Kolkata Knight Riders were dealt a killer blow ahead of their 2017 IPL campaign when Andre Russell was suspended for a year as a result of whereabouts clause violation. Their home ground, the Eden Gardens, was slowly changing from a spinner’s paradise to a flat deck where high totals were a norm than just an exception.
KKR sought to make up for Russell’s big hitting in the death overs by maximizing the Powerplay overs and brought in Chris Lynn, who was with the franchise for three years, but had played just a handful of games without much success. Incidentally, Lynn was known for his big hitting exploits for Brisbane Heat in the BBL. The move paid immediate dividend when Lynn hit an unbeaten 93 off 41 balls in a ten-wicket win against Gujarat Lions. But KKR endured another setback when Lynn suffered from a shoulder injury after two games into the season that ruled him out for a sizeable number of games.
KKR’s management then thought out of the box and promoted Sunil Narine to the opening slot, considering his hitting prowess against spin and the ability to hit inside-out with the field restrictions around. In his first match as an opener in the IPL, Narine hit 37 off 18 balls, helping KKR chase down 171 in under 17 overs in Mohali. Narine delivered often in the season and kept his spot at the top of the order, adding another bow to his illustrious CV in the T20 circuit. KKR finished the 2017 season with a run rate of 9.40 in the first six overs – the highest ever by a team in a season in 12 years of IPL.
Highest run rate in first six overs in a season (until IPL 2019)
Narine hit gold in the following season in the IPL, hitting 357 runs in 16 innings at a strike rate of 189.89, as KKR plundered quick runs at the top. Narine won the MVP award for the season for his exploits at the top of the order and his 17 wickets with his spin bowling. He continued to open the innings for teams in various other franchises, but couldn’t quite replicate the hitting form which he displayed in the IPL, despite him facing similar number of balls on an average per every innings.
Narine as opener in T20 cricket (IPL 2017 – CPL 2020)
The success behind the move was based on how quickly he got off the blocks. In 33 innings he opened in the IPL until the 2019 edition, he scored at 185 runs per 100 balls, hitting a boundary every 2.8 balls in the Powerplay overs. In the T20s outside of IPL, he managed to strike at only 138, with a balls to boundary ratio of 4.1.
Within the Powerplay, Narine’s strength was hitting the spinners. In the IPL, he faced at least one ball from the spinners in 64% of his innings compared to 55% in T20s outside of the tournament. Narine’s strike rate against spin in the Powerplay in the IPL read 246, while outside of the tournament he scored at less than half of that (122).
Coming back to the IPL in 2017, Narine kept his place as an opener when Lynn returned towards the end of the season, with Gautam Gambhir dropping to one down. In the first match the duo opened together, they hit 105/0 in the Powerplay against RCB in Bengaluru – the most runs scored in the first six overs in the tournament’s history. The Narine-Lynn pair was idiosyncratic in the sense that Narine was a proficient hitter of spin while Lynn struggled against spin and was much better versus pace. They complimented well as a pair and had immense success for KKR at the top of the order.
Narine as opener in IPL – With & without Lynn
|Partner||Inngs||Runs||Avg||SR||% of balls vs spin|
The opposition captains were tricked into bowling spin at the start against Lynn which played into the hands of Narine. In the 25 innings Narine opened with Lynn in the IPL, he received 24.6% of deliveries from the spinners (one in every four balls), while in the 11 innings he opened with Gambhir or Shubman Gill, the percentage of balls received from the spinners came down to 11.6% (one in every nine balls).
With time, Opposition teams have figured out Narine’s weakness against pace bowling – high speeds (140+ kph) and holding the length back. His strike rate dips considerably against the above two aspects, leading to his dismissal. Narine’s numbers as an opener in the IPL has taken a dip since the start of 2019, precisely because of the above factors.
Narine as opener in IPL
In the three matches that Narine opened with Gill in the IPL 2020, he has compiled just 24 runs off 26 balls at a strike rate of 92.30, and he hasn’t faced a singe ball from the spinners. Opposition teams have targeted him with high pace and hard lengths, with the likes of James Pattinson, Khaleel Ahmed and Jofra Archer bowling to him. Of the 26 balls he has faced so far this IPL, none of them were bowled on a full length.
Is Narine’s time up as an opener?
The ‘surprise’ factor was the key point behind Narine’s initial success as an opener. It took a while for the opposition sides to figure out what exactly worked to his advantage. But once they figured it out, Narine’s success has come down drastically. From succeeding once in four-five innings, the success rate has come down to one in every nine-ten innings. KKR has to take this fact into account and use him at the top more judiciously for the simple fact that when he comes off, it can put the opposition on the backfoot for the rest of the innings.
One way of doing that is by making him open against teams that don’t have high pace at their disposal, or when a big Powerplay is imperative (for instance, in a 200 plus chase). He can even be deployed for his prowess against spin in the middle overs – the phase where teams are likely to bowl spin a lot more (nearly 80% of overs from the spinners in this IPL have been between overs 7 to 15). We have already seen in the ongoing tournament that when teams play just five bowlers, the attack would have less flexibility (for instance, CSK have played just five bowlers, and 22 off the 24 overs from the spinners have come in the middle overs, despite them conceding at 10.09 per over).
KKR next play Delhi Capitals at Sharjah on Saturday and they would be tempted to give Narine one more go at the top of the order with short, straight boundaries coming into play. But the fact that Delhi have Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortje at their disposal would be at the back of KKR think-tank’s mind. (Cricbuzz)