The new Sunil Narine

A player that completely changed what he was just to stay in the game.

Vince Carter could jump over seven-footers on his way to the rim. If you followed basketball in the late 90s. He was everywhere, selling jerseys with a fake Hollywood dinosaur and dunking everything in sight.

Image by Oliver Robert Holmes

But Carter never really excited me much outside of the moment his athleticism happened in front of me. I ignored him outside of the highlights. He was an all-star for ten of his first 11 seasons, and then - at 30 - his athleticism faded a bit, and he moved into being a second or third option on teams.

Throughout all of this, Carter is what we’d now refer to as a wing. He played the 2nd or third position, shooting guard or small forward, but played a similar way in both.

After 30 he was often a bench player, shuffling between teams, giving sound veteran experience, and playing his game. But it was just after this that I started to notice him a lot more. Because this incredible high flying all-star wing, was now a power forward who shot a lot.

In his late 30s, when players with his athletic gifts are usually well gone from basketball, Carter kept getting contracts. His last year was for Atlanta he came off the bench, played power forward, attempted eight threes per 36 minutes of game time. Before the age of 34, he’d never been above 5 attempts. He upped his rebound rate also. And having been an offensive powerhouse in his youth, in his 40s, he was an excellent defensive player.

And I loved every boring moment of it.

There is something incredible about the moment a gifted athlete recreates themselves into something else just to stay in the game.

In cricket, there have been a few that I’ve enjoyed.

I remember when Colin Miller was a good club bowler in Melbourne with his little medium-fast ones nipping about. So I was pleased for him when he went to Tasmania and built a career. But enthralled when he discovered how to bowl fast off-spin. Then broke the record for most wickets in a Shield season and then won an award for best Australian Test player one year during peak Australia.

Mike Yardy is another. I saw a bit of Sussex play when I first moved to the UK, so I had a good idea of what kind of talent Yardy was. He was a solid first class middle-order guy; he made 10000 runs, but at a sub 40 average. There was nothing in how he batted that made you think he was anything more than a county stalwart. And then T20 comes along, and his stingy finger spin, that never worked much in one day cricket, and only got him 29 first class wickets propelled him to higher honours. Still, those weird muscular straight breaks got him 42 international caps for his country. But these are two players who almost accidentally evolved into international cricket.

This all brings me to Sunil Narine.

If you cast your mind back to the 2012-2014 period, Sunil Narine was the best T20 bowler in the world. He helped the West Indies win one title, and Kolkata two more. You could not hit him, you could not stay in against him, and his teams used that to win.

For many reasons, Sunil Narine is no longer that bowler. I go into the details here in this video.

But why I made the video was just because of how different he has become. Narine was a bowling specialist, a two-way spinner (Offie+ , I am calling him) and now he is a carrom bowler with a seamer’s slower ball who can open.

That’s some transformation. Let’s look at his batting first.

Two interesting things happened to Sunil Narine’s batting. The first was he changed his game and started hitting sixes. I was at a Renegades game when he hit a few and tweeted this.

This is post the first time he was called for chucking. So Narine started working on being more useful by hitting as many sixes as he could, and it worked.

Then a couple of Renegades game later, Aaron Finch did something really interesting. Michael Beer is famous for being a spinner who opened the bowling in the Big Bash, and he was real good at it. So Finch tried Narine against him. It didn’t really work; Narine couldn’t get near Beer, who was brilliant at this job. But Narine scored off the quicks. They tried it again, and again. The other two were failures. Then Kolkata used him as an opener in their season, and it’s gone pretty well since. At best he gives him team a flyer bout one in two innings, and at worst, he made himself into a more valuable option.

His average plus strike rate.

Then he changed his bowling again a few years later. Narine used to bowl two deliveries mostly, off-spinners and the doosra carrom ball type that went the other way. His off-spinner was the one that was called. And so he needed another ball, so he went to the knuckleball.

I mean technically, he already bowled a carrom like ball from his knuckle, but this was seamer’s slower knuckleball, a delivery that doesn’t rotate, so it acts weirdly for the batters.

But then he tried a new style of run-up where he ran up hiding the ball, as helped by his coach, Carl Crowe. It meant that batters couldn’t look at his grip all the way through his run-up. You really only saw the ball as his arm was going over to bowl it.

Narine will never be the bowler he once was, he’s 32, still fighting his action, and people know his most dangerous tricks. But that he’s stayed at the top level over the last six years, by any means necessary. He was wonderful to watch at his best; now it’s just wonderful he's stuck around.