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Match Analysis

Narine has a rare bad day at work, and Rajapaksa is to blame for it

In IPL matches where a batter has faced ten or more balls from Narine, Rajapaksa's 23 off 11 was the sixth-highest strike rate

Sidharth Monga
Sidharth Monga
01-Apr-2023
This is Sunil Narine's 12th IPL. Only nine times in all these years has he gone for 40 or more runs in a match. That event, rarer than once a season, has already happened in his first match of this IPL. Bhanuka Rajapaksa is to blame for it.
Narine, with Andre Russell, is the most loyal Kolkata Knight Riders player, and the team relies too heavily on him. Oppositions have started playing Narine out, and targeting weaker bowlers, which Knight Riders tend to provide enough of.
Last year, Narine took just nine wickets through the season, but he went at under a run a ball. His strike rate in every IPL since 2015 has been upwards of 20. The economy, though, has never touched eight.
Even though Varun Chakravarthy made a good start to his 2023 IPL season with figures of 1 for 26, the start of the tournament seems to have demanded more of Narine. He is no stranger to bowling inside the powerplay, but asked to stem a marauding start from the Punjab Kings batters, Narine was taken down inside the powerplay by Rajapaksa.
Narine bowled two dots to Rajapaksa in the fifth over to start with, and possibly felt the batter was itching to sweep. So he tried to block that shot, and brought mid-off in to send a fielder back on the sweep. Immediately, Rajapaksa told his captain and batting partner Shikhar Dhawan that if Narine gave it air, he was going to go down the track. He did exactly that.
Rajapaksa is an interesting hitter. He is known for his strike rate, but rarely does he use brute power. His favourite shots seem to be the flick and the chip. He made sure he didn't lose his shape when he went down the track the next two balls, and got two fours. Once over mid-off and then over extra cover. He went in the air but never looked like trying to hit a six.
Narine stuck to his guns, kept the field up, and denied Rajapaksa the sweep. But on the last ball of the over, Rajapaksa also unfurled some power, hitting a six, down the pitch and back over the bowler. This was only Narine's sixth over in the last three IPLs that had gone for 14 (or more).
He came back superbly to concede just four runs in the 18th over, but this was still a momentous occasion in the IPL for Narine - he was taken apart, conceding 40 in four overs.
And Rajapaksa didn't do it blindly. He said later that he gave himself some time because he remembered from the two practice matches in the pre-season that this Mohali pitch was not a belter.
In IPL matches where a batter has faced ten or more balls from Narine, Rajapaksa's 23 off 11 was the sixth-highest strike rate. There was nothing flashy about what Rajapaksa did, but the rarity of Narine having an off day goes against the grain of T20s, where batters will take risks, and they will come off more than once an IPL.
Rajapaksa might as well savour this because Narine won't be taken down often. If indeed he is, Knight Riders might be in for a lot of trouble.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo