's the way he spins around hapless batsmen.

One particular over that he bowled to his fellow West Indian, Andre Russell, in the opening match of this season's IPL comes to mind, because it looked like Russell had no idea which way the ball would turn after pitching. Each time almost, he played down one way when the ball was heading the other.

It's not too hard to decipher a doosra or a carrom ball from an offspinner while watching on TV, when the camera gives us the view from the back, but Narine's variations are hard to pick even for viewers sitting at home. So what chance did Russell have?

By bowling even his offspinners with a scrambled seam, Narine manages to keep the batsman guessing which one will head the other way. And since he bowls both his variations from the front of the hand (the doosra is usually bowled from the back of the hand), you have to look very closely at which way his fingers are turning at the point of release - not an easy job.

But it isn't just the variations or his ability to disguise them that make Narine a difficult bowler to bat against in T20. There are many bowlers who have more variations up their sleeve. All good legspinners have three deliveries (legspin, googly and a flipper), and most offspinners these days also possess more than a couple variations (offspin, doosra and a carrom ball), but it isn't about the quantity, it's about the quality of execution. Having different types of deliveries won't mean much unless you know when to use them.

In fact, Narine has only two variations in his bag - a regular offspinner and the one that goes away after pitching. But unlike other spinners, he is a master when it comes to using his subtle variations, and he rarely overdoes them.

In his first over in this year's IPL, he did not bowl a single away-going delivery. He realised that there was some turn and bounce on the Eden Gardens pitch, so he was better off bowling offbreaks. In fact, in the entire game, he didn't bowl a single away-going delivery to the well-set Mahela Jayawardene, having arranged a leg-side field for him. If Jayawardene had picked the variation, Narine would have run the risk of leaking runs. But against Russell, Narine strengthened the off-side field, with a slip as an attacking option, and bowled the other one repeatedly. His ability to judge the demands of the situation and then move from being smart and defensive to brave and aggressive sets him apart.

In addition to his game sense and variety, Narine's pace and his effective stock ball make it very tough to score off him. He bowls really flat and slightly quicker but without compromising on turn off the surface. If there's something in the pitch for the spinners, he really rips them across the right-handers and away from the left-handers.

The delivery that got David Warner in the first match was an example of his ability to turn the ball with bounce at reasonably high speed. His pace and flat trajectory take away the batsman's crucial attacking strategy - stepping down the track to play the lofted shot. There aren't many who can hit the long ball without coming out of the crease.

If you can't come down the track, you look to either slog-sweep towards cow corner or go deep into the crease to pull the slightly shorter deliveries. Narine's extra turn and bounce on pitches like the one at the Eden Gardens make both these shots tough to execute. The turn ensures the ball misses the bat's sweet spot. If that fails, the bounce ensures the ball's impact on the bat is higher than the batsman is comfortable with. Either way the batsman rarely gets the intended height or distance.

If batsmen look for five or six runs off a Narine over instead of going after him, he might not turn out to be such a prolific wicket-taker. Unfortunately for all IPL teams, Knight Riders' captain, Gautam Gambhir, brings Narine on either in the Powerplay or during the death overs. That forces batsmen to go after Narine and increases his chances of picking up wickets. I won't be surprised if he finishes as one of the top wicket-takers this season as well.

Former India opener Aakash Chopra is the author of Out of the Blue, an account of Rajasthan's 2010-11 Ranji Trophy victory. His website is here and his Twitter feed here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on April 16, 2013, 5:26 GMT

    Narine is still learning his trade. Still to come would be his test career. He has nerves of steel, that is why he bowls his variations so well at the death. In the world cup T 20 final, he ripped the heart out of a SL team that was becoming dangerous. Just watch.

  • Rahul on April 14, 2013, 18:33 GMT

    Narine is bettrr than overrated ajmal

  • Earl on April 14, 2013, 14:59 GMT

    Wasn't Ajmal a magician when Hussey tore him apart for Australia.Why don't some of you just watch the games and enjoy the good players.If Holding,Roberts,Ambrose,Marshall,Patterson,Croft and Garner were playing T20 cricket there would be a lot of injured players.Marine might soon disappear but someone will take his place.

  • N on April 14, 2013, 7:23 GMT

    It is interesting to see how many Pakistani and Bangladeshi fans have posted negative comments about Narine in this forum. Love IPL or hate it, you can't stay away from IPL related articles, can you? :).

  • N on April 14, 2013, 7:20 GMT

    @KiwiRocker: Narine is better than any current or past Bangladeshi spinner. I know it is hard to accept for you, but it is true.

  • N on April 14, 2013, 7:18 GMT

    @llw5682: You are absolutely right, this article is about a spinner who has performed very well in the IPL. Don't bother with those anrgy anti-Narine comments. Those are coming from some jealous anti-IPL fans because the rather mediocre cricketers from their country haven't been selected to play in any of the games. They are just redirecting their anger towards any player who is performing well in the IPL.

  • Jabbar on April 14, 2013, 7:15 GMT

    narine is great bowler but ajmal is the best spinner in the world.......

  • N on April 14, 2013, 7:12 GMT

    @KiwiRocker: Ha ha ha...love your comments. Every one of your comments is a joke. The batsmen you named as the best against spin...that is a hilarious list. IPL rocks and so does Narine. You know it!

  • Bobby on April 14, 2013, 3:46 GMT

    Its a Joke comparing Narine to likes of Saeed Ajmal. Saeed Ajmal is a magician. A wonderful, verstile bowler who has got wickets everywhere he has gone so far! Saeed Ajmal was effective in English condition, he did wonderful on fairly sporting wickets of UAE and he even got a 10 wicket haul in SA. Comparing likes of Narine and Ashwin to Ajmal is a farce! R.Ashwin has taken nine wickets outside India at an average of 63 runs per wicket. Narine has played International cricket with no fire works. Narine failed against orindary B'deshi batsmen. What would he do against likes of Younis Khan, Clark, Amla, AB, Sanga.The poven players of spin bowling.Narine might get a wicket or two in IPL or against India ( since indian batsmen are weak against spin as proven by Monty and Ajmal),but Narine will soon disapper form international scene..like West Indies's other spin sensation Bishoo. ICC rankings are flawed. By rnakings' Hafeez was also ranked No.1 ODI and No.1 T.20 bowler.Is he a mystery too?