Kolkata Knight Riders captain Gautam Gambhir is confident Sunil Narine will return a "better bowler and a stronger individual" after being reported twice for a suspect action during the Champions League T20. Speaking exclusively to ESPNcricinfo Gambhir said, "He [Narine] is, was and will always be an integral part of KKR and the entire squad will stand behind him and I hope he can come back as a stronger human being and can achieve much bigger heights than he has achieved in the past."
Narine was suspended from bowling in the CLT20 final and was also withdrawn from the West Indies squad for the ODI series against India starting later this week. Gambhir admitted he was "shocked" when he was first told about Narine's action being reported after a group game against the Dolphins on September 29.
"The only thing I can say at the moment is it's a tough time for him, but he's a strong character. I had a long chat with him after the game and I told him he needed to get this monkey off his back because he himself doesn't know if there's anything wrong with his action," said Gambhir. "The good thing is now he will get to know whether there is actually a problem in his action. If there is any, he will try to sort that out and come back a stronger human being and a stronger character as well. He could take all that pressure and be a much better bowler as well. Sometimes when these things start playing in your mind, what will happen if I bowl this delivery, what will people be talking, etc. Once he gets this off his back I am 100% sure he will be a much better bowler."
Narine is another in a long line of offspinners including Pakistan's Saeed Ajmal and Sri Lanka's Sachithra Senanayake who have been called in recent months for suspect bowling actions. Ajmal and Senanayake are banned from bowling in international cricket at the moment. Gambhir says that while he finds "nothing wrong" with the purge on bowlers with suspect actions he hopes there is consistency in the process.
"Hopefully they are not targeting certain bowlers and they should not be targeting certain bowlers," he said. "Sometimes the biggest challenge in these things is to be consistent and that's where I think it can get unfair. Till the time you are fair I am fine with it, whether it has to do with actions, batsmen, bowlers or xyz. For me consistency is very important in any sport."
In Narine's absence, Knight Riders were beaten comfortably by eight wickets in the CLT20 final by Chennai Super Kings. While Gambhir admitted he missed the offspinner's services, he said the change in conditions played a big role in the outcome. "[When] Batting first [and with] the way the ball was gripping, we thought 170 was a good total, so getting to 180 we were very confident that we could defend that total," he said. "Sometimes the dew makes it very unfair on the spinners, their spinners got a lot more out of the wicket than ours and we had quality spinners as well. Raina played a very good knock and obviously conditions changed as well. I don't want to take anything away from CSK."
While Narine's career is at a crossroads, another young spinner blooded by Knight Riders in the tournament, Kuldeep Yadav, has been fast-tracked into the Indian ODI team. Gambhir believes the key to the left-arm chinaman bowler's success was "identifying the best time to put him on the park.
"We could have easily played him in the IPL, but we though the ideal opportunity would be to play him against a foreign side in the Champions League. It is a very easy for a young kid to lose his confidence, especially in this format and it's very difficult to build that confidence."
Gambhir also added a note of caution saying that while Kuldeep has "a very bright future," he still has "a long way to go.
"He's young, not a lot of people have seen him. But the challenge is when people start identifying you and figuring you out. I hope he goes from what he has achieved till now and keeps working hard on his game."
Gambhir's own game has been struggling recently. His 52-ball 80 in the final came after a patch of poor scores. But he is of the view that judging a batsman's form on the basis of T20 performances is unfair.
"People say it's a batsman's format, but at the same time the bowler has a lot of opportunities to take your wicket. When you are taking a risk there is always a chance you will lose your wicket because you are only playing 120 balls," he said. "Sometimes team strategy is to go hard in the first six overs and you have to do that even when you are not hitting the ball well. It is always a challenge."
Gambhir's international future has also been the subject of much debate after his return to the Test team for the final two matches in England produced dismal results. After being dismissed for scores of 0, 3, 4 and 18 many believe Gambhir will find it hard to make another comeback.
"Obviously when you don't do well there will always be critics taking a shot at you and that's fine," he said. "You play a game and when you do well you get praise, so you should be able to take the criticism as well. For me it was always a confidence thing. Maybe making a comeback is never easy, if I had been able to get a few starts, obviously I would have been a lot more confident. For me, if I am confident mentally a lot of things can be taken care of.
"The important thing is to keep scoring runs. We have a big domestic season coming up. If the runs come, the technical things people keep talking about can be taken care of. Stay in the present, keep scoring runs and see where it goes."