A ‘Go To’ man in Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) for more than a decade, Sunil Narine will have to play out of his skin to justify his place in the playing eleven when his team face Punjab Kings in a must-win Indian Premier League game, in Kolkata on May 8.
The Trinidad man, who has played 158 games spread across 12 seasons, including the current one, has 159 wickets along with 1,039 runs with four half-centuries after he worked on his batting once his action was deemed suspect and he lost fizz of the pitch.
Narine hasn’t been the same “mystery bowler”, who burst into the T20 franchise scene, for many seasons but he would be first one to admit he has been insanely lucky.
The architect of 2012 and 2014 IPL wins with 24 and 21 wickets in those two seasons, has struggled for at least two of his last three seasons but KKR management (the principal decision makers CEO Venky Mysore and assistant coach Abhishek Nayar) has stuck with him.
However with KKR staring at another round robin exit with only four wins in 10 games, there is no room for error in next four games.
The question is whether KKR can still afford to still play the man, who only has seven scalps from 10 games with an economy rate of 8.76 and aggregate of 14 runs from 8 batting innings with a strike-rate of less than 80.
While KKR does need to take some tough selection calls, Punjab Kings is also in a spot of bother and the match is of equal importance for them.
Having been out-batted by Mumbai Indians in their last outing, the Shikhar Dhawan-led side may be a spot ahead of the eighth-placed KKR with a two-point lead but both the teams are staring at elimination.
More so in the case of the Nitish Rana-captained home side who face a do-or-die situation in their last four matches this season.
Their think-tank led by an astute domestic tactician in Chandrakant Pandit also must think beyond their two Caribbean stars — Narine and Andre Russell.
The other day during an interaction with the media team CEO and managing director Mysore had reiterated: “Russell is the best T20 all-rounder. Narine, I don’t have to say much about him…” With Narine being a regular, one overseas quota is blocked as KKR are missing out on the options of pace gun Lockie Ferguson and David Wiese, a genuine seam-bowling all-rounder who also can make good cameos with the bat.
That Varun Chakravarthy has become their premier spinner — 14 wickets at 20.14 — makes it a stronger case that KKR must think beyond Narine, if not Russell.
A leg-spinner, who bowls at 90-95kph, Chakravarthy has spearheaded the spin attack brilliantly.
He showed the way when Rana gave him the task to defend nine runs in the last over as KKR snatched a thrilling five-run win against SRH.
As for Russell, KKR must think of a way to promote him up the order as he has got limited opportunities to showcase his batting exploits.
The Jamaican big-hitter has 166 runs and batted at a strikerate of 148-plus.
However, he has made impact as a bowler, giving the team vital breakthroughs in the middle overs — seven wickets at 20.14.
With three home matches left, and a tough away tie at Chennai Super Kings KKR must exploits the conditions at Eden Gardens so as to keep their chances alive.
It was a perfect team effort for KKR against Sunrisers Hyderabad in their last match. The onus would be on the KKR batters to put together a superlative show, against a bowling unit that would be low on confidence after Mumbai Indians’ onslaught in their last match.
Boasting a sound bowling attack in with Nathan Ellis, Sam Curran and Arshdeep Singh, Punjab Kings failed to defend 214/3 as MI cantered home with seven balls to spare.
Ellis gave away 2/34 with just four dot balls, while Arshdeep went for 1/66 from his 3.5 overs with four dot balls. Curran (0/41) leaked the most runs, as KKR must find a similar approach against the trio.
As for batting, Liam Livingstone, Shikhar Dhawan and the latest keeper-batter sensation Jitesh Sharma have been their backbone as KKR bowling attack would look to restrict the trio.
Squads Kolkata Knight Riders: Nitish Rana (c), Jason Roy, Rahmanullah Gurbaz, Venkatesh Iyer, Andre Russell, Sunil Narine, Shardul Thakur, Lockie Ferguson, Umesh Yadav, Tim Southee, Harshit Rana, Varun Chakravarthy, Anukul Roy, Rinku Singh, N. Jagadeesan, Vaibhav Arora, Suyash Sharma, David Wiese, Kulwant Khejroliya, Mandeep Singh and Aarya Desai.
Punjab Kings: Shikhar Dhawan (c), Shahrukh Khan, Matthew Short, Prabhsimran Singh, Bhanuka Rajapaksa, Jitesh Sharma, Gurnoor Singh Brar, Rishi Dhawan, Liam Livingstone, Atharva Taide, Arshdeep Singh, Baltej Singh, Nathan Ellis, Kagiso Rabada, Rahul Chahar, Harpreet Brar, Sam Curran, Sikandar Raza, Harpreet Bhatia, Vidwath Kaverappa, Mohit Rathee, Shivam Singh.
Match starts: 7.30 p.m. IST.