Sunil Narine is back for Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR), this time with the bat. Just when it looked like Narine was no more a mystery after he rose to KKR's pinnacle in the wicket-taking column (105 in 78 matches), the West Indian has roared back with a typical spell 1/19 in four overs. But what surprised one and all was the way he batted.
Sans the services of Chris Lynn who is recuperating from a shoulder injury, KKR pulled a rabbit out of their hat by sending Narine along with Gautam Gambhir to open the batting. Chasing 171 for victory against Kings XI Punjab at the Eden Gardens, it was a move that left everyone talking and later, applauding.
First, it was whether the 28-year-old who averages 13.18 in T20Is for the West Indies and 12.03 in T20 first class cricket has ever opened before.
Six overs later, Narine was dismissed by pacer Varun Aaron but not before cracking an 18-ball 37, featuring four fours and three sixes. Narine, who in six Tests, 65 ODIs, and 43 T20Is has never batted higher than at the eightg spot (in Tests and ODIs) and sixth in T20Is, got a standing ovation from the Eden crowd as he returned to the pavilion.
"Actually we were quite surprised," Kings XI and India pacer Ishant Sharma told media persons after the game on Thursday.
"Then Maxi (Glenn Maxwell, Kings XI captain) told us in the CPL and Big Bash he opened the batting for a few teams. We didn't know how he is going to bat. We were thinking about Robin Uthappa, so when you see that you don't know what's going to happen," Ishant added laughing.
Narine started 2017 by opening the batting for Australian Big Bash League (BBL) side Melbourne Renegades, scoring a quickfire 13-ball 21. He opened two more times for them.
But for KKR players also, it was a jaw-dropping move. "Even I was surprised," India quick Umesh Yadav said after the match.
"The way Chris Lynn was batting and he was not there with us so we needed a batsman like him (Narine). I think he opened the batting before. After that management thought he can be used as an opener," Yadav said.
Former India and KKR captain Sourav Ganguly said: "It was a big surprise. But it came off and can only augur well for the team."
Explaining the decision, skipper Gambhir said since Narine can "hit the ball big", he was promoted up the order.
"Narine can hit the ball big. We have a long batting line-up, and so we sent Sunil in at the top. He won't face many balls at No. 9 anyway. I think I need to trust him with the bat more now."