Sunil Narine produced one of the IPL's best-ever individual performances in Monday's eliminator but West Indies will resist the temptation to parachute him into their squad for the upcoming men's T20 World Cup ahead of the ICC's deadline on Friday.
Narine took 4 for 21 - including the wickets of Virat Kohli, AB de Villiers and Glenn Maxwell - to restrict Royal Challengers Bangalore to 138 for 7 in Sharjah, before hitting the first three legal balls he faced for six as a pinch-hitting No. 5 to ensure Kolkata Knight Riders' progress to the second Qualifier against Delhi Capitals on Wednesday. Since the IPL's resumption in the UAE, he has taken 11 wickets in eight matches, conceding 6.12 runs per over.
But Narine has not played international cricket since August 2019 for a variety of reasons and missed the cut for West Indies' T20 World Cup squad when it was announced last month after failing to meet the board's minimum fitness criteria. Roger Harper, the lead selector, said at the time: "Sunil Narine is a great miss for a team like this in a tournament like this. Any team would miss having a bowler of that quality in the team but… [he] did not make our fitness standards."
Speaking from the team's base in Dubai on Tuesday, Kieron Pollard, West Indies' captain and a close friend of Narine's, refused to be drawn further on Narine's non-inclusion but indicated that there would not be any changes to the 15-man squad, barring injury or illness. "That has been explained," Pollard said. "If I add my two cents or my words on how his non-inclusion came about, then it could be spun - just like how he's bowling on these Sharjah wickets - in all different directions. Let's deal with the fifteen guys that we have here at this moment in time, which is more important, and see if we can rally around these guys and see if we can defend our title.
"I have no comments on that. Enough has been said on that. I think persons have explained the reason of his non-inclusion at this point in time. For me personally, I know Sunil Narine as a friend first, before an international cricketer. We grew up playing cricket together. He is a world-class cricketer."
'Looking forward to having a fit Russell'
Narine's KKR team-mate Andre Russell, has not played a game in the IPL since September 26 due to injury. Eoin Morgan, the franchise's captain, said last week that Russell was "pushing hard" to be fit for the playoffs and he has resumed training, but was not fit enough to play a part in the win against Royal Challengers. Pollard said he hoped to have "a fit Andre Russell" for the World Cup, but said clarity was unlikely until he joined up with the West Indies camp.
"Before I make any assumptions as to what he can or he can't do, we need to do our assessment first as a team," Pollard said. "We haven't had the opportunity to see him. We've gotten reports as to what he has done. I wouldn't want to get into trying to say what he can or can't do at this point in time.
"He's a critical person for our team and we'd love for him to be 100%, but we have to deal with what's in front of us. Let's see what happens over the next couple of days. KKR have another game tomorrow and then, if they get through to the final, on Friday. When we see him as a management staff, we'll be able to assess and ascertain what he can or can't do, but we're looking forward to having a fit Andre Russell if possible."
Pollard will be taking part in his first World Cup - in either 50-overs or T20 cricket - since the 2014 World T20, having missed the 2015 and 2019 tournaments due to non-selection and the 2016 edition with an injury. He admitted that he has struggled at times this year while travelling from one bubble to another and called for more "attention" to be paid to cricketers' mental health, while voicing his support for Chris Gayle's recent decision to take a short break between the IPL and the start of the World Cup.
"[Gayle's] recharge was just like those iPhones," Pollard said. "When the battery is low and struggling, you want to get some energy into you. In all seriousness, this bubble life is very, very difficult at times. Guys have moved straight from playing the home series, into CPL, then into IPL and into a World Cup. Sometimes you need a break as a cricketer and as an individual and I don't think enough attention is being placed on mental health for sportsmen and us cricketers at this time with all this bubble [life].
"I'm fighting. I'm trying to look beyond certain things. As an individual, sometimes it tends to get to you, not being able to be free, leaving one tournament and going straight into the next. It's a bit difficult at times [but] we have a job at hand. We have something very, very important coming up in the next couple of weeks and it's something that we as a team are looking forward to.
"As the leader of the team, I try to gear myself and get myself in the best shape and the best order mentally, physically and emotionally, so I can lead to the best of my ability. I look forward to this World Cup. Obviously I haven't played a World Cup in a long time, so I think that's my motivating factor. To be able to come and represent the West Indies in a major tournament is something that I'm looking forward to, and hopefully we can put everything aside and turn out some very, very good performances."