"Unbelievable batting from Narine. He has done it for a couple of years now. We don't talk too much. Just keep it simple."
Chris Lynn said after Narine and him blasted Rajasthan in the last season while chasing 140. Narine made a 25-ball 47, gate-crashing the Sawai Mansingh stadium with some outrageous strokes to ease the pressure on Lynn.
The new year day of January 2017 was special for Narine. Sunil Narine walked out to open the batting for Melbourne Renegades on this day having never batted in the top four in his T20 career until that point. He had made just 382 runs in 195 T20 games until then and as such, this was as left field a move as any.
He made 21 from 13 balls, but impressed the Renegades coaching staff with his no-fear approach. He played the next two games in the BBL as opener but didn't quite reap much rewards. In the Indian T20 League game later that year against Punjab, Kolkata pulled a leaf out of the Renegades book by slotting Narine at the top.
The West Indian lower-order hitter slammed 37(18), 42(17), 34(17), 54(17) and 18(10) in a few impactful knocks in the season. Since then, Narine has been Kolkata's go-to man at the top of the batting order. He opened the batting right through the 2017 Indian T20 League season and the 2017-18 Caribbean Premier League. In the Bangladesh Premier League and PSL that year, he was sporadically used in the role.
In the Indian T20 League, he has only batted below the opening position four times in the last three years. His returns? 224 runs at a strike rate of 172.3 (2017), 357 at 189.89 (2018) and 143 at 166.27 (2019). Kolkata's middle-order was strong with Dinesh Karthik and Andre Russell. The batting had Chris Lynn, Robin Uthappa, Nitish Rana and Shubman Gill with the talented youngster having to bat at no.7 in a few games.
His returns have, however, diminished a touch since first donning the role. His last half-century in the position came in 2018 in the Indian T20 League, a brilliant 36-ball 75 against Punjab. Since then he has crossed the 30-run mark just four times (twice in the BPL and once each in the CPL and Indian T20 League).
The Narine experiment at the top was an outstanding move without a shade of doubt. But after a season or two, teams had worked out that bowling spin to Narine was useful in dismissing him. The scoring rate was still high and the odd brilliant cameo came up, but Kolkata have too much batting talent at their disposal to be one-dimensional in their usage of Narine.
Image courtesy: AFP/ Sajjad Hussain.