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IPL 2024

When Sunil Narine brought a Kalbaisakhi to Eden Gardens

Sunil Narine hundred
by Naman Agarwal 6 minute read

Sunil Narine‘s batting has breathed fresh air into KKR’s top order in IPL 2024. Naman Agarwal, present at the Eden Gardens, describes what it was like to witness Narine’s maiden T20 hundred.

April-May is the Nor’wester season in Kolkata. Or Kalbaisakhi, as it’s called in the local language. These are storms that occur in the afternoon, usually on hot, sweltering days. Just as conversations in the streets, offices, and homes of the city start getting centered around the unmanageable heat and humidity after lunch time, the sky starts turning dark and people start looking up in the hope for some respite. The breeze starts off slow and cool, before picking up pace and turning cold. The clouds start thundering. And then the heavens open up.

These storms don’t last for a long time, but the relief they provide to the city, does.

Tuesday (April 16) was like a typical hot summer day in Kolkata that warranted a Kalbaisakhi in the evening. And it arrived, in the form of Sunil Narine, soothing the souls of thousands at the Eden Gardens and millions in the city.

Narine has been in unreal f0rm with the bat this season. Having been pushed up to open, a move that Rinku Singh admitted was the brainchild of Gautam Gambhir, the new KKR mentor, Narine had already scored 167 runs in the first five matches, more than he had in the last three seasons combined. It also included his highest T20 score, a 39-ball 85 against Delhi Capitals. If he were to not score a single run more in the rest of IPL 2024, he’d still have outperformed expectations and done his job. As it turned out, the highest score column had a new entry within a fortnight.

Batting first against Rajasthan Royals on a flat Eden Gardens surface with skewed boundary dimensions, KKR needed to get out of the blocks quickly. When the score read 26-1 after four overs with Phil Salt back in the hut, it already felt like they had fallen behind. Narine had been trying to swing for the heavens like he usually does, but had struggled his way to 12 off 12, before he finally connected with one in the fifth over.

A Kuldeep Sen short ball was pulled high into the sky, almost stopping mid-air for a brief moment as if to exchange fleeting pleasantries with the moon, before landing back into the stands. The next ball saw another free-spirited, languid swing of Narine’s bat as the ball found the fence over the bowler’s head. The KKR fans found their voice.

Watching Narine bat is a restless activity no matter which side you support, or even if you support neither. Every shot feels like an un-serious attempt. Like he does not care what the outcome of the bat-swing will be as long as the bat is swinging. Plays, misses, miscues – every ball feels like a potential wicket. And when it doesn’t arrive and the ball sails over the boundary and through the gaps instead, something about the whole thing feels so wrong. He is not supposed to be making runs. Not when he averaged 8.9 with the bat in the last four IPL seasons. And yet, here he is, sitting third on the list of highest run-scorers in IPL 2024.

The powerplay has been historically been Narine’s most preferred phase for batting, where he could just focus on getting the ball over the in-field. Against RR though, he flipped it around. The Rajasthan pacers didn’t allow much room for him to free his arms in the first six overs. But as soon as spin arrived, Narine made hay.

Sunil Narine hundred

Sunil Narine toyed with R Ashwin en route to his hundred at the Eden Gardens. Photo by Ron Gaunt / Sportzpics for IPL

He was especially harsh against R Ashwin, who tried to use the longer off-side boundary to his advantage, but to no avail. Ashwin had three fielders in the deep on the off-side and continually targeted the wide line, but Narine kept swinging through the line and kept founding the boundary. This was one of the greatest off-spinners the game has ever seen, who gobbles up left-handers for breakfast, bowling to him in an unchanged four-over spell in the hope of prising out his wicket. Narine hit him for at least one boundary in each of his first three overs, before Ashwin, clearly out of his wits, gifted five wides down the leg side in his last. He ended up conceding 49 off his four overs, the second-most expensive spell of his IPL career. Most of those came against a batter who had last crossed 20 at this venue five years back. Make it make sense.

In the second of Ashwin’s overs, Narine had reached his second fifty of the season, in 29 balls. The next 15 balls fetched 29 runs as he stood at 79 (44) at the end of 15 overs. The sluggish start now well behind them, KKR were looking at a mammoth total with the score reading 161-3.

Starting IPL 2020, Narine had hit only two sixes off leg-spinners. So when Yuzvendra Chahal started the 16th over of the innings, even though the ball was supposed to turn into Narine’s hitting arc, historical evidence did not suggest that it was a highly favourable match-up for him. But historical evidence has largely gone for a toss this season as far as Narine’s batting is concerned. Two sixes and two fours meant Narine went from 80 to 100 in the space of four balls. 

Andre Russell and Narine have been the backbone of KKR’s successes over the years in the IPL. Whenever these two West Indians have done well, KKR have done well. It was, therefore, fitting that Russell was there at the non-striker’s end to give Narine a bear hug when he reached his maiden T20 hundred. Before that, the expressionless Narine whose photos on social media captioned “Always keep smiling” also lack a smile, had leapt and punched the air in a rare outburst of emotion. Shahrukh Khan, the ever-charismatic, ever-cheering owner of KKR, bowed to him from the stands.

It took a ball that eventually broke the stumps to dismiss him. As he walked back, having scored 109 unbelievable runs from 56 balls, the West Indies white-ball skipper Rovman Powell gave him a fist-bump near the dugout at the long-off boundary. After the game, Powell would reveal that he has been in Narine’s ears to get him to play the upcoming T20 World Cup for West Indies. While Narine has clarified that that’s not happening, it’s been some journey for T20 cricket’s most adaptable player, from having his place in the KKR XI questioned by the most die-hard of KKR fans, to the national captain trying to get him to play for the country again.

Narine’s ton was eventually overshadowed by Jos Buttler’s incredible lone-hand in the second innings as Rajasthan chased down 224. But unlike some of the other centuries this season, Narine’s was by no means a match-losing one.

He was at the crease for nearly an hour and a half, his longest innings ever. That’s about as long as the longest of Kalbaisakhis lasts. And like a Kalbaisakhi, he provided Kolkata fans, who had been frustrated at their team’s top-order returns over the last couple of seasons, some much-needed catharsis after a hot day.

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