Russell and Narine: A tag team in a 11-a-side sport | Crickit
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Russell and Narine: A tag team in a 11-a-side sport

By, Chennai
May 24, 2024 03:09 PM IST

The in-form West Indian all-round duo will be KKR’s biggest asset in Sunday’s final

‘When you play that number of games, you don’t get excited too quickly’, Andre Russell explains Sunil Narine’s low-key celebrations after picking up wickets. Narine has played over 500 T20 matches, Russell will get there soon.

Kolkata Knight Riders' Andre Russell (R) celebrates with teammate Sunil Narine after taking a wicket.(AFP)
Kolkata Knight Riders' Andre Russell (R) celebrates with teammate Sunil Narine after taking a wicket.(AFP)

With a collective experience of seven Test matches, the West Indian duo is out-and-out T20 troupers. They may have won T20 World Cups along the way, but their relationship with the home cricket board has been mostly frosty. If they could still excel on the world stage, live a high life and give wings to their unparalleled talent, it’s because Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) happened.

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There are only so many loyal player-franchise associations in the Indian Premier League (IPL). The mega auction, every fourth year never allows them to stay the course. But KKR’s bond with Russell (2014 onwards ) and Narine (from 2012) has been shatterproof. Narine’s end game was pronounced when he had troubles with his bowling action. Russell’s when he had a doping suspension and troubled knee. But to KKR’s credit, they saw merit in keeping faith. They play for KKR round-the-year – in IPL, MLS, ILT20 and CPL.

Year after year, the two all-rounders bring their USP to the fore. It has been no different this year. In Narine’s case, it has been his most spectacular IPL as an all-rounder.

For KKR’s backroom men, their own batters are the first port of call to predict if it would be another year where Narine’s bowling mystery remains intact. ‘They couldn’t pick him in the nets’, a birdie said. Nor have the opposing batters been able to.

After remodeling his bowling action, Narine hides the ball in his run-up, giving the batters a split second less to spot it from the hand - small tweaks that matter. Enroute to the final, Narine’s wickets (16) have cost him only 6.9 runs per over. It makes him the most economical of all spinners in the league; overall, the second-best after Jasprit Bumrah – in a season which has seen the most sixes hit.

Quite a few of them (32 sixes) have come off Narine’s bat itself - the most for KKR. With Gautam Gambhir’s return to the KKR set up, Narine was elevated as opener again. He has scored more runs (482) than his total returns from the past five seasons. If Narine’s bowling is complex, his batting is uncomplicated. He still opens his right leg, gives himself room and relies heavily on his lofted pulls. But to be able to bat as aggressively (SR 179.85) and score the volume of runs is a testament to his confidence levels.

Narine’s impact has become bigger as the season has dragged on, but it was Andre Russell who set the ball rolling with his 25-ball 64 against Sunrisers Hyderabad in the first outing. That end-overs cameo was laced with 7 sixes; many of them monstrous, demoralizing bowlers.

It’s been yet another season where the Jamaican has scored his runs (222) at turbo speed (SR 185). To cap that he has picked up as many wickets (16) as Narine and put his hand up to shoulder the death overs burden when others including Mitch Starc took time to come into their own.

"I am just more disciplined and trying to do the things that are uncomfortable a bit... that’s in terms of going to the gym and trying to do it every other day and get my legs stronger because I've been struggling with knee injuries for the last couple of years,” he told Star Sports. “Sometimes you take a lot of things for granted. When thousands and millions of fans worldwide are watching games, seeing you not performing or getting injured, I think it's not good. I look into myself and I think me and the gym, we are the best friends, so I think that's why I'm more fit in this season."

Narine with the Batting Powerplay, then to choke the scoring with the ball in the middle overs. Russell with his big batting blade in the death overs, a little earlier if required. Then to make the most of the two-bouncer rule in the middle overs and nail those yorkers at the death. Between the two, Narine and Russell cover so much ground in a T20 encounter, that no Impact player rule can dilute their all-round impact. They are a tag team in an eleven-a-side sport.

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