Should Kolkata Knight Riders continue to open with Sunil Narine?

Should Kolkata Knight Riders continue to open with Sunil Narine?

When the Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) released Chris Lynn before 2020 IPL auctions, the one question in everyone’s mind was who would accompany Sunil Narine at the top? Narine has amassed such a reputation at the batting position that it seems him not opening is a no-brainer. He has had an impact on the league that very few players have had.

On April 13, in the 11th game of IPL 2017, Sunil Narine walked out to open in IPL for the first time. It was against the Kings XI Punjab, and he blasted 37 off just 18 balls. Narine’s promotion was a direct result of his exploits for Melbourne Renegades in the preceding Big Bash League.

Gautam Gambhir, the then captain of KKR, persisted with Narine’s promotion in the next game but he failed to deliver. Narine was out for six.

After playing just one match down the order, Narine again was given another try at the top against Gujarat Lions. He capitalised on the opportunity and played a remarkable innings at the top, smashing a 42 off just 17 balls. His blitz at the top helped KKR to 187.

In a little over a couple of weeks, playing against Royals Challengers Bangalore at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium, Narine went on to score his first half-century of the IPL. It wasn’t just another fifty; it was an innings that cemented his position at the top. Coming off 15 deliveries, it was the joint-fastest IPL fifty at that time, a record that was later bettered by KL Rahul.

In less than a month, Sunil Narine had gone from the marquee spinner to the first-choice opener for KKR, further strengthening his importance in the squad.

In the 24 innings that Sunil Narine played as an opener between that half-century against RCB and KKR’s game against Mumbai on Wednesday, Sunil Narine could only manage two half-centuries and crossed the 30 run-mark on three other occasions. His strike-rate at the top remains in the upwards of 180, but are breezy cameos as an opener a winning formula?

KKR continuously overlooked Shubham Gill at the top during 2019, and even Chris Lynn in 2017, just so that they could accommodate Sunil Narine as an opener.

In a total of 35 innings as an opener, Narine averages a mere 20.8, having scored 706 runs. Yes, the fact remains that his individual stats are best when he opens, and he has a better strike-rate than anyone who has opened in the said time period. His average score is 21 ofd 11 balls. He scores a half-century only once every 11 eleven innings, which translates to approximately 80 per cent of the league stage of an IPL season.

In KKR’s first match of IPL 2020, Narine found himself helpless against the pace of Mumbai’s pace trio of Boult, Bumrah and Pattinson. He could only manage nine runs from 10 deliveries, playing five dot balls and taking two blows on his body.

Dinesh Karthik, the Knight Rider’s skipper, needs to rethink if Sunil Narine at the top is what best serves the team. An average of 20 might be alright for someone in a finisher’s role who comes in at number 6 or 7. However, the counter-argument remains that Narine is most useful as a batter in the Powerplay. KKR might have to revise their strategy and be more versatile with their top order in UAE conditions where the batting doesn’t suit Narine’s style of play. The slower surfaces results in the ball not coming on to the bat. Can Narine be as effective as an opener remains unanswered?

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