So we’ve seen the last of Shane Warne, Anil Kumble, Muttiah Muralitharan and Saqlain Mushtaq.
But what have we gained in return?
For starters, we’ve gained mystery in the form of Sunil Narine. Now… make no mistake, Narine isn’t a Saeed Ajmal (the reigning king of mystery) – at least, not yet. But given the rapid pace at which he’s improving, he just might get there very soon.
At the start of the IPL, nobody wanted to know what kind of bowling the West Indian did. All they wanted to know was whether he was worth the $700,000 that Shah Rukh Khan paid to get the spinner in his KKR side at the IPL 2012 auction.The answer to that question is now an emphatic ‘yes’ and it has sent hundreds of batsmen scampering to the video analysts – they are all looking for that tiny clue that will allow them to pick which way the ball will turn. Sachin Tendulkar couldn’t pick him. Virender Sehwag hasn’t been able to do that either and neither have any of the other batting stalwarts who are playing in the IPL.
As the Kolkata Knight Riders made it to the final of the fifth season of the IPL, Gautam Gambhir said it in as many words: “We are here because of our bowling. Sunil has been great and all the other bowlers have supported him; done their parts.”
Indeed, Sunil has been great. Just look at the numbers: 24 wickets at an average of 11.95 and an economy of just 5.20. Gambhir has used him well – keeping him in reserve for the tough times and the West Indian has delivered time and again.
But what is it that makes Narine so difficult? Part of the problem is that since the batsmen can’t pick him from the hand, they have to read him off the pitch and that often means they don’t have enough time to decide the shot they want to play. Sometimes, they get it right but then that isn’t batting, it’s guesswork.
In the case of most mystery spinners, sooner rather than later, they get found out. In the pre-video era, it was more difficult because you would rarely ever get the chance to analyse a bowler’s action.
One of the first ‘known’ mystery bowlers was Australian Jack Iverson. If you head over to Cricinfo, instead of his mug shot, you have an image of his ‘mystery’ grip. His bowling style is categorized as leg-break googly. He played just 5 Tests for Australia in the 1950-51 season but ended up taking 21 wickets at just 15.23. But then an ankle injury ended his career before it could ever really take off.
Sonny Ramadhin – the original West Indian mystery spinner – also made his mark during the 1950s. He bowled right-arm offbreaks and legbreaks with no discernible change of action and for a while, the batsmen were flummoxed. Then, they got even and started playing him with their pads. The mystery dissipated.
Soon after the genre of the mystery spinner’s died. Classical off-spinners, left-arm spinners and leg-spinners took over. Of course, there was little of BS Chandrashekhar that was classical but then he wasn’t trying to create any mystery.
The batsmen didn’t know which way it would turn and well… neither did Chandra. So it was a mystery to everyone involved.
Abdul Qadir revived the original ‘mystery’ ball, the googly in some style. But still nothing surprised people in the same way as Iverson or Ramadhin, as Saqlain. The ‘doosra’ was introduced to our vocabulary and he ran through sides with ease and class.
Then Ajantha Mendis came along and some even named him the ‘international man of mystery’ because that’s the kind of impact he had on the game. Suddenly, there was a buzz. The carom ball, his grip, his accuracy – it was all discussed and debated and then solved. Now, Mendis struggles to even get into the Sri Lankan team.
So the question that we perhaps be asking isn’t how good Narine is, rather it should be how long will the mystery last. Sourav Ganguly has already said that it’s only a matter of time before the West Indian is sorted out by batsmen and it will be interesting to see how much longer he lasts in international cricket without the mystery.