Sunil Narine has undoubtedly been one of IPL’s greatest stars. However, he has been on the decline for a while now, and this season has only accelerated that descent. Naman Agarwal looks into the IPL career trajectory of the Trinidadian star and where it is heading.
Narine broke into the KKR side in 2012 as a mystery bowler from Trinidad and Tobago and changed their fortunes for good. His first three seasons saw him pick 67 wickets at an average of 16.13 and an astonishing economy rate of 5.77. No wonder then, that KKR’s two victorious seasons were among Narine’s first three.
Past performance is no guarantee of future returns – a disclaimer that often comes with financial products. It really does hold true for cricket as well. Unfortunately, that is what is happening with Narine lately. His glorious past which has seen him attain a sort of mythical status among KKR fans, has not stopped him from going at 8.61 runs per over this year, his worst in any IPL season.
In fact, not only has Narine been unable to restrict the scoring, something at which he used to be the best, he has barely been able to pick wickets this year as well. The first 11 matches of IPL 2023 have fetched him just seven wickets with each wicket costing 46.7 runs. Only once have Narine’s wickets in an IPL season come at a worse average – in 2020, when he picked five wickets in 10 matches at 60.4 runs per wicket.
The season didn’t start off as badly for Narine though. In fact, it started off really well. He picked six wickets in the first three games of IPL 2023 at a decent economy rate of 7.41. And two out of those six wickets were of Shubman Gill and Virat Kohli, showing that he was still more than capable of troubling the best of batters.
A lot changed, however, after KKR’s match against Gujarat where Rinku Singh hit five sixes off the last five balls. It was almost as if KKR had hit the proverbial peak of sporting achievement, and the only way forward was down. And that is what happened. KKR lost their next four games. And Narine somehow lost his wicket-taking ability. Since that match, he has managed to take just one wicket in eight games. Yes, you read that right.
His drop in form has been so steep, that he has not completed his quota of overs in four out of the last eight matches, bowling just 26 overs out of a potential 32. While bowlers not completing their quota of overs shouldn’t be a big deal, especially after the introduction of the Impact Player rule, when the bowler in question is Sunil Narine, it raises alarm bells.
To put things in perspective, Narine had completed his quota of four overs in 38 consecutive matches between IPL 2020 and IPL 2023, before he missed one over against Mumbai Indians where Ishan Kishan took a special liking for him. Since that match, he has gone for more than 10 runs per over in three and more than 9 runs per over in four out of seven games.
This drop in form has not been sudden though. It has been brewing for the last three to four seasons. After a successful 2018 where he picked 17 wickets and had a blast with the bat, scoring 357 runs at a strike rate of nearly 190, he has just not been the same. The first signs of his decline were seen in 2019 when he managed to pick up just 10 wickets in 12 games and went at 7.83 runs per over, his most expensive season at that point.
Then came 2020, the lowest point in his IPL career, where he was put on the warning list for a suspect bowling action. Although he was cleared without being banned, it clearly had an effect on him as he sat out for a few games just to avoid risking suspension.
A brilliant 2021 season followed where he picked 16 wickets and took his team to the final, raising hopes of a late surge in Narine’s career. But he has not managed to sustain that performance, with the last two seasons fetching him a wicket only every 35.25 balls as compared to his IPL career bowling strike rate of 23.2.
Where does his IPL career head now? With Varun Chakravarthy roaring back into form this season after an indifferent one last year, and with the emergence of the young Suyash Sharma, KKR’s spin-bowling stocks suddenly don’t depend on Narine too much. His batting has fallen off steeply as well, meaning he is no longer the multi-dimensional T20 cricketer that he was a few years back.
Narine is still just 34 years of age and should have a decent amount of cricket left in him. He has also re-invented himself several times throughout his career, adapting and evolving according to the demands of the game. This time though, there somehow seems to be a sense that the inevitable which was being delayed, has arrived, and it will require something special, something ‘mysterious’ on Narine’s part, to come out of it.