Mr T20 playing himself
Can a phenomenally successful and financially rewarding career in cricket’s shortest form compensate for a truncated Test experience? Is the question even relevant at a time when the T20 game is all the rage?
Sooner rather than later the assumption of the primacy of the sport’s five-day version will be altered as a recognition of the changing times in the game, where there is limited scope for emerging talent to blossom on the Test landscape, especially when that same talent is in even greater demand and can attract much more money in 20-over competitions all over the world.
In the immediate aftermath of the Champions League in India, where Kieron Pollard’s Mumbai Indians prevailed over Kevon Cooper’s Rajasthan Royals in the final in Delhi yesterday, we can look at the issue as it might be viewed by Sunil Narine, who reinforced his status as the best T20 bowler in the world in helping Trinidad and Tobago get to the semi-finals in their farewell appearance at the tournament.
Narine was simply outstanding at the CLT20, his tally of 11 wickets and economy rate of 4.30 being second only to Pravin Tambe, the 41-year-old wrist-spinner who has never even played a first-class match but was a match-winning revelation for the Royals in taking 12 wickets at an economy rate of 4.10. If it’s a case of the unheralded Indian being a surprise factor, the same cannot be said of the wily Trini, and that just makes his continued success all the more remarkable.
In an era of almost forensic television coverage, where every single delivery is analysed from an assortment of angles to an almost microscopic degree, it says a lot for the Arimian’s skill and versatility that he continues to bewilder the best batsmen in the world at T20 level. In the two years and nine months since he played his very first T20 match for Trinidad and Tobago against Hampshire in Barbados, he has hardly ever been taken to the cleaners.
More than a few were taken aback when the Kolkata Knight Riders splurged US$700,000 to get his signature ahead of the 2012 Indian Premier League (IPL) season, yet he repaid that faith immediately in helping KKR to their first IPL title while being named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. Their failure to even make the playoffs in defence of the crown this year could not be attributed to Narine, who again excelled with the ball.
No surprise then that he has been signed by the Cape Cobras for South Africa’s T20 tournament next January which, by the way, rules him out of the national team for the Regional Super 50 event that will be hosted at the Queen’s Park Oval at around the same time. Add to that his commitments with the Big Bash in Australia and now as the franchise player for the Guyana Amazon Warriors in the Caribbean Premier League (CPL), together with his duties for Kolkata in the two months of the IPL season, and it becomes apparent that his opportunities to progress as a Test cricketer are actually hampered by his success in the T20 game.
It might be the expected thing to sing the praises of Test cricket as the very pinnacle of the sport and the ultimate ambition of anyone who has ever taken up the game seriously, but given his brief and chequered experiences with the traditional version last year, would it really be at all surprising if the flame of desire to play Tests doesn’t burn as bright as it once did?
In five Tests, he has taken 15 wickets at an average
of 48.06, 12 of those wickets coming in the two Tests against New Zealand in Antigua and Jamaica. But having started his Test career with the unflattering figures of none for 70 off 15 overs in damp conditions against England in Birmingham seven weeks earlier, he then struggled for any sort of sustained effectiveness in two Tests in Bangladesh at the end of the year, when he took three for 148 off 32.3 overs in the first innings of the first Test in Dhaka and then went wicketless over the remaining three innings of the series, conceding 195 runs off 46 overs.
Interestingly, only one of those 46 overs was a maiden, suggesting that even though the Bangladeshis were very far from being the most accomplished batsmen in the world, they found it much easier to accumulate runs off him in the protracted variety of the game rather than in the condensed, high-pressure format of T20 where the onus is on the batsmen to keep the score moving along as quickly as possible.
This is not intended to make light of the ability to curb the scoring rate and take wickets in T20 cricket but merely to highlight how very different the two formats of the game are. Someone who can guarantee figures of none for 18 off four overs in every T20 match he plays would attract a million-dollar contract immediately. At Test level, those are the numbers you would expect from a part-timer, someone who just comes on to tie up an end while the real bowlers are taking a rest.
Maybe he’s bitterly disappointed at not being picked for the two Tests in India next month, or maybe not. Either way, it won’t be long again before Narine is back in the thick of things again for some team somewhere in the world in T20, where he can
really play himself.