There was a time, not so long ago, when international batsmen were forced to concede that Sri Lanka's Muttiah Muralitharan was border on unhittable in limited-overs cricket.
An impeccable length and exquisite control complemented the off-spinner's dazzling variations to such an extent, that opposing teams reluctantly adopted an approach based on self-preservation against Muralitharan. Even the bullish and all-conquering Australians of the early 2000s looked elsewhere in the Sri Lankan attack for their targets.
It was, perhaps, the first instance of a slow bowler owning a vice-like grip over the frenetic pace of the modern limited-overs formats.
Three years on from Muralitharan's international retirement, Sunil Narine is following in the Sri Lankan's footsteps, bewildering opponents in a format that, just five years ago, was associated exclusively with high-impact, full-throttle performers.
Indeed, no player quite represents the dramatic shift that has occurred in Twenty20 cricket in recent seasons like Narine. His unorthodox action is symbolic of the times. His ability to turn the ball in both directions is considered the new benchmark in finger-spin bowling. His penchant for stifling opponents is unmatched.
In Narine, T20 bowling has its prototypical executant.
Never has that fact been on show to a greater extent than at the recent ICC World Twenty20. At a time when experienced T20 seamers like Umar Gul and Mitchell Starc were operating at economy rates above nine runs per over, the cool West Indian ran at a figure almost half of that, epitomising the game's shift.
In the ever-evolving T20 landscape, there's also a compellingly indomitable aura surrounding the deceptive 25-year-old. While his methods defy the principles of the West Indies' exalted past, there's a delightfully throwback feel to Narine's presence. Like the disposition that belonged to names such as Brian Lara, Richie Richardson and Carl Hooper, there's a burning fire within Narine that is hidden by a nonchalant exterior.
It's a blend that is weaving magic at present, with Narine following up an impressive campaign in Bangladesh with further stifling performances in the ongoing Indian Premier League.
April Performance Summary:
|Figures||Opponent||Match Type||Venue||Match Dates|
|0/20||Sri Lanka||T20I||Dhaka||Apr. 3|
|4/20||Mumbai||IPL||Abu Dhabi||Apr. 16|
|3/24||Punjab||IPL||Abu Dhabi||Apr. 26|
|0/28||Rajasthan||IPL||Abu Dhabi||Apr. 29|
After a stellar World T20 tournament, Narine arrived at this season's IPL with arguably the most lofty status of any bowler in the competition. In an event based largely on reputations and exorbitant dollar figures, such a stature can burden a player in the heat of India's spotlight.
Any sign of that weight of expectation was non-existent in the West Indian's opening performance at the tournament, as the deceptive spinner claimed 4/20 from four overs to seal victory for the Kolkata Knight Riders over the reigning champion Mumbai Indians in the opening match of the competition.
Narine utilised his seemingly undetectable "carrom ball" to make the struggling Michael Hussey look rather foolish in the early stages, before doing much the same to Ambati Rayudu upon his return to the attack to have the right-hander easily stumped.
Those wickets were followed in quick succession by the scalps of Corey Anderson and Harbhajan Singh, both of whom were comprehensively undone by Narine's variations to leave the Mumbai batting line-up in disarray in its chase of Kolkata's 163-5.
Despite a vast collection of sublime spells across the duration of April, this was comfortably Narine's finest effort with the ball.
Outlook For May:
|Opponent||Match Type||Venue||Match Dates|
Narine will look to continue enforcing his stranglehold over the world's best T20 batsmen for the remainder of the IPL in May, as the Knight Riders look to reclaim the form that propelled the franchise to tournament glory in 2012—the year of Narine's arrival.
Having already quelled two of the three most explosive line-ups in the competition in Bangalore and Punjab, it seems unlikely that opposing batsmen are ready to decipher the West Indian's riddles, ensuring that Narine will remain a decisive figure in this year's event.
Perhaps only the extravagant Glenn Maxwell can prevent Narine from claiming a second IPL Man of the Series award in three seasons.