A person of few words, Sunil Narine avoids the limelight away from the cricket field. But, after a concerted effort to get him to speak, the wily offspinner finally took some time off during the Champions League Twenty20 2013 last month, and spoke in detail about his bowling, his variations, his concerns pertaining to the longer-format and the upcoming ODI series against India.
“I tend to be quiet and humble, I like it that way. When you get too excited things fall apart,” said Narine, who was part of the Trinidad & Tobago team that lost to Mumbai Indians in the semifinal. “It’s tough (to handle the limelight), but at the end of the day I’m doing something that I love, so that makes it easier.”
Narine’s high-arm bowling action is deceptive and few batsmen can come up with answers when he gets the ball to talk. But with access to match footage readily available and team analysts forever on the lookout for the weaknesses of an opposition player, Narine admitted that some batsmen had indeed started reading him.
“Only some batsmen have been able to find me. But it’s not about the mystery, it’s about the consistency,” he said. “How hard you work and how effectively I can vary my pace and length.”
Elaborating on his technique, Narine continued, “I have about three variations. I plan well before I run up to bowl, so that helps. Having a clear mind and a clear head, so that I just concentrate on putting the ball in the right areas.”
In the shorter formats of the game – where spinners are often regarded as easy targets for big hitters – Narine has been an outstanding success. Ranked No. 2 on the ICC’s list of top ODI bowlers, Narine reckoned it was in the longer format that he still has certain issues to address. “In Tests you need to have a little more patience. In the shorter formats, the batsman is always coming at you so there is more opportunity of getting wickets. In Test cricket you have to settle down, and put a mindset that you are going to bowl longer spells. So that is a big test to my concentration level and consistency. I need to work on them.”
When Shane Shillingford, the right-arm offspinner, was preferred over Narine for the two-Test series against India, the decision raised a few eyebrows. But Shillingford lived up to the expectations of the selectors by grabbing 11 wickets at 31.45, including two five-wicket hauls, and subsequently retained his place in the squad for the upcoming New Zealand tour.
Narine claimed he was not frustrated at having missed the cut. “You want to play all formats of the game, but I guess we have a lot of spinners back in the Caribbean and I don’t see any reason for me to try too hard and get frustrated if I don’t get picked,” he said. “At the end of the day I am enjoying whatever I am playing and I wish to play as much as I can.”
The New Zealand Tests may be beyond his reach, but his role is likely to be crucial in the ODI series against India that starts on Thursday (November 21).
“I just have to do what I’m accustomed to. I’ve trained hard in the nets,” he said. “Just have to concentrate on my game and focus on the job at hand. Different conditions demand different sort of skills, and I’m confident that I’ve developed the skills.”
As he continues to weave a web around the world’s top batsmen, Narine insisted he sticks to the team goal when it comes to dismissing a particular player. “We normally have team goals,” said Narine, who was named after Sunil Gavaskar. “Before a game we sit down and discuss players with the captain and fellow teammates. So a particular player’s dismissal is not really my plan as such, it’s a team plan.”
Plying his trade for the Kolkata Knight Riders in the Indian Premier League, Narine finished the 2012 edition as the Player of the Tournament with 24 wickets at a miserly 5.47 runs per over. He continued the good work in the next edition where he bagged 22 wickets at 5.46. “I would call it (IPL) a stepping stone in my career,” he said. “During the Champions League T20 2011, I was recognised and that helped my confidence and momentum. IPL has helped me reach where I am today.”
After winning the World Twenty20 2012, West Indies were thought to be back on the path of recovery. But with success coming only against relatively weaker sides, such as Bangladesh, New Zealand and Zimbabwe, West Indies still have a long way to go.
“I don’t think it’s stagnated,” argued Narine. “We’ve been playing good cricket, it’s just the end result of the game that hasn’t been the way we would have wanted it. But we’re on the right track; we’re coming much closer to winning games than before. We need to take it step by step and not look to reach No. 1 in two days. We have a long process in place; it all depends on how we build from strength to strength.”