IPL 2024: Against RCB, Sunil Narine turns clock back to 2017 | Cricket

Missing was the hattrick of sixes followed by a boundary but Sunil Narine did come close. He hit Yash Dayal for two fours and a six, turning the clock back to a May evening in 2017 when IPL was still coming to terms with the idea of Narine opening the batting.

Kolkata Knight Riders' Sunil Narine plays a shot during the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2024 T20 cricket match between Royal Challengers Bengaluru and Kolkata Knight Riders(PTI)
Kolkata Knight Riders’ Sunil Narine plays a shot during the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2024 T20 cricket match between Royal Challengers Bengaluru and Kolkata Knight Riders(PTI)

That night, a Narine hurricane had swept aside Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB). It fetched what remains his best score against the team, 54 off 17 balls with four sixes and six fours. Narine’s 15-ball 50 was then the fastest in IPL history; it is the fourth fastest now.

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“Guys did not take me as seriously as now,” Narine had said of his batting in an interview to the Kolkata Knight Riders’ (KKR) website. Along with Chris Lynn, KKR had amassed 105/0 in the powerplay. No team had scored as many till Saturday.

Seven seasons and a name change later – they are now Royal Challengers Bengaluru – Narine did an encore. Well, almost. In his 500th T20 match – only Dwayne Bravo, Kieron Pollard and Shoaib Malik have played more – Narine made 47 off 22 balls with two fours, five sixes and a strike rate of 213.64. Like in 2017, he was Player-of-the-Match on Friday. It was his fourth against the franchise.

“Hopefully, there are 500 more to come,” Narine, the epitome of sangfroid, said at the post-match presentation. “After what Sunil Narine did, I just wanted to carry on the momentum,” said Venkatesh Iyer after KKR, replying to RCB’s 182/6, won by seven wickets in 16.5 overs. Chasing 159 in 2017, KKR had won in 15.1 overs.

Narine has a better batting record against RCB than other franchises. In 11 innings, he has scored 279 runs at an average of 31 and a strike rate of 195.10. His IPL average is 14.04 and strike rate 160.79.

It was in 2017 when Melbourne Renegades and then KKR took the punt on a left-hander named after Sunil Gavaskar, one who has said in a KKR video that he began taking batting seriously after the death of his father who was a big fan of the India legend.

Such was the jaw-dropping assault, in Chris Gayle’s lair no less, that Narine had said it surprised him as well. Narine had opened in nine of KKR’s 10 games going into the away fixture. He had scored 42 off 17 balls against Gujarat Lions, 37 against Kings XI Punjab (that was the first time Narine opened in IPL) in 18 balls and 34 against RCB in 17. If he had gone to Bengaluru with a burgeoning reputation, that night he burnished it.

Samuel Badree tempted Narine with flight in the fourth over and was hit for three sixes. When the leg-spinner dropped it short, he was hit for four at midwicket. RCB opted for pace in the next over but Sreenath Aravind hadn’t got the memo and gave Narine width on off-stump. He was hit for three successive fours. Narine brought up his 50 with a swing over long-on for six and followed that up with a boundary through cover.

Batting on five at the end of the third over, Narine had faced all 14 balls in the next two, including two wides, and scored 49 runs. “I try to keep it simple,” he had said in 2017. He still does.

Narine’s highest IPL score of 75, off 36 balls, came against KXIP in 2018 but a lot has happened since. Mainly diminishing returns. Of his IPL tally of 1095 runs, 778 have come as opener – as per ESPNCricinfo Narine has batted in all positions – but as bowlers cramped him for space and tested him with short balls, Narine struggled. Explains why Kevin Pietersen said on commentary on Friday that he wasn’t sure Narine opening was a good idea.

KKR used him once as opener in 2023 but then Gautam Gambhir’s back as mentor and has let the world know how much of what he learnt from Narine. When Narine walked out with Phil Salt against Sunrisers Hyderabad on March 23, it was the second time in 20 games that he was opening. Batting was easier in the second innings, Iyer said, so what Eden Gardens couldn’t see because of a run out, Bengaluru did.

But it was yesterday-once-more with a difference. Narine dug out Mohammed Siraj’s yorker and short balls from Yash Dayal and Alzarri Joseph didn’t bother him; he hit them for sixes. As he did when Siraj tried a slower ball. After the match, Narine spoke of “encouragement” from the support staff and “hard work” that fetched runs “after a while.”

It’s early in the IPL season but KKR’s longest-serving players, Caribbean lodestars Andre Russell and Narine, have set down markers with bat and ball.


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