Will mystery man solve West Indies' problems?

The West Indies' current great hope is not a fast bowler but a spinner. The team of the 1970s and 1980s would probably have scoffed at the thought, but today, the team is weaving its dreams around Sunil Narine.

Updated: June 05, 2012 10:50 IST
  • Total Shares

Bangalore: 'Once great': in sport, it's one of the commonest clichés to describe the obvious - a major force on the wane.

In individual sport, it's easier to place. Just find a former champion who should, really, just walk away with dignity. You call that person 'once great'. When s/he does take the hint and retire, forget the last bit and remember the halcyon days. End of story.

In team sport, it's a bit more complicated. If a team is in a trough, the solution could be to change the personnel, or wait for the right combination to get together. It is a fact that, while there is always a swansong for an individual, a team endures. It must suffer humiliation as lesser teams push it down. It must wait for a turnaround, because the turnaround will almost certainly come.

In world cricket, if there is a 'once great' team, it is the West Indies. Four fast bowlers and a pack of outstanding batsmen, and few teams came close to their class. Only the Australians of the late 1990s and 2000s breathed the same rarified air.

Sadly, no team quakes its boots when facing the West Indians today.

But that's not all that's changed.

Their current great hope is not a fast bowler - when was the last time we saw a really great one anyway? - but a spinner. The team of the 1970s and 1980s would probably have scoffed at the thought, but today, the team is weaving its dreams around Sunil Narine. He can't prevent the top four batsmen from getting out with next to nothing against their names, but he just might - on the evidence of Twenty20 cricket, mind you - have the Englishmen in a spin this summer.

Narine. Till a month-and-a-half back, he was deemed yet another one of Kolkata Knight Riders' extravagant investments. He was a mystery spinner coming to the home of orthodox spin - and being paid more than them. The Sehwags and the Rainas and the Tendulkars were smacking their lips at the prospect of facing him.

Today, he is the bowler no one can score off.

That Narine is difficult to cart around is beyond doubt. But is that good enough to counter England in their backyard? Ordinarily, the West Indies would have replaced Kemar Roach with another fast bowler, the same way they replaced Shannon Gabriel with Tino Best. But his success in the Indian Premier League prompted the selectors back home to pick Narine instead. Remember, he doesn't even have a central contract with the West Indies Cricket Board - he is that much of an outsider.

In England, Narine is a cinch to make the playing XI for the third Test. Whether that means Shane Shillingford sits out or the team goes in with two frontline spinners remains to be seen. What is for certain is that Narine will play, and he will bowl a lot of overs. Kevin Pietersen has already faced him in the IPL and has first-hand experience of his guile. KP would have told his mates that, while Narine is tough to pick, he could be kept from getting wickets if they don't attack him unnecessarily.

Narine has emerged from nowhere. Against lesser teams, even in Test matches, he might be a handful. But against England, he faces a stern test. Here, every opposition batsman is a professional, an international. No one is chasing eight runs an over either. For Narine, life in the fast lane begins now, at Edgbaston.

He will make his millions off the next couple of IPLs on the back of his 2012 performance. An international career, and serious stardom, will be tougher to grab.

I, for one, am waiting eagerly to see how this pans out. Boom or bust? For the sake of the West Indies, I hope it's the former. Narine might not be able to change the 'once great' tag affixed to his team, but he could be one of the agents of change the team so desperately needs.

For the latest Cricket news , Score, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter and get the NDTV Cricket app for Android or iOS