Pink shoes. Pink glares. The Mohawk. Sunil Narine stands out from the rest of the Kolkata Knight Riders squad even from a distance. Yet not many, including the media, are paying attention to the West Indies offspinner.
It is three in the afternoon. Peak summer heat soaring at about 38 degrees centigrade along with Kolkata’s extreme humidity levels. It is unbearable.
A fan, sitting behind the nets where Narine is bowling, collapses and has an epileptic fit, forcing Knight Riders physiotherapist Andrew Leipus to rush to the spot. Amid all this chaos, Narine remains unflustered.
It is only his second day at training having endured a difficult last week.
Forced by the BCCI diktat, he had to travel to the ICC-accredited centre in Chennai to get his action retested despite having got a clearance from the testing centre at University of Loughborough in March.
Although Narine got an all-clear from BCCI’s sub-committee dealing with suspect actions, the Knight Riders management fear that mentally it might have had an impact on him on the eve of the tournament.
That pressure will not cease till sometime at least considering the BCCI has instructed the umpires to take tough stance against bowlers with suspect actions. But in the nets, with no umpires observing him, Narine is his usual languid self. He does not rush in to bowl. It does not bother him that his first few balls are easily dealt by Ryan ten Doeschate.
Glares on, he takes the short run-up to deliver to ten Doeschate.
Watching from behind the nets, to the untrained eye, it is difficult to pick the subtle changes Narine has carried out as part of the remodelling of his action.
Ten minutes into his bowling, Narine flips the glares upside down and sticks them at the back of his head. He is now ready. There is a new batsman. Yusuf Pathan.
The second ball he faces, Narine delivers the carom ball. The trajectory is a little flatter. But Yusuf has not read Narine’s hand as he defends unconvincingly.
The next ball is flighted and it dips. Yusuf has to lunge forward to tap it safely.
Few balls later Narine bowls a rank half tracker and Yusuf gleefuly steps back and pulls powerfully.
Yusuf probably imagines it to be a six but Narine signals a four.
Yusuf does not respond. Narine does the signal once more, this time with a modest smile. Yusuf acknowledges.
A few more balls, Narine wraps up his training after 15 minutes and walks away into the dressing room only to emerge couple of hours later to enter the team bus.
A few fans shout “Narine, Narine” and he acknowledges them by raising his right hand. The loudest cheers are reserved for “Yusuf bhai,” “Robin,” “Gambhir,” “Surya.”
Even during the nets it is former Pakistan fast-bowling ace Wasim Akram, the Knights Riders bowling consultant, who is the cynosure of the 50-strong fans. “Wasim bhai, ek baar dal do. Dil shant ho jayega (please bowl one ball. It would relieve the heart) shouts a young security guard.
Another group of teenagers walk in excitedly and suddenly spot Bangladesh allrounder Shakib Al Hasan. They decide to take a selfie with him in the background. Not one is interested in Narine.
Interestingly as you walk into and inside the Eden Gardens, Narine remains inconspicuous. Gambhir, Uthappa, Yusuf—all of them are staring down from huge billboards.
Andre Russell and Morne Morkel are part of the screens that separate the Cricket Association of Bengal lobby and the home dressing rooms.
There is a side profile of Narine that looks at you from the screen covering the visitor’s dressing room, but you are bound to miss it as it is partly hidden by a pillar.
Knight Riders’ most valuable player remains invisible. Perhaps it suits him.
Quiet in celebration. Quiet in agony.