Match Analysis

Something's missing, but Sunil Narine keeps finding a way

The intense scrutiny of his action has taken away the big turn, but he's reinvented himself and remains hugely influential

Alagappan Muthu
Alagappan Muthu
The Mohawk is still there. The bling too. And those full sleeves? Yeah, he probably wears them in the shower. Everything that makes Sunil Narine makes him box-office.
But there's something missing.
He remains one of the Kolkata Knight Riders' go-to bowlers. An architect of wickets and victories. The one he took on Thursday night was crucial to an all-round performance that keeps the play-off dream alive.
But there's something missing.
He came on to bowl as early as the third over against Mumbai Indians. In his third over, the 10th of the innings, he brought down Rohit Sharma.
But there's something missing.
The wicket was the result of extra bounce. Rohit had set up to slog-sweep a ball that got big on him and ended up caught at long-on.
But there's something mis--that's it!
Why is Narine relying on something as subtle as extra bounce?
Think back. Back to 2012, when Kolkata Knight Riders signed this miracle worker for more than 10 times his base price. Back to those times that no one knew how, if and which way the ball would turn. There's this curly-haired chap who always hangs out in the Mumbai dugout these days. Ask him about how he once tried to play a cover drive to a ball a bolt of lightning that ripped right through and cuh-lean bowled him.
Narine was in his first over that night in 2013 when he made Sachin Tendulkar look like he didn't belong. He was a spinner at the top of his game. A magician in whose hands the ball went from being just a piece of leather into a force of nature.
All that has changed now. The crippling scrutiny on his bowling action - he has run into trouble at both IPL level and higher - has forced Narine to let go of some of his tricks. And it's been tough. Perhaps even overwhelming. Why else would a player of his quality choose to withdraw from a World Cup?
There are those who are skeptical of the ICC and the way they police suspect actions. Saqlain Mushtaq, for one, has often wondered how the 15-degree flex rule even came to be. And Mohammad Hafeez thinks there's something fishy in the way some bowlers keep getting called up repeatedly and some just aren't.
Narine couldn't be bothered with conspiracy theories. Like Joey if he could no longer say 'how you doin' or Courage if he could no longer be the cowardly dog, he had to find a way to reinvent himself. And so this new avatar was born.
In the 2012 IPL, because of the way his balls turned big, turned quick and turned in every which way, he generated a false shot roughly once every three deliveries. Nine years later, relying on subtlety rather than mystery, Narine remains a nuisance, drawing a false shot once every four deliveries.
This is how he was able to bounce back from conceding 11 off his first over to giving up just four, three and two (plus a leg bye) off his next three overs, while dismissing Rohit and sucking precious momentum out of a Mumbai innings that had gotten off to a flier.
"I'm coming off a good amount of cricket," Narine said while picking up the Player-of-the-Match award, "The Hundred, CPL and out here. It's been a while since I've played so much cricket and I'm happy to be playing as much as possible. I've put a lot of work into my action and it's getting better and better. So just to be able to continue the good work and hopefully I can get in good performances that contribute to my team's victory."
But there's something missing.
And it's okay. Because although Narine at his peak was an absolute spectacle, the one we have now might be just as good. He is a reminder that no matter what comes your way, you just never give up.

Alagappan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo