While Chris Gayle may be the most prominent of the T20 superstars to emerge from the West Indies, Sunil Narine has been similarly successful in the shortest format and deserves similar acclaim. Unlike Gayle, Narine is an unassuming and at times reticent character, and this quiet persona is likely to have contributed to his less heralded career - but it by no means reflects his impact on the game. Narine - a mystery spin bowler turned reliable run-saver; and sparky pinch-hitter turned genuine batsman - is one of the most valuable players on the T20 circuit.
Narine burst onto the scene in 2009 when as a 20 year-old he took ten wickets in an innings in a West Indies four-day trial match. Despite this early promise Narine never really cracked the longest format, playing just six Tests for the West Indies and averaging 40.52. His flat trajectory, fast pace and variations were more suited to white ball cricket and in particular T20.
Playing for Trinidad and Tobago in the 2011 Champions League T20 Narine took 10 wickets in six matches at an economy rate of just 4.37 and caught the eye of Kolkata Knight Riders who splashed $700,000 on acquiring him in the 2012 IPL Auction - the start of a special journey for both Narine and KKR who he still plays for to this day. The Knight Riders placed Narine at the heart of their strategy as they prepared dry, spinning pitches at Eden Gardens and in 2012 - when he was named Most Valuable Player - and 2014 he proved instrumental in taking KKR to the title. Nine wickets at an economy rate of less than six in the West Indies 2012 World T20 triumph was confirmation of a stunning rise from obscurity to worldwide fame in a little over a year.
Perhaps the most stunning performance of his career came in the 2014 CPL when he bowled a maiden in a Super Over with the batsmen helplessly swinging and struggling to lay bat on ball.
In these early years Narine’s x-factor was his sharp spin from a conventional off break, a carrom ball and a doosra. However, in 2014 Narine ran into serious trouble for his bowling action when he was twice called for chucking in the Champions League. Narine’s mystery deliveries had attracted the attention of officials before in 2011 but this time was more serious and Narine was forced to remodel his bowling action and withdraw from the 2015 World Cup squad. Narine returned but further trouble with his action reduced his presence on the international stage and he missed the 2016 World T20 to focus on his rehabilitation.
Since his action has once again been cleared by the ICC Narine has only played a handful of T20s and no ODIs for the West Indies and is now largely a domestic specialist. Narine’s remodelled action has significantly diluted his wicket-taking threat but his unerring accuracy, high pace and intelligence has allowed him to become consistently economical.
Narine was never regarded as more than a useful hitter with the bat until the Melbourne Renegades, excited by his batting in the nets, promoted him to open in the 2016/17 BBL. Narine only scored 21 in his first innings but it came off just 13 balls and his other teams took note. A year later Narine had opened the batting for KKR, Lahore Qalandars, Dhaka Dynamites and Trinbago Knight Riders. Alongside his miserly bowling Narine’s explosive batting underlined his appeal as one of the most valuable T20 players in the world.