Narine makes himself at home in Florida
A showdown between the IPL's Player of the Series and the ICC's No.1-ranked Twenty20 batsman - Sunil Narine and Martin Guptill respectively - was short, sweet, one-sided and served as a microcosm of the gulf that existed this weekend in Florida between West Indies and New Zealand. On Saturday, Narine took three wickets but went for a slightly expensive 34 runs in the process. On Sunday, he was near unplayable and laid the foundation for a commanding performance in the field by West Indies to help secure a 61-run win and, with it, the series.
While Chris Gayle scored another half-century in the first innings and walked away with the Man-of-the-Series award, he was soon overshadowed by Narine's brilliant spell which deservedly earned the spinner Man-of-the-Match honours. Gayle had his turn, giving the fans some thrills the day before, but Sunday's crowd saved its energy to respond with delight after being captivated by Narine. His international career is still in its infancy, yet Narine's opening over showed why many West Indies fans were clamouring for him to come back into the West Indies squad after this year's IPL.
Guptill looked out of his depth against Narine. He prodded the first two balls away cautiously to the leg side before trying to use his feet on the third ball of the fifth over, only to spoon up a leading edge that fell just short of cover. Two balls later, Guptill remained flummoxed and lobbed a simple chance toward cover. As the ball came down in the hands of Fidel Edwards, Guptill tossed his bat to the ground in frustration but New Zealand's problems with Narine were only just beginning.
The Trinidad & Tobago duo of Narine and Denesh Ramdin combined for their third stumping of the weekend on the very next delivery, as Rob Nicol failed to pick the turn while coming out of his crease to put Narine on a hat-trick for the start of the seventh over. He very nearly pulled it off, with new batsman Daniel Flynn edging his first ball just short of Gayle at slip.
"I think we saw a lot of him in the IPL and obviously he performed very well and guys found him hard to pick," New Zealand's stand-in captain Kane Williamson said after the match. "That's probably the key is to find picking him in terms of his variation and then also going into the nets and putting into practice how we want to go about playing him. Moving into the one-dayers, we'll obviously look to play him slightly differently being a longer format and hopefully have a slightly better method towards him."
While Flynn escaped Narine's clutches, the same could not be said for Dean Brownlie and Andrew Ellis as Narine completed career-best figures in a West Indies uniform with 4 for 12 in four overs. After just two wickets on tour in England, seven wickets in two matches in Florida demonstrated he was glad to be back in a warmer environment.
"It's good to be back home," Narine said after the match. "England wickets don't really spin a lot and it was a bit cold. Down here is back to normal to where the wickets suited me a lot. Playing England [in England] is very challenging. We know that we are a strong team at home and just adapting to the conditions and feeling comfortable at home says a lot and it probably makes it a little easier for the players to perform."
As recently as November, Narine was stuck behind Anthony Martin and Devendra Bishoo in the West Indies spin bowling queue and had yet to make his debut. Narine credits the IPL with building up the mental side of his game in a short space of time to be able to transform into someone who can be a match-winner.
"I think the amount of cricket you play game by game [in the IPL], you get experience and by playing among the world's best and just being able to perform with the best it just gives you the confidence and courage that anything's possible on the cricket field," Narine said.
Today's game was the last T20 for West Indies ahead of the World Twenty20 in September and this weekend's dominant performance gave credence to Australia all-rounder Shane Watson's recent assertion that West Indies will be the team to beat in Sri Lanka. For now though, the West Indies are turning their attention to five ODIs against New Zealand which start Thursday in Jamaica.
"We have set a good tone starting off winning the first two Twenty20s, but 50-overs is a different format so we have to concentrate a little longer," Narine said. "I think we have the capability and the strength in our team to do that."
Peter Della Penna is a journalist based in New Jersey