Cricket: Meet the Windies mystery with the big bounce

By Jack Tame

As he bounces to the wicket, Sunil Narine stretches both hands before his chest as if stretching and cracking his knuckles. He lifts the ball high above his head, holding the position for a few steps with his wrist clear of his sleeve, before whipping through his action and delivering the ball.

The action and release is unusual, but not ungainly nor legally suspect. In less than a year of international cricket, Trinidad's mohawked mystery has enjoyed a striking rise to become the West Indies' highest ranked ODI bowler.

"He's a little bit like [Sri Lankan spinner] Ajantha Mendis when Mendis first came on the scene," says Black Caps opener Martin Guptill. "There's a bit of that unknown."

The unknown has afforded Sunil Narine impressive success in 2012. His unorthodox off-spin variations and sharp turning doosra proved difficult to negotiate for batsmen in the Indian Premier League.

In his debut season with the Kolkata Knight Riders, Narine took 24 wickets to finish as Player of the Tournament.

The IPL came at the expense of playing in the Australian tour of the West Indies but the 24 year-old's IPL form continued upon his return home against the Black Caps.

He was integral in the West Indies' 4-1 ODI series victory, seizing five wickets in the final match to end the series with 13 in total. In the first test in Antigua, Narine collected eight New Zealand wickets, finishing as man of the match with his first five-wicket haul.

"He can move the ball both ways," says Guptill, who fell to Narine in both innings of the first test. "But the bounce - that's the most dangerous thing. It wasn't every ball he was getting to bounce, just every now and then, getting you in the gloves or up the top of the bat."

Black Caps captain Ross Taylor agrees that the unpredictability of Narine's bounce has troubled his team throughout the tour. Taylor was among those dismissed by Narine in the first innings at Antigua but thinks much of his bounce - and success - can be attributed to the Indian and Caribbean pitch conditions.

"These wickets in the subcontinent and in the West Indies will suit his bowling. When he plays in New Zealand, Australia and South Africa, it'll be interesting to see how he gets on there."

Experience makes a difference too. For the first innings of the second test, a harder Kingston pitch and more crease time had the Black Caps' top order a little more comfortable with Narine's variations.

In one of the few positives to be drawn from their team's uninspiring first innings, Taylor and Guptill comfortably negotiated Narine.

Guptill says he's faced Sunil Narine enough now to pick the off-spinner's variations like his doosra.

"He disguises it pretty well, but when you've faced him a bit there are a couple of little signs you can pick up on."

For Ajantha Mendis, that too was the case. The more exposure batsmen had to his bamboozling variations, the less bamboozling they became. From an ODI bowling ranking of seventh in 2009, the once super-hyped Sri Lankan spinner has today slipped to 43rd.

For Sunil Narine to avoid a similar slip he'll have to prove his charms in different conditions on less conducive wickets and against sturdier batting line-ups.

- Herald on Sunday

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