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In today’s world of cutting edge technology mysteries don’t prevail for long. In cricket mystery spinners emerge from obscurity and bamboozle the world for a season or a little more before the opposition unravel them.
It is, hence fascinating to note the continued success of one Sunil Narine. After mesmerising everyone with his unorthodox variations of spin bowling, in the 2011 Champions League Twenty20, the off-spinner from Trinidad & Tobago landed a contract with the Kolkata Knight Riders.
Sure enough, he ran through batting line-ups, bagged 24 wickets and helped KKR to the title in IPL 2012. Quite amazingly, this season too, the West Indies tweaker is one of the front-runners for the coveted Purple Cap.
We, at iplt20.com, caught up with Narine after KKR suffered a 14-run loss to the Chennai Super Kingsmainly due to Michael Hussey’s classy 95. We asked him the difference between bowling to Hussey and Chris Gayle. We sought his take on what makes him different and difficult for batsmen to figure out. Here’s what we got:
This year you have had to fight harder for the Purple Cap as compared to last season? Your reasoning?
Yes. The bowlers are doing very well this time. But I still think that T20 cricket is a batting paradise and bowlers will have to keep working hard to be on the top of the game.
What was the team’s bowling plans against Michael Hussey and where do you think it went wrong?
On his day any batsman is capable of doing great damage, especially a batsman like Mike Hussey. Sunday was his day and he took full advantage of it. He played a magnificent role in getting CSK to that total. On days like this one you can try hitting the perfect length, bowl a perfect yorker and you’ll still be hit for a four.
Generally, thanks to modern technology it doesn’t take long for batsmen to figure out mystery spinners. But you’re an exception. What’s your secret?
There’s no secret as such. I’d probably say it’s about working hard at your game and being focused no matter what situation you’re in. Even if they are able to pick you, you have to convince them that they aren’t. You have got to continue to have faith in your ability.
What according to you is the reason why batsmen are still finding it hard to pick you?
Many people will come up with many reasons. The fact is that anything new in cricket takes a while for people to get familiar to. But with the technology available these days the solution to my bowling will be out very soon. But I think you can still continue to do what you’re doing even if they’ve all seen it, if you have the right mindset and determination to succeed with that.
Would you say because your regular off-spinner and doosra being released similarly from your hand, it is tough for the batsmen to gauge which way the ball will spin?
No, I don’t think that’s the reason. When a left-hander faces an off-spinner, he knows the ball will spin away from him and he still gets caught in the slip. So, it doesn’t matter whether or not they know what’s coming their way. Even if they do, if you maintain discipline and bowl in the right areas you will succeed.
As a bowler who’s more difficult to bowl to – A Mike Hussey, who scores briskly without taking risks or a Chris Gayle who uses brute force to hit big?
Both are equally dangerous in their own rights. When Gayle gets going it’s very hard to keep him quiet. But Michael Hussey always has something up his sleeve. He can hit boundaries and can also sneak in singles. There are not many bowlers who can bowl dot balls at him. Gayle will hit sixes and Hussey will find gaps.
You must have bowled a lot to Gayle in the nets and at the domestic competitions in the Caribbean. How does one bowl to him? Help out the other bowlers!
I don’t think there is any particular area to bowl to him. Once he picks his bowler, he goes after him. You just hope that he doesn’t pick you. I don’t think he has any particular weakness. If he doesn’t click, he doesn’t. I think bowling to Chris Gayle is just about having a positive mindset. You back yourself just like he backs himself.
Every spinner has a particular pace at which he can extract the maximum out of the wicket. What is that speed for you?
There’s no set speed. It all depends on the wicket whether you bowl fast or slow. It’s all about judging the pace of the wicket as best as you can and decide on your pace accordingly. Even with variations it depends a lot on the batsman you’re bowling at. It doesn’t necessarily have to be one going away and one coming in. It’s about making a decision at that moment after taking into account the situation, condition and the opposition.
With the kind of firepower the Chennai Super Kingsboast of, Wriddhiman Saha had to wait for eight matches before he got a game in IPL 2013. And when he did, he was asked to do what he had never done before in the IPL – open the batting.
Saha grabbed the opportunity and made it count. Against defending champions, Kolkata Knight Riders, Saha came up with a 23-ball 39 cameo and more importantly stitched a match-winning 103-run opening stand with the ever so consistent ‘Mr Cricket’, Michael Hussey (95).
At the end of the match, Saha, in a chat with iplt20.com spoke about his mental preparation ahead of his first game of the season and the contribution of his Bengal team-mate Mohammad Shami– who opened the bowling for KKR in the game – in easing him into the innings.
This was your first game this IPL season. How was it to finally feel the pressure of a tight match and not watch it from the sidelines?
In IPL games can change in an over or two. You need to be consistent and the intensity has to be very high. This season I have watched CSK play out many close games from the dugout. To be on the field this time was a great experience. From the outside you can relax if you want to but on the field there’s no scope.
You must have been practising your skills in the nets. But what do you do to prepare mentally to come out and succeed in a match-situation?
You can practise all you want but in a match situation things don’t pan out as per your planning. In the nets you can hit any shot and you can still bat on but one bad shot in a match can end it for you. It’s important to prepare mentally before a game. I did it by watching the knocks of Michael Hussey and MS Dhoni from the last match and visualised myself doing the same.
Were you happy or nervous when you knew that CSK was batting first?
I had never opened the batting before this in the IPL. I was sent in with the instruction to enjoy myself. I tried to do that and it paid off to a certain extent.
What did you learn while batting with Mike Hussey?
Batting with him made my life easier. He’s such an outstanding player that a boundary is always around the corner. There was hardly any pressure on me. I just hit the ball I thought I could hit. I learnt a lot in terms of how he prepares mentally for every ball, what shot he plays in which situations. He knows well how to score runs based on his areas of strength.
You’re not used to playing against a team from Kolkata, are you? You often play for them.
It doesn’t matter that I am playing against a team from the city I belong to. I play for CSK now and I have forgotten KKR. They are the enemies now (smiles).
With the Indian team and CSK team do you work more on your fielding skills than wicket-keeping?
Yes, I don’t get many opportunities to keep wickets with Dhoni in the team. So, I have to play as a fielder. The good thing is that my fielding has always been good since I was a kid. Honestly, it doesn’t make much difference to me whether I am keeping or fielding. Yes, as a keeper more number of balls come to you. But in the end even as a fielder you have to watch every ball and be alert as any ball can come your way.
You hit Shami for two fours and a six in the first over. Were you relieved to see him bowling to you first up, knowing his game well?
It was definitely an advantage. We play together for Bengal and so I knew what length he bowls more in the shorter formats. The over panned out exactly the way I guessed it would. That over really helped me ease into the innings and gave me the initial confidence that was needed.
Kallis fired in some short balls but you hit them well. Were you prepared for the short-ball attack?
Yes, the overseas bowlers always tend to bowl short to the Indians. Whatever I have seen of Kallis, he generally bowled back of a length. So I was ready for those short balls. I hit a straight six and also played the pull shot a couple of times.