IPL 2017: For Sunil Narine the message was clear, ‘see and swing’

For Sunil Narine the message was clear, ‘see and swing’

With ball, Narine turns the tap off on Punjab’s run flow; with bat, he wreaks havoc as a surprise opener

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The Sunil surprise
Chris Lynn had been the surprise pick to open the innings for Kolkata in their IPL 10 opener. The Aussie steamrolled Gujarat Lions with a 41-ball 93 not out. Lynn’s shoulder injury in the last game, however, had left the position vacant for Robin Uthappa to return to his customary slot. Chasing 171 for victory against Punjab at Eden Gardens on Thursday, Gautam Gambhir came out with Sunil Narine instead.
Not that opening is new to Narine. He did the job for Melbourne Renegades against Melbourne Stars and scored a 13-ball 21 in the last edition of the Big Bash League. But given that Punjab played with four fast bowlers on an Eden pitch that offered extra pace, Narine’s promotion redefined bravery; especially in front of 55,000 fans. The move turned out to be a masterstroke.
The brief was clear – see and swing. Well, the pinch-hitter swung and missed on a few occasions but he was completely unfazed. When the ball was in the hitting range, he just went full tilt, making 37 off 18 balls with four fours and three sixes. He added 76 runs with his skipper for the first wicket in just 5.4 overs and the game had been done and dusted.
From Kolkata’s perspective, it was important to neutralise Sandeep Sharma in his opening spell. Narine hit him for a six and two fours in his second over. Glenn Maxwell tried his off-spin against the left-hander and was smashed for back-to-back boundaries. Varun Aaron was sent five rows back over long-on for consecutive sixes and a four to the backward square leg fence. Punjab clearly didn’t expect this. They looked rattled and gave in. An in-form Gambhir didn’t let the momentum slip after Narine’s departure. In fact, he ensured a cakewalk with a 49-ball 72 not out – his 33rd half-century in the IPL, joint highest with David Warner. Gambhir batted with grace but Narine ran away with the Man-of-the-Match award for his all-round display. He had been miserly with his bowling, finishing with one for 19 in four overs.
Umesh returns in style
It happened very fast. Umesh Yadav bowled a back-of-length delivery. Maxwell made room and tried to cut it past backward point. He had a faint tickle that the umpire seemingly didn’t hear. But Maxwell started to walk. Judging by the on-field acrimony during the India-Australia Test series, it bordered on the unthinkable. But the IPL is known for building bridges and the players indeed have moved on.
Umesh had missed Kolkata Knight Riders’ first two matches, recuperating from right hip soreness. His expensive first over at Eden Gardens had a bit to do with the rustiness and also his apparent discomfort at operating with a brand new ball. Umesh likes the ball to be a little older. So when Gambhir brought him back after the Powerplay, he had better rhythm. His final over proved to be the turning point of the match.
Punjab were 145 for four after 17 overs, nicely set up for a 180-plus total. David Miller started off with a six over deep-square followed by a four off an attempted yorker that was a little too full. Pressure on the fast bowler and he responded brilliantly. A low, and quick, full toss accounted for Miller, with Manish Pandey taking a very good catch at deep mid-wicket. Wriddhiman Saha, in delightful touch against spin, was beaten for pace and couldn’t clear Chris Woakes at mid-off despite offering the full face of the bat. Mohit Sharma averted the hat-trick with a single but Axar Patel was out next ball, deceived by a slower one, and lobbing a simple catch to Narine at cover. Umesh finished with four for 33 and Punjab’s 170 for nine was about 20 runs below par on this deck.
Fire-and-falter batting
An Eden Gardens press box air conditioner caught fire before the start of the match, causing a mini panic among the hacks. But it was minor enough to be dealt with a common fire extinguisher. On the field, Punjab started with fire, taking eight runs off Trent Boult’s first over. Manan Vohra was turning on the screws, revelling in his good fortune; Narine dropping a sitter at third man. He had raced to 28 off 17 balls, when Piyush Chawla, in for Kuldeep Yadav, was introduced into the attack. The leg-spinner started with a googly and Vohra played a poor shot, well away from his body, to be castled.
The fire-and-falter sequence was repeated three more times during Punjab’s innings. They missed a trick by not sending Saha at No. 3. Marcus Stoinis came instead — three different one-drop batsmen in three matches — and struggled against spin. Hashim Amla was going a little too slow for a T20 opener, but Maxwell attacked Chawla, taking a six and a couple of fours off his third over. The Punjab captain flattered to deceive, getting out at the wrong time.
Saha, too, took Chawla to the cleaners. The six over the straight boundary was top-class and another maximum over deep extra cover even better. He had the opportunity to take the game away from Kolkata on his ‘home’ patch, as also Miller. But they failed to carry on, allowing their opponents to bounce back. Kolkata’s catching was almost amateurish, their ground fielding shabby and they also conceded 16 extras (13 wides). Still the hosts managed to keep things under control because the Punjab batting lacked killer instinct.