IPL 2020: Will out-of-form Sunil Narine lose opener spot at KKR?
With KKR's pinch-hitter enduring a dip in form, his opening slot might be in danger for remaining matches
It has been a little over three years that Sunil Narine was promoted by Melbourne Renegades in the Big Bash League (BBL) in a surprise choice as an opener.
The idea to let Narine open was that of the then Renegades skipper and current Australia white-ball captain Aaron Finch. Before that game against Melbourne Stars, Narine had never opened, but Finch believed in Narine's ability as a pinch-hitter.
Narine surpassed all expectations and struck gold. He went berserk, making everyone run for cover.
Finch was thrilled that his experiment worked well.
"Most teams have got a pretty set formula in the first six overs that they go with. If we can make them change that, that's what it's about; trying to catch them off guard while they try to do the same to us. It's a bit of cat and mouse," Finch explained his strategy.
Very soon, Narine was opening in Indian Premier League (IPL) thanks to the then Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) captain Gautam Gambhir in 2017. In IPL 2017, in his very first stint as opener, Narine struck 37 off 18 balls, while sharing a 76-run opening stand with Gambhir against Kings XI Punjab.
"Some of the batters should be proud of the way Narine played. I need to take tips as to how to hit sixes. It takes a lot of pressure off my shoulders. I can keep rotating the strike and play as long as possible, knowing that someone would go hard each and every delivery at the other end," Gambhir had said then.
Some other players like Kings XI Punjab's then pacer Ishant Sharma were left surprised with Narine as opener.
"We were quite surprised. We did not know how he would bat. We were thinking about Robin Uthappa. When you see Narine, you did not know what's going to happen," Ishant said at the post-match news conference.
The strategy worked well then and it continued thereafter. Even India's champion white-ball player Yuvraj Singh seconded Gambhir's strategy.
In IPL 2017, Narine netted a total of 224 runs from 16 games with a strike rate of 172.30 and a best of 54.
Then, a year later, it got a lot better as he scored 357 runs from 16 matches at a strike rate of 189.89 with two half-centuries in 2018.
His best that year was 75. The returns have just got thinner since then as he scored just 143 runs from 12 games at a strike rate of 166.27 with no half-century in 2019.
The starts this year also have been not so encouraging as he scored just nine against Mumbai Indians and a duck against Sunrisers Hyderabad in Saturday's game at Abu Dhabi thereby suggesting that the surprise element is wearing off.
But despite dipping returns, KKR continue to believe in Narine's ability, even though his premier role as the mystery spinner is being slowly forgotten.
"The uncomplicated batting style of Narine makes things easy for us. As for Shubman, I'm sure he will exceed all expectations. He and Narine are a unique opening pair and something we are really proud to have," said KKR captain Dinesh Karthik.
It does suggest that Narine has complete support from the team management. But if Narine's form continues to dip, they will need to start looking at the more exciting natural opener, Tom Banton.
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