If you were thinking it was Kolkata Knight Riders all along to have unearthed the pinch-hitting side of Sunil Narine and ergo placing him at the top of the order in the batting lineup, you are wrong. Back in January 2017, Melbourne Renegades had left the crowd dumbstruck when Aaron Finch had walked in along with Narine. Until then, the highest position he ever batted at was No.5, four times in T20s. The move became so effective that KKR adopted it when Chris Lynn was ruled out of the 2017 IPL season with a freak shoulder injury in the second match. Narine scored 140 runs in 86 deliveries in that season at a run rate of 9.72 per over. And together with Lynn, the pair has been one of the most devastating opening combinations in IPL history, let alone T20. They scored 708 runs in the 26 times they have batted with the powerplay scoring rate being above 10.
What made Narine an effective opener was his ability to clear the inner ring during the powerplays, the phase when only two fielders can be stationed outside the 30-yard circle. Moreover, his hitting zone primarily centered around the long-on to long-off region. The word 'pinch-hitter' was used more often than ever since Narine's rise as a T20 opener. Narine's ability to give KKR an instant and a rock-solid start early in the game provided an opportunity for the No.3 and 4 to set up a big total before Andre Russell's entry at No.5. It seemed perfect for KKR.
But the follies have been called out against Narine. Throw in a spinner and Narine will smack you all around the park. Aske Samuel Badree. He averages 183 against spinners. In fact, it was one of the reasons why the Lynn-Narine combo worked so well for KKR. With Lynn being weak against spin, Narine came into play, and likewise against pacers when Lynn took over the scoring rate against the variety. This was the very reason why it became difficult for oppositions to assemble an attack in the powerplays to stop the devastation.
But throw in a pacer against Narine and he will struggle. And if the bowler is able to bowl shortish deliveries, you've got Narine. He has been dismissed 13 times in 75 deliveries against short balls, averaging only 7.77 and his strike rate against such deliveries falls as low as 134.6.
In the opener against Mumbai Indians, Narine faced seven short balls in his 10-ball stay at the crease, the seventh one being the dismissal ball. The only time that James Pattinson had slipped in a fullish and a slower ball, Narine picked it off his pads and dispatched it over deep square leg for a boundary. In the second game, against Sunrisers Hyderabad, he faced just two balls, both short from Khaleel Ahmed.
Even with the short balls, there is a particular line that works against Narine. For a right-arm bowler coming over the wicket, Narine needs to be bowled down that leg-stump line which leaves him lesser time to clear that front foot and make way for executing that pull shot. But this method can only work for bowlers with express pace like Jofra Archer or Navdeep Saini. For a medium pacer, Narine will see you at the boundary. For a left-armer, coming over the wicket, the dismissal delivery will be angled across to the leg side. Just like Jaydev Unadkat had done it on Wednesday. He left Narine with no room with that cutter that turned in, went under his swing willow and struck the leg stump.
What alternatives do KKR have?
Narine will be there in the KKR lineup given his bowling prowess. He has been the captain's go-to bowler since his joining in 2012.
Tom Banton is an option for KKR. He opens for England and has a decent strike rate. But for him to find a spot, KKR will have rest Eoin Morgan given that Andre Russell and Pat Cummins are a must in the lineup. Siddesh Lad is another option, along with Nikhil Naik. But fitting in an extra batsman will cost a place for a bowler, Varun Chakravarthy being the most likely.
But given the balance of the squad, KKR might persist with Narine for longer given a strong middle-order lineup to make up for the poor start.