The Narine-Russell saga: Payback time for the Caribbean duo?

After a rocky flight, the Kolkata Knight Riders brace for Saturday’s match at home

Narine and Russell made up many a happy frame this year (photo: KKR)
Narine and Russell made up many a happy frame this year (photo: KKR)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

Chris Gayle, Kieron Pollard, Dwayne Bravo... The way the Caribbean flavour has enriched some of the IPL teams has been well documented over the years.

The story of Sunil Narine and Andre Russell for the Kolkata Knight Riders, however, is unique. They seem hardly able to put a foot wrong this 2024 season, with the team is perched on top of the table and poised to finish in the top two in the play-offs.

A day after their win over the Lucknow Super Kings in Lucknow on Sunday, 5 May, the Knights suffered a jolt off the pitch, on their way back to Kolkata. As a thunderstorm lashed West Bengal on Monday evening, 6 May, the inclement weather forced their chartered flight to abort their landing and head for Guwahati — which also proved inhospitable.

The shaken players had to finally retreat to Varanasi for an overnight layover—and a chance for some sightseeing—before heading back to base on Tuesday afternoon, 7 May.

KKR players K.S. Bharat, Manish Pandey and Sherfane Rutherford enjoy the sights of Varanasi during their forced layover on 7 May (photo: KKR)
KKR players K.S. Bharat, Manish Pandey and Sherfane Rutherford enjoy the sights of Varanasi during their forced layover on 7 May (photo: KKR)

However, with enough time to recover before their next match at the Eden in Kolkata, that too against the beleaguered Mumbai Indians, on Saturday, 11 May, it’s difficult to see the KKR applecart being upset.    

Solid and stolid, from the start

The pokerfaced Narine — an accidental opener — touched upon a slew of landmarks, with yet another belligerent innings of 81 off 35 balls. It was enough to set his team on course for a 200-plus total against the Lucknow Super Giants on a challenging surface.

Narine is now only the fourth cricketer in IPL history to have scored 450-plus runs plus more than 10 wickets in a season, after the mighty Jacques Kallis, Shane Watson and compatriot Dre Russ.

A tally of 452 runs sees Narine in third spot in the race for the Orange Cap now, and sixth in the Purple Cap chase with 14 wickets, not to speak of the feat of matching Russell’s feat of the maximum Player of the Match awards for the Knights (15).

Add to this the rare milestone of becoming only the third player in the league—after Ravindra Jadeja and Bravo, both Chennai Super Kings legends—to score more than 1,500 runs and 150-plus wickets.

Jadeja and Bravo—both genuine all-rounders—got most of their runs and wickets for the Yellove, neither has really been a one-franchise man like Narine.

Jadeja started off as a callow youngster for the Rajasthan Royals, Bravo was with the Mumbai Indians, before both went on to become legends of sorts in the CSK fold.

Narine, on the other hand, joined KKR in 2012 and immediately made an impact as they won their first crown.

Meanwhile, Russell’s breakout year in the franchise came a couple of seasons later, in 2014, after he moved to the KKR from the erstwhile Delhi Daredevils.

With the top half of the KKR batting lineup being hardly tested, barring a few occasions this year, Russell — along with last year’s ace finisher, Rinku Singh — has not had enough time with the bat in the middle. However, Russell's 64 off 25 deliveries against the Sunrisers Hyderabad in that lung opener at the Eden on 23 March was ever so typical of him!

He also seems to be the captain’s go-to bowler in tricky situations again — a trust Russell has rewarded with 13 wickets.   

Of course, a standout season doesn’t mean Narine is smiling more than usual; and Russell is not surprised.

"When you have played more than 500 T20I games, you don’t get excited too easily. Sunil [Narine] is very much the core of the team," remarked Dre Russ in an official video. Venkatesh Iyer too has referred to him as the 'cornerstone of the franchise'.   

Looking back, those who have followed the Shah Rukh Khan co-owned franchise's journey may zero in on the combination of factors that birthed Narine 2.0 as well as a re-energised and fit Russell.

Possibly, mentor Gautam Gambhir’s arrival saw him assign specific roles for two of his old comrades-in-arms.

The two journeymen also likely see it as payback time after the team management supported them through thick and thin.

Just ponder the negative vibes from the 'fans' last November, when the KKR decided to retain Narine, although he seemed to have lost his bite with the ball (and bat), and Russell's fitness under a cloud. The past decade has seen the management taking it upon themselves to initiate corrective measures after Narine’s action was called repeatedly. They also backed Russell through his battle with injury and a season-long ban over drug-related issues.

Yes, that support is now paying off — even if it may be for one final time. The way these two are going, who knows where they will end up in the mega auction next season!

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