Tag Archives: sunil narine

What’s behind Watson: the Australian story

West Indies tours for Aussie fans are often dream-like. They’re late at night, often look like someone had smeared Vaseline on the lens and have a kicking soundtrack. It also means that more people hear about great deeds by Aussie players in the Caribbean, than actually see them.

It also means when something happens in an ODI series as Australia tour the West Indies that no one cares about, few fans notice.

Had they stayed awake, looked through the soft-focused Vaselined screen and kept the sound down as not to wake anyone in the house, they would have seen one man tormenting the Australian batsman:Sunil Narine. In a five-match series he took 11 wickets at an average of 14.45 and a scary economy rate of 3.32. He stopped the top order from scoring and dismissed the middle and lower order with ease. Narine was still a mystery to world cricket, his faux-hawk was barely known, his mystery knuckle ball was unplayable and his offspinner gripped and ripped off the dusty surfaces. It was even before he became a cult hero in the IPL.

In the oppressive heat of Sri Lanka, Australia will again meet West Indies, a side who have many players who can win a T20 match on their own. Chris Gayle can decapitate a bowling unit, and he’s done that to Australia before. Marlon Samuels can score with ease and make decent bowlers doubt themselves. Dwayne Bravo changes the game with the bat, the ball or with his hands. Kieron Pollard can score at a strike rate that previously never existed. Fidel Edwards bowls swinging yorkers. And even backup players like Andre Russell are capable of amazing destruction.

Yet when the West Indies looked like they would lose to New Zealand and fall out of the tournament, it was Sunil Narine who bowled two overs for only five runs in the 17th and 19th of the match. He also took two wickets.

Australia have already shown they can beat West Indies at the Premadasa in this tournament. In that match, Narine bowled two overs for 15 before the rain came down before he got to bowl his last two overs, and the Australians played him quite cautiously. If they find themselves in another big chase, with a soaring run rate required, their battle with Narine could be the difference between playing in the final or not.

The group game against West Indies was not all smooth sailing for Australia. They punished their bowlers and actually should have made more than the 192 they ended with. No Australian bowler went for less than seven-an-over. The West Indies handled the pace of Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins easily, Johnson Charles aside. Dan Christian just didn’t look like a viable option with the ball. Brad Hogg tried hard, and took one of his two wickets in the tournament. And Glenn Maxwell got Gayled for 17 runs in his one over. But it was a great pitch for batting, as the Australian top order showed when they smacked the West Indian bowlers everywhere.

While all of Australia’s matches have been in Colombo, the pitch has changed on Australia. It is no longer the pace-friendly wicket of late September, it’s quickly becoming the spin-happy track of early October. The constant use of this square has brought it back in favour of the spinners and sub-continental batsmen.

Starc and Cummins’ pace was a real factor at times early in the tournament. Cummins beat up the Indians and barely went for a run. Starc was almost as good against the Pakistanis and took three wickets. Sohail Tanvir showed that, even though the pitch is spinning more, the fast bowlers could still be important, although their pace will be less so against West Indies.

But there is no doubt that spin will play a massive part from here on in. The England v New Zealand women’s match was dominated by the English spinners, and for the first men’s semi-final the ball continued to spin considerably. Xavier Doherty came in for Christian a few matches back and has by far been Australia’s best spin option in this tournament. His early wickets against South Africa set up the game, and against Pakistan he took the wicket of their best batsman Nasir Jamshed.

Brad Hogg has struggled far more. It’s not that Hogg has been a catastrophe; he’s just not had the impact he had when he first made his comeback. His economy rate of 7.5 is fairly high – only Cummins is worse for Australia – and Hogg’s batting is now non-existent. At the age of 41 his eyes can no longer allow him to bat like a man with an average of 35. Australia are yet to bat all the way down in this tournament, and they may not, but Hogg is now probably Australia’s No. 11.

With the middle order struggling to get a hit, or look good when they do, it seems Glenn Maxwell is the man who may make way for David Hussey. Maxwell has done little wrong, but he is being barely used as a bowler, and has had little chance to perform with the bat, only batting twice in the tournament for one failure. It would also be a panic move from Australia, as Hussey was in terrible form in the UAE, and most of the Australian middle order have had only one chance to bat under pressure.

Australia could also drop Hogg for David Hussey. Maxwell and Hussey could combine as the fifth bowler whilst strengthening the batting. When Doherty came in for Christian, Australia lost another batting option, this would fix that problem, and while Hussey’s bowling is not of the standard of Hogg’s in the real world, this is T20, where Hussey’s step, step, sling, offspin can work.

On paper the West Indies side looks like a side that should beat Australia, but on the field they seem to be unsure and their decision to bowl Marlon Samuels in the Super Over against New Zealand seemed to stem from the input of too many people apart from Darren Sammy. They are a dangerous opponent, but one that Australia will believe they can beat.

Tagged , ,

Sunil Narine, day 1 of bowling (First day on the job and a body is found in the dumpster)

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.

Tagged ,

The new Jack Potter: Sunil Narine

West Indies cricket has been playing a nauseating film noir movie on loop for over a decade now. The one thing they’ve been missing is the exciting, quirky, deformed character that steals the focus. In cricket, no one does that better than a mystery spinner. Just the term mystery spinner gets people ferociously excited.

One tweet was it all it took for me to get my twitter followers fired up. The press box also got engaged. All I’d done was try to remember the name of the Australian part-time spinner who bowled a doosra as a party trick without ever trying to make a career out of it. I received blank stares from many in the press box, and from twitter names were flung at me. Some odd, like Clarrie Grimmett and Bishan Bedi. Even Colin McCool was mentioned. Probably, just because someone wanted to say Colin McCool.

Eventually it was Mike Atherton in the press box, and former Notts finger spinner Paul McMahon on twitter, who correctly named Jack Potter, the Victoria batsman-cum-spinner from the 1960s. I say spinner on purpose, as Espncricinfo and Cricket archive both have him down as a legspinner, but the stories are that he bowled off spin.

Jack Potter may in fact be the ultimate mystery spinner, as he never even played a Test, hardly bowled at all, was rumoured to have shown Warne the flipper, and according to Richie Benaud and Wally Grout, had an offspinner that went the other way. Yet for all the talk, stories, and interest, he took 31 wickets in 104 first-class games at an average of 41. Presumably some with doosras, others with flippers, and the rest from another ball he invented while playing Yahtzee.

Yet here we were, 44 years since Jack Potter played first-class cricket, and people were still talking about him. Mystery spinners, even the part-time ones, do something weird to cricket fans.

As is the case with Sunil Narine, who really doesn’t need a Mohawk to get attention.

I’m a sucker for any spinner. But throw an air of mystery and the unknown into the mix, and I go a bit crazy. This is possibly why during one of those conversations that you don’t entirely think through; I said that Sunil Narine could be the best spinner in the world at the moment. It’s a pretty big call at the best of times, but the fact I said it to an ECB employee who is also a friend of Graeme Swann made it even more explosive. A predictable argument followed.

His perfectly sound theory was that no one who hadn’t played a Test could be thought of that way. My less sound, but still reasonable theory was that mystery bowlers could only be at their best when no one knew how to pick them, and that is right now for Narine. That while players like Vettori, Swann, Herath, Lyon and others had proved themselves on the world level, Narine was probably at his absolute best right now. And I think that best could be as good as Johnny Cash at San Quentin.

Of course I could be wrong. Narine has only played six first class games, and in a poor quality domestic competition. My assertion of how good he is can only be based on the cricket I’ve seen him play. In the Champions League he looked a class above. Against Australia he looked like a potential home-wrecker. And in the IPL he was the best bowler in the whole tournament.

Yet, even I have to admit there have been spinners before who have bowled well in limited-overs cricket when the opposition is trying to score or smash every ball, who struggle when the batsmen play patiently in Test cricket. That could happen to Narine, but I don’t think it will.

Narine’s one magic trick is a delivery that spins away from right-handed batsmen, that no one seems to be able to pick from the hand. That is not something that should only work in the limited-overs slogfest, that should work in every form of cricket, against every type of player, on almost all surfaces around the world. To virtually all batsmen who have faced him, how to pick the ball that spins the other way is a mystery, and that makes him deadly.

Mysteries don’t last forever. Once upon a time Bernard Bosanquet’s wrong ‘un was seen as a mystery, but batsmen worked out over time that a wrong’un had more of the back-of-the-hand facing them than a normal leggie. Of course , Abdul Qadir claims to have two wrong uns (at least). One, that eagle-eyed batsmen can see, and another called a finger wrong un that he has only ever passed down to Imran Tahir and Shahid Afridi because its power is deadly. Without Qadir talking, passing it on to me directly, I assume it is the same or similar to Anil Kumble’s wrong un that is held between the thumb and index finger and doesn’t show the batsman the back of the hand.

At the moment it seems no one can pick Narine out of the hand© Associated Press
Then there is the flipper, a delivery that seemed to be handed down like a legacy to Australian leggies, in eager anticipation of the one with the skills to use it best. In the mid 90s it was a ball that batsman feared more than a snake in their pillow case. By the late 90s most top-order players seemed to have a handle on it and Warne was using his slider, which had much less of a reputation, but probably got far more wickets for him The doosra was invented (unless you count ol’ Jack Potter’s) by Saqlain Mushtaq. Mushtaq, like creators of Golems, was eventually brought down by the very thing invented to protect them. The doosra is now the staple of several bowlers around the world. And while is legitimacy is often questioned, it seems weird that batsmen claim they can see the arm bend more than 15 degrees on a doosra, yet so many of them still don’t seem to pick the delivery itself.
Then there was perhaps the most intriguing mystery spinner of them all, Jack Iverson. Flicking the ball from Hercules-like fingers like a kid playing with marbles, he predated the carrom ball, and got the ball to spin in both directions while doing so. He only played five Tests, yet Gideon Haigh wrote a whole book about him, and the famous photo of Iverson’s grip is as good as any image from any horror film. Iverson didn’t last long, but like the Velvet Underground, he encouraged others. John Gleeson was one. Gleeson was not as devastating as Iverson, but the English players had a lot of trouble with him. There is the legendary, and perhaps apocryphal story, that Boycott had worked out Gleeson, but didn’t tell the rest of his team-mates so he’d look better.

The very best of batsmen, like Boycott use very low fi ways of working out mystery spinners. The Australians decided that if they played Saqlain Mushtaq like a leg spinner, not an offspinner, so they’d be able to handle his doosra. Paul Adams bowled his legspinner and wrong un at two different vastly different speeds. Even Murali early in his career would bowl his doosra from wider on the crease giving alert batsmen a chance to spot it. There are many tells that help batsmen. A ball that spins usually drifts in the opposite direction. It also has to be pitched in a different place. Some batsmen can see which way a ball is spinning before it lands. And of course, it comes out of the hand differently in the first place.

At the moment it seems no one can pick Narine out of the hand. He bowls a mixed seam so it’s hard to tell which way the ball is spinning, his pace and position don’t seem to vary, the ball doesn’t drift much for him, and his position on the crease isn’t an obvious giveaway. Perhaps only his placement of the ball tells you which way a ball is going to spin, but even then, if that’s all you’ve got to go on, you’re rolling the dice on each delivery.

That doesn’t mean that he will be the best spinner in the world for the next ten years. It may mean for a short while he will be virtually unplayable, and then may just fade away.

Logic would suggest this is the case. Ajantha Mendis is the obvious modern story of a mystery spinner breaking onto the world stage. In Mendis’ first four Tests he took 33 wickets at an average of 18. And that included three Tests against India. He was a sensation. His carrom ball was unpickable to the Indian players, and most other international players. According to many he was to become the next Warne, Murali or Kumble.

But the modern world got hold of Mendis. Unlike Gleeson, no players kept their secrets about Mendis. Because of the IPL, many players discussed the Mendis’ giveaway of his carrom ball. Which had first been picked up by video analysis. This giveaway was simply that when he bowled the carrom ball, unlike his other deliveries, he kept his fingers up like accidental antennas that alerted the batsmen of his intention. He was caught in the modern age of super slow replays, Youtube and the IPL helping players share secrets.

In Ajantha Mendis’ last next 12 Tests he took 29 wickets at 48. He is still a handy limited-overs performer. But was overlooked for the World Cup final and hasn’t been a regular in the IPL for quite some time.

Mendis was all mystery. His problems is that while he is a spin bowler, he doesn’t spin the ball much at all. He has virtually no drift, doesn’t drop the ball, and never beats batsman in flight. He is essentially a slow medium pacer who can move the ball slightly in both directions with a bit of help from the pitch. And his biggest problem is that his stock ball is not dangerous in the slightest. Without a stock ball that creates danger, you’re always going to struggle in Test Cricket.

Narine seems more like a spinner, who has some mystery to him right now. Narine has a brilliant stock ball. So brilliant that the first time I saw his carrom ball, I thought he should bin it, because it just limps off the pitch away from the right-hander whereas the offspinner of Narine is brutal. It rips and bounces. Even without a mystery ball, you can see why Narine would be a handful. It’s also just more than what he can deliver, it’s his poise and intelligence that stick out. He seems to bowl differently to each batsman, almost using their ego or batting stlye to his advantage, like some cunning super-villian. It is old school spin bowling.

I think Narine can survive and even prosper once his mystery is unlocked. But maybe I just want to believe that West Indies have a bowler that can win Tests for them for the next decade. The fear is that he will be a guy who can take a few wickets and be nothing more than a quirky little character actor in this long running dark period in the West Indies. They need a hero, or even an anti-hero, and I’m betting and hoping that Narine can be that guy while solving a lot of their problems.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Shillingford V Narine

Shane Shillingford is bowling for the West Indies in this Test.

Shillingford has that same pushing-back-at-an-imaginary-person-trying-to-hug-him that Harbhajan Singh does. He gets good bounce. Has a first-class bowling average of 25. Experience over many years of cricket. Has a ten-wicket haul in Test Cricket. Will one day have a stand named after him.

He’s not Sunil Narine.

Sunil Narine has never played a Test, but will probably make more money out of cricket over the previous few weeks than Shillingford ever will. Right now more people are clicking on Narine’s ESPNcricinfo profile, the one that shows his Mohawk well as he smiles cheekily, than have probably ever looked up Shillingford’s profile (which is him looking rather uncomfortable and like he was taken by surprise).

Shillingford was overlooked for the first Test for a debutante; there is not an attack in world cricket that would overlook Sunil Narine right now.

Shillingford is a workhorse, there’s no magic, mystery or mayhem about him. That doesn’t mean he isn’t good. But he’s good as in handy, not good as in Narine.

Narine has tricks that Shillingford will be able to talk about, but probably never replicate. But it isn’t just the tricks that Narine has, his magical mystery ball is amazing, but his normal offspinning delivery is at the moment the best spinning stock ball in world cricket. It bites, and bounces. And even when his carom ball (which if you can pick it, does very little at all) does get worked out, Narine will still be world class.

The best spin bowlers use tricks to confuse batsman who can’t pick it from the hand and embarrass the tail, but it’s the stock ball that you need if you want to be a Warne, Murali or Kumble. Narine is a long way from joining this company, and while his stock ball is far better than that of the last mystery phenom, Mendis, once people pick your trick ball, that’s when it really gets tough for bowlers.

Shillingford’s stock ball is okay. It’s certainly not horrible, and when he’s on a helpful surface he can bowl for an amazing amount of hours and take quite a few wickets. On a surface like this, against a team who is willing to attack him, he looks a bit out of his depth.

In this Test so far, Shillingford is going at 4.7 an over. In the 2012 IPL so far, Narine has so far gone for 5.2 an over.

Today Narine will be watched by close to a billion people, Shillingford by only million or so. One playing for his country. One playing for his financial future.

I hope Narine plays a blinder for Kolkata Knight Riders, wins the IPL and sets up his entire future in one night. But more than that I hope as soon as humanly possible he plays for his region in a Test match.

West Indies have more than a few well-meaning workhorses who are helping them put in slightly improved performances, now they need some magic. And right now, that’s Narine.

Tagged , ,