Narine's dilemma: IPL final or West Indies camp?
Sunil Narine has suddenly found himself between a rock and a hard place.
If the spinner remains in India to play for Kolkata Knight Riders in Sunday's IPL 2014 final, as he wants to, he will miss the West Indies Cricket Board's [WICB] June 1 deadline for joining the preparatory camp for the imminent home series against New Zealand, disqualifying him from selection.
"It is his decision," WICB's chief executive officer Michael Muirhead said on Friday. "The cut-off date for joining the camp was moved forward from May 22 to June 1 specifically to allow those players involved in the IPL the opportunity for more matches. Anyone who is in breach won't be considered for selection."
He indicated that if Narine misses the deadline, he would be unavailable for the first Test in Kingston between June 8 and 12; Narine would remain in the chosen squad of 15 and be eligible for the remainder of the series.
Speaking by telephone from his Kolkata office yesterday, Knight Riders' chief executive officer Venky Mysore spoke on Narine's behalf.
"This is in no way an act of defiance by Sunil," Mysore said. "He is seeking the board's flexibility for a couple of days leeway so that he can turn out for Knight Riders on Sunday.
"He has told us that he came to do a job and wants to see it through to its conclusion. He also wants to represent West Indies against New Zealand. You can understand the quandary that he is in."
Mysore said the IPL management had put Narine's case to the WICB. Narine has also been in touch with Wavell Hinds, president and chief executive of the West Indies Players Association (WIPA).
There was a similar situation prior to West Indies' tour of England in 2009.
Chris Gayle, then captain, applied for an extension to play one more match for his franchise team in the IPL, held that year in South Africa. The WICB acceded to the request and Gayle arrived in London two days before the Lord's Test, leading to widespread criticism of the decision.
The WICB has now taken its position following its acceptance of the "West Indies First" policy proposed by director of cricket, Richard Pybus, last March.
This lists the principle of the "prioritisation of Test cricket as the pinnacle of West Indies cricket and its protection through priority team selection and strategic scheduling".
Narine is one of six players with WICB Grade A contracts for 2014, each worth US$120,000; Dwayne Bravo, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Chris Gayle, Darren Sammy and Marlon Samuels are the others.
"For West Indies cricket to thrive and to grow, they (the players) have to make themselves available," Muirhead said at the time. "At the same time, we don't want to limit the amount or prevent their opportunities to earn."
He added then that there were no scheduled matches or tours in 2014 during the period of the Caribbean Premier League (CPL) or the Indian Premier League (IPL). The IPL final has thrown a spanner into the works.
Muirhead said Narine and Gayle, who travelled to Germany from his IPL stint with Royal Challengers Bangalore for treatment on his back injury, had advised the WICB on May 24 that they would be back by June 1.
That changed for Narine in the past two weeks as Knight Riders, at one point seemingly out of contention, reeled off eight consecutive victories to qualify for the final.
"We are not victimizing him in any way," Muirhead stated. "Like all the players, he was aware of the stipulation under the NOC (No Objection Clause) well in advance."
The NOC released West Indies players for the IPL with the stipulation that they would be available no later than one week before a Test series. The camp, currently held in Barbados, wraps up on June 3. It is, according to Muirhead, the opportunity for "meaningful practice and developing the team ethic".
Predictably, Mysore acknowledged that Knight Riders wanted Narine to stay and play the final.
"He has been a vital cog in our team since he joined us in 2012," Mysore said. "He is the leading wicket-taker in IPL 2014 with 20 wickets but, just as importantly, he has been a tremendous team man."
Mysore said the franchise, owned by Bollywood superstar Shahrukh Khan, has undertaken to fly Narine back by the fastest available flights should the WICB alter its position. He estimated that he could join the West Indies squad by June 3, five days before the first Test.
Such a scenario now seems unlikely.
Without Narine, West Indies would be short of a key bowler who has made his reputation principally in the shorter versions of the game (he is ranked No.3 in ODIs and No.2 in T20 Internationals by the ICC), but who has 18 of his 23 Test wickets against New Zealand, in two matches in the Caribbean in 2012 and one in New Zealand last December.
Off-spinner Shane Shillingford, returning from his second clearance following suspension for an illegal delivery, and left-arm spinner Sulieman Benn, who played the last of his 17 Tests almost three-and-a-half years ago, are the other spinners in the squad.
Tony Cozier has written about and commentated on cricket in the Caribbean for 50 years