Bowler Sunil Narine, Kolkata Knight Riders’ trump card and the reason why the franchise won the IPL twice in the last three years, has been banned by the BCCI from bowling off-spin. Can he bounce back from here?
So off-spinner Sunil Narine can no longer bowl his off-breaks. He’s allowed to bowl the ‘knuckle ball’ and the ‘quicker, straight ball’, but without his stock delivery, he becomes one-dimensional. His IPL is all but over.
Narine had been Kolkata Knight Riders’ (KKR’s) trump card. He’s the reason why the franchise won the title twice in the last three years. He mesmerised the batters with his guile, err, mystery, and made life easier for his team. A tally of 21 wickets in 16 matches at an economy rate of 6.35 last term was an outstanding performance. In 2012, when KKR had won it for the first time, Narine took 24 wickets from 15 matches at an economy rate of 5.40. There had always been a hint of suspicion though. His bent arm raised many an eyebrow. His luck eventually ran out.
Forget IPL, Narine’s international career is at the crossroads. At 26 years of age, it’s probably a little too late to change his action altogether or become a bowler of a different genre. Can he bounce back from here? This is a massive test of character.
Narine had been reported earlier, ahead of the Champions League T20 final in October last year. A ban ensued. The off-spinner subsequently went to the ICC-accredited Loughborough centre and got himself cleared. It begs a couple of questions: why did he withdraw himself from the West Indies World Cup squad even after being cleared at Loughborough? Was he unsure? The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) had enough reason to put him through a retest ahead of the IPL. Then again, it leads to a different question. Narine was okayed—all his deliveries—at Sri Ramachandra Arthroscopy and Sports Sciences Centre (SRASSC) in Chennai and given the go-ahead to play the IPL. About three weeks down the line, the same institute found his off-breaks illegal. Why?
“This can happen. Your college exam result can be different from your job performance. About three weeks ago, when he came here, we found his off-breaks within the permissible limit of 15 degrees. This time, he transgressed. Video evidence corroborates our findings,” an SRASSC source, who was part of the testing process, said.
Maybe there’s no point going into the technical nitty-gritties at the moment. The official decision is that Narine can’t bowl his off-breaks until he’s undergoing a proper course correction. If he tries to bowl it again, he would be suspended straightaway.
So what next? KKR management has extended its support to the beleaguered spinner, which is expected. But it would be interesting to see if they retain the Trinidadian next season.
Make no mistake, KKR have enough backup options to make up for the loss. Brad Hogg, the 44-year-old Australian chinaman bowler, has responded to the challenge magnificently, taking five wickets in the two matches he played so far. The defending IPL champions also have Johan Botha, Kuldeep Yadav and KC Cariappa in the dug-out. In any case, it’s not about KKR or their problems. It’s about a bowler who’s facing a very uncertain future. Narine is in trouble and needs help. But does he deserve sympathy? No.
The rehab process first, and Narine has the provision. “Mr Narine may undergo a course of bowling rehabilitation and take corrective measures to ensure that his action does not contravene Law 24 and may then request a further official assessment by the committee,” said a press release issued by the BCCI. Good to see that the bowler has decided to stay back in Chennai and is working at the university lab in earnest.
It would, however, be grossly unfair to make Narine a tragic hero. Law 24.3 says: “A ball is fairly delivered in respect of the arm if, once the bowler’s arm has reached the level of the shoulder in the delivery swing, the elbow joint is not straightened partially or completely from that point until the ball has left the hand. The definition shall not debar a bowler from flexing or rotating the wrist in the delivery swing”. In 2004, the International Cricket Council (ICC) set the 15 degrees limit for all bowlers. Narine breached the barrier and is facing consequences. Allowing him special privileges for star-value’s sake would have been an insult to those who are putting in honest efforts.
Graeme Swann had 255 Test wickets, bowling classical off-spinners. Ravi Ashwin didn’t have to bend his arm for his 119 Test and 133 ODI wickets. Narine, on the other hand, has had an average international record with 21 wickets in six Tests and 73 scalps in 52 ODIs. He revelled in his role as a T20 mercenary. His flaws were found because ICC came down hard on suspect illegal actions. It was long overdue. Better late than never.
This is Narine’s moment of reckoning. He looked a lesser bowler in the five IPL matches he played this year. Only two wickets at an economy rate of 7.35 attest his reduced effectiveness. Across the border, Saeed Ajmal has been going through similar travails. He went to Bangladesh with a remodelled action and finished with 0/74 in the first ODI. Ajmal improved in the second game, taking 1/49 in 9.1 overs. But he looked a shadow of his former self.
Pragyan Ojha, too, is struggling. He was ordinary in the two first-class matches he played with a remodelled action. In the IPL opener against KKR, the Mumbai Indians spinner leaked runs aplenty and was relegated to the bench.
Narine is fighting huge odds.