With 87 wickets over six seasons, the most in the IPL for Kolkata Knight Riders, there is little doubt over Sunil Narine's importance to the franchise. On Thursday, however, promoted to the opening slot for the first time in the IPL, Narine smacked an 18-ball 37 against Kings XI Punjab, showing a facet of his game that his captain Gautam Gambhir believes has been largely underestimated so far.
"A lot of them underestimate Sunil's batting prowess," Gambhir told iplt20.com. "Having Sunil in the side is always a luxury with his quality of bowling and as someone who can hit the big ball."
It wasn't the first time that Narine opened the innings in the T20 format: he did so in three matches for the Melbourne Renegades in the 2016-17 season of the Big Bash League, tallying 37 runs. His big-hitting ability was also on display during the Pakistan Super League earlier this year, where he struck 11 sixes in eight matches and finished the tournament with a strike rate of 181.25, the second-highest overall.
Gambhir lauded Narine for taking pressure off him in the chase of 171, which ended with Knight Riders winning by eight wickets. Narine's blitz helped propel Knight Riders to 76 for 1 in the Powerplay, which was among the fastest starts in the IPL and Knight Riders' best score in the first six overs. He had a good day with the ball too, conceding 19 runs in four overs for one wicket.
"With Narine on the other side, I knew there was someone who is going to go hard at the bowlers and score runs at will, that too, at each and every delivery," Gambhir said. "Some of the batsmen should be really proud of the way he batted. Look at some of the shots he played; I need to take tips from Narine to hit big sixes."
Narine, who was reportedly given an extended net session on the eve of the match, said that batting as an opener gives him the freedom to play his shots without inhibitions.
"I did spend a lot of time at the nets. Today I was asked to bat at the top and I took the opportunity with both hands," Narine said. "I loved batting with Gambhir at the top tonight. Batting in that position, I get the freedom to express myself and go for my shots and give the kind of start the team wants."
Gambhir stated that giving Narine an extended run as an opener remains a possibility if the move works well going forward but he was pleased at the depth Narine's big-hitting added to the Knight Riders' line-up.
"If it keeps working, we will see Narine at the top," Gambhir said. "When he bats at No.8, he hardly gets any deliveries to bat with just some tail-enders left. If this move does work well going forward, it is going to be a great advantage for us. We have a batting line-up that boasts of hitting the big ball and are attacking players. With Sunil going all guns blazing, it just lengthens our batting line-up.
"My job is to keep batting as long as I can at one end with Narine going berserk at the other end. With that, I know that there is Narine and then the rest of the batting to follow."