After coming unstuck in the dying moments twice in two games, Trinidad & Tobago produced a bowling performance of almost indescribable variety to keep their Champions League campaign afloat. Leading the gang of spinning assortments today was Sunil Narine, modestly classified as a purveyor of right-arm offbreaks by ESPNcricinfo. Anyone who saw Narine operate against Chennai Super Kings would consider that an outrageous understatement.
For a mystery spinner, Narine's bowling action is daringly open. He holds the ball high over his head in his right hand as he gets into delivery stride, giving the batsman a good view of his grip. The deception begins right there: there's little in his grip to suggest what he is doing with the ball. His finger positioning variations are so subtle, and his release so quick, that the TV commentators could only guess what he was up to, even after watching slow-motion replays. The home batsmen fared much worse, on a pitch so dead that it began to haunt them.
Under the conditions, T&T's score of 123 was competitive, and Narine sensed his kill straight away. M Vijay's propensity to swing across the line compulsively made him easy prey, and Narine needed only three flat offbreaks on the stumps to get past him.
Suresh Raina then succumbed to a more evolved three-card trick. The first one was the sliding offbreak, which Raina played inside the line of. In his next over, Narine produced his mystery delivery - a cross between the Mendis-Ashwin carom ball and the orthodox legbreak. Delivered with a loose wrist, the ball was released with a corkscrew twist of two fingers that made it grip, turn into the left-hander and bounce disconcertingly. Raina lunged forward and drove loosely to get an inside edge. He was had the next ball, playing early to a tossed up delivery outside off, clearly concerned that he hadn't picked which way it was going to turn.
Narine then squared up S Badrinath with the legbreak, and nearly had him lbw with an offbreak before training his guns on MS Dhoni. The man who tamed Muttiah Muralitharan with consummate authority in the World Cup final was reduced to meek pokes and dabs from the crease. Dhoni stabbed unconvincingly at a couple of the mystery legbreaks, before scooping a full delivery right back to Narine and end his agonising stay. Narine finished with figures of 4-0-8-3 - his victims being CSK's three best Indian batsmen - exceptional work, even on a sluggish track.
"I call it [the variation] the knuckle ball," Narine revealed later. "In Trinidad we play wind-ball [tennis ball] cricket, and you look to spin that ball. I decided to do it in practice one day and it wasn't working out that well. But I kept practising and it came out as a good ball."
Narine's nonchalant explanation was par for the course, since unconventional variations are a way of life in this T&T attack. Samuel Badree once again rolled out four overs of unhittable googlies and straighter ones to finish with an economy rate of 3.50; Kevon Cooper backed up his batting heroics with a series of offcutters and backspinners that kept catching Dhoni and co by surprise; Ravi Rampaul had an ordinary day, but made the most important incision when he got Mike Hussey edging, and Sherwin Ganga managed to keep the in-form Dwayne Bravo quiet enough.
Hussey said the variable bounce on the track undid CSK's chase, and revealed that Narine's action remained indecipherable. "A few of our batsmen found it difficult to read which way he was turning the ball," Hussey said. "Sometimes it is difficult if you haven't seen much of a bowler before, especially in T20 where you need to keep the run-rate going.
"If we play against him more we'll get used to his action and which way he's turning the ball a lot more. Much like Ajantha Mendis when he first came on, he was very difficult to read. But then after a while, batsmen start to read him a bit better."
Given the factory line of spinning talent T&T has produced in recent years, though, Hussey and his mates might be faced with a new set of mystery-men the next time they run into them.
Nitin Sundar is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo