Saurabh Somani is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo
We look at the six most impactful players in the history of the IPL using ESPNcricinfo's Smart Stats tool (min qualification of 60 matches). Also check out ranks No. 6 and No. 5
When Sunil Narine was bought for US$ 700,000 in the 2012 IPL auction, it felt like Kolkata Knight Riders had overpaid for a player who was, till then, only a promising talent. Hindsight has shown they got him for a steal for he would have been worth more for his bowling alone. Add to it his value as an opener and Narine now makes it to any conversation about T20's greatest players.
He is one of only two bowlers to bowl more than 400 overs while conceding runs at less than seven per over, and he has achieved this economy rate while maintaining a very good average and strike rate.
The average IPL match performance of Narine the opener is 21 runs off 11 balls and Narine the bowler is figures of 1 for 26 in 3.5 overs. While these numbers are great, they are enhanced when you look at the context in which he got them. He began opening the innings in the IPL three years ago and has a strike rate of 183.90 at the top, higher than any other opener since 2017 by a distance. Among those who have opened in at least ten IPL innings in this period, Jos Buttler is a distant second with 157.96.
With the ball, 51% of Narine's total deliveries in the IPL have been bowled either in the Powerplays (27%) or the last four overs (24%). In both these periods, his economy rate is second (among bowlers who have bowled at least 50 overs in each phase). It is common for spinners to bowl a large chunk of their overs in the middle of the innings, but that isn't the case with Narine.
Narine is perhaps not as glamorous a name as other T20 superstars like Chris Gayle, Andre Russell or AB de Villiers, but according to Smart Stats, he has been the most impactful player in a match once every 7.9 games, which is fourth-best among all players who have played at least 60 IPL matches.
Here are a couple of instances to illustrate his impact.
Towards the end of the league phase of the 2018 season, with a playoff spot on the line, Narine led the Kolkata Knight Riders to victory against the Sunrisers Hyderabad with understated brilliance. His 1 for 23 in four overs had a higher bowling impact than Prasidh Krishna's 4 for 30, and his 29 off ten balls upstaged half-centuries from Shikhar Dhawan and Chris Lynn.
Those watching intuitively knew that Narine had been the central figure in the game, and Smart Stats puts numbers to that intuition.
Sunrisers had made a handy 172 for 9 after winning the toss, the bulk of the scoring done by their top three. Dhawan came good, Shreevats Goswami played an attacking cameo, and Kane Williamson - playing his best IPL season - outdid them both. Narine bowled 18 of his 24 balls at the top three, who combined to score at only a run a ball from him while scoring at nearly ten an over against other bowlers in that period. Despite that, Narine conceded less than a run a ball in a match where no other bowler did the same (minimum two overs bowled). Three of Krishna's four wickets came in the last over, which is significantly different from taking three wickets, say, in the powerplay.
Narine gave KKR a good start to their chase too. He was out in the fourth over, but by then he had brought the asking rate down from 8.65 to 7.41. He scored at a strike rate of almost 300 in a match in which only one other player (Williamson) even crossed 150. Dhawan and Lynn's half-centuries were valuable, but Smart Stats puts into perspective Narine's contributions: his match impact of 132.78 was more than 70% higher than that of the next best performer - Williamson with 77.53.
While Smart Stats illuminates how effective Narine has been when it's not immediately obvious from the scorecard, it can also paint a picture of his dominance when he has been a clear match-winner. Take the 2017 match between KKR and Royal Challengers in Bengaluru, the first time Narine hit a half-century in senior competitive cricket. He had taken 2 for 29 and was now opening the batting, chasing a target of 159. In 6.1 overs, KKR put on 105, with Narine thumping 54 off 17 balls. He made his big-hitting opening partner, Lynn (50 off 22), look slow.
Narine was among the top three batsmen and the top two bowlers in the game. His batting impact of 93.49 was considerably higher than that of Lynn (81.07) and Travis Head, who was the top scorer in the match with an unbeaten 75 off 47 balls (impact 89.67). Umesh Yadav was the best bowler, with 3 for 36, which included the wickets of Gayle and Virat Kohli, and had a bowling impact of 112.85. Narine was second, with a bowling impact of 87.41. Any one performance on its own would have been noteworthy but together they were priceless.