Mysteries get solved in an hour on TV. Law and Order, CSI and Midsomer Murders have all confirmed this for us. But for Sunil Narine, one day with 15 overs, no wickets and 69 runs is not the conclusion to the story.
Narine has had a charmed existence for many reasons since he entered top-level cricket. He wasn’t thrust in as a teenager. The pitches he has played on have been exceptionally sympathetic to spinners. He’s played when people are trying to slog him. And no one can pick him. Today was different.
The pitch was good enough for a No. 11 to make a record score. Graeme Swann didn’t take a wicket. And the England players could wait for the bad balls, rather than attacking him. Also, Narine bowled poorly.
That kills me to say it because I really believe he could be a special talent. But if this was the first time you’d seen him, you could be forgiven for thinking Shane Shillingford should have got another game.
Narine bowled far too many bad balls. There weren’t many absolute howlers. But his length was consistently wrong. It was too short. As I nerdishly obsessed over his pitch map, it was clear that at least a third of his deliveries were just too short.
While Graeme Swann was consistently at the four metre mark, Narine was dropping them at the six metre mark. That’s not good enough for a top class spinner. Good batsmen just milk that for singles and the odd boundary. Then to compensate he floated up half volleys.
In their own ways, KP and Bell have had their own problems with spin. I think both would have been happy to face Narine for the first time with half volleys and half trackers coming at them.
Once KP saw that Narine was struggling, he ripped his chest apart and yanked out each individual organ. Back foot drives, front foot sixes, and scoring at will from a bowler who looked like he had no plans at all.
Even off the pitch England were attacking Narine. In the Sky box Nick Knight showed that for the knuckle carrom ball (still weirdly unnamed), Narine had a potential giveaway. Using his thumb on the ball for that delivery, but not for his normal offspinner. A few quick checks on youtube prove that isn’t always the case. But it’s decoding the mystery.
Not that England needed to decode the mystery. Bad lengths helped them, but so did the lack of turn for his knuckle ball. By design it can never be a ball that turns viciously, but it barely whispered at all. Making it more like a non sizzling arm ball that limps on a pitch like this.
Even against the awkward-looking nightwatchman in fading light with a collection of fielders looking for a chance, Narine still struggled to look capable of bamboozling anyone. It was his easiest chance for his first wicket in Test cricket.
This was an ordinary display from Narine. He would have expected to do better, at least of keeping the scoring rate down, if not taking a wicket or two. His day could have been better had Adrian Barath taken a sharp chance at short leg from Ian Bell. It is a place that if Narine does have a successful career in Test Cricket many catches will go to. Today it was just another disappointment.
There were also good signs. Darren Sammy didn’t hide Narine away, and he even kept attacking fields for as long as possible. Narine might have lost the swagger he had in the IPL, but he didn’t fall apart. And his offspinner, when pitched in the right place, is still a staggeringly good delivery that should test batsmen all over the world.
Even with today, I’m not willing to right off Narine on a pitch that the only wicket for spin to either side went to the smooth straight’uns of Marlon Samuels. That doesn’t mean for lovers of quality spinners, Narinites and mystery spinner buffs (of which I’m all three) today wasn’t a bit like the opening scene of one of those crime shows where two people sharing banal conversation bump into a corpse in a dumpster.