Sunil Narine’s bewildering success in his first IPL season, many reckoned, was rather freakish, as is the wont of bowlers with an attributed mystery. But against Delhi he set an ominous marker that his mystery halo is still intact.
The usual template for bowlers with an unusual mode of delivery or grip is that after the initial grandeur, their stocks regress. For, once encrypted—word gets around, tactics are discussed, footages are flashed over, technique dissected and the mystery is gradually unraveled—they are rendered less effective.
South Africa’s chinaman bowler Paul Adams is a classic case, or the latest instance of Sri Lanka’s Ajanatha Mendis, whose prowess after his staggering returns in his debut series against India in 2008 has considerably subsided, so much so that he isn’t a regular for his national side post the Muttiah Muralitharan era. He can’t even find a regular spot in the modestly-talented Pune Warriors side.
Conversely, Narine continues to flummox and befuddle batsmen. He first made an impression in the Champions League in 2011—snapping 10 wickets at 10.50 with a mind-numbing economy rate of 4.37 before Kolkata Knight Riders inducted him in the playing eleven, a strategy that paid immediate dividends as he spearheaded them to the title with stupendous returns of 24 wickets at an average 13.5, conceding only 5.47 runs an over.
So what makes his trade so mysterious? For as John Gleeson, a mystery spinner himself, confided, “You can only do three things: spin it from the leg, spin it from the off or go on straight.” And Narine doesn’t do anything super-ordinary to defy Gleeson’s logic. Narine stands at the end of his micro run-up, twirls the ball as any other muck-as-any bowler would. He holds the ball rather high in his palm, a couple of inches above his mohawk. Neither his open action nor the grip—he holds the ball rather tightly and much lower with preeminence on his palm, and not the fingers — is suggestive of the imminent danger. Like Mendis, and unlike the conventionalists, his release is rather quick and he almost cusps the ball with his palms.
There is no deceitful flight or loop, and the stock ball upon pitching breaks back, like a flat off-break. A slider adds value but it’s his knuckle ball that triggers mystery and suspicion in the batsmen’s mind. He delivers it with a flip of his index and middle fingers, with the palm acting as a sort of cushion. So unlike Mendis, he needn’t need strong digits. Hence it seems coming more off the palm. On release his mystery unfolds. Flatter in trajectory, it skids off after pitching, slightly away from the right-hander. The thing is it’s almost impossible to read the ball off his hand and because he is quick and the batsmen uncertain, the latter are often late in adjusting to his length.