By Siddhartha Vaidyanathan
Sunil Narine treats the off-side like Chris Gayle treats running: it doesn’t really matter.
As far as Narine is concerned a whole half of the ground can disappear.
That vast arc from third man to long-off, maybe even the two sightscreens: it can all vanish from the face of the stadium. And it won’t make a difference to Narine.
He belongs to the leg side. The blind-side, some call it, but there is nothing blind about how Narine sees the ball and slams it, over and over, through the space between fine leg and long-on.
He swats them, slaps them, lofts them and swivels around to pummel them.
Sunil Narine scored 59 runs in 30 balls for Montreal Tigers against the Winnipeg Hawks in a game reduced to 12-overs a side – a game that his side went on to win by 24 runs.
Of those 59 runs, 46 were in fours and sixes. Of which 42 came through the leg-side.
There was a pull,
a move-out-of-the-way-and-slap to the mid-on fence,
a loft that landed on the tent at long-on,
a clear-that-front-foot-and-biff-baseball-style over long-on,
a pendulum-smooth swing to the stands at midwicket,
a clear-that-front-foot-again-and-slog over deep midwicket,
and a whip over square leg, filled with so much tenderness it could have been sealed with a kiss.
This was a party on the leg-side. Shot after shot from Narine: all getting tipsy and making merry. Some jiving in the stands, some dancing on the tents and some heading down to the street. Most of the fans were on the off side but they weren’t going to see the ball come to them…
…there was that one moment in his innings, the fourth ball of the second over, when a length ball from Kaleem Sana pitched slightly outside off… when Narine briefly forgot his favored technique. He didn’t wait on the back foot, eager to launch the ball to midwicket. He didn’t clear his front foot, didn’t shape up to turn the ball to the leg side.
For just that one moment, he turned into a top-order batsman in a Test match. He moving forward, with his head still, and caressed the ball in that gap between point and cover – teasing the fielders for a brief moment until they realized the timing is too good and the placement just right. The ball raced away to the fence. All along the ground. For the shot of the match.