Reed on IPL: Narine rises to the challenge

Sunil Narine wowed the Indian Premier League last season, and is up to the challenge again this year. (AP/Rob Griffith)

They are polar opposites.

Two men born on different continents, brought up in different cultures. One is in the autumn of his career; the other has his whole life ahead of him. One bats majestically, the other bowls craftily. They both rose to the occasion but, ultimately, only one could claim victory.

Mahela Jayawardene is one of cricket’s great stroke makers. Rarely hurried or surprised, he is a master of his art. Twenty20 cricket is all about compiling scores quickly, prompting many batters to swing wildly in hope rather than expectation.

In marked contrast, the Sri Lankan veteran is the epitome of elegance. Jayawardene, who turns 36 next month, has every shot in the book to suit every surface, every type of bowler and every form of the game. Crucially, he also has the experience to manage not only his own contribution, but also the team he captains.

Sunil Narine represents the next generation. The 24-year-old Trinidadian spin bowler was the breakout star of last year’s Indian Premier League, helping the Kolkata Knight Riders claim the Championship for the first time

He is not the finished article. Narine has yet to enjoy similar success in either the Test or ODI arena, but in T20 – arguably the most challenging environment for a young bowler – he has been a resounding hit. Narine is no longer under the radar and many are anxious to see whether he can back up his sensational 2012 form.

So far, so good. The opening act of IPL Season six brought together Narine and Jayawardene upon the green acres of Eden Gardens in front of an expectant, boisterous, sold out crowd in excess of 50,000.

The very first delivery of the year set the tone. The fireworks began as Brett Lee, who, at 36 looks like a man 10 years younger, came steaming in to send Unmukt Chand’s off stump cartwheeling into the sultry Kolkata night.

Cue Jayawardene. All artistry and improvisation, the Delhi skipper soon steadied the ship passing yet another career milestone of 1,500 IPL runs. Before long he would be the first to complete a half-century in IPL6 as partners came and went at regular intervals.

David Warner is no rookie. The Australian opener has five T20 centuries to his name and was rebuilding with his captain when Kolkata introduced Narine in the final over of the Powerplay. His impact was almost immediate – Narine’s first delivery to Warner jumped and turned off the pitch presenting Jacques Kallis with a sharp catch at slip.

Narine’s single over had broken the partnership and Delhi’s rhythm. Jayawardene battled on but the youngster returned to claim three more victims and, for good measure, took the catch to end the Sri Lankan’s classy resistance. Narine collected four wickets with an extraordinary economy rate of 3.25, serving ample notice he is once again ready to torment batsmen in 2013.

The Knight Riders would go onto win by six wickets with Narine, last year’s Man of the Tournament, named Man of the Match. At this rate there will be many more accolades on the way and, as a result, Kolkata will contend again.

His ability to move the confused batters was illustrated perfectly as he bamboozled fellow West Indian Andre Russell into giving up the easiest caught-and-bowled imaginable. Having completed the catch, Narine discarded the ball to the turf, without a hint of celebration. With a deadpan expression, not dissimilar to soccer star Mario Balotelli, it was as if to say, “this is too easy”. The kid’s got swagger.

This, of course, is just the start. The games are coming thick and fast – including a feast of four matches on the weekend. Chennai’s home opener against traditional rivals Mumbai stands out – though the ban on Sri Lankans playing in Tamil Nadu means the Indians must make do without strike bowler Lasith Malinga.

The Daredevils will hope Jayawardene can count on more batting support as they make their home debut against Rajasthan. The Royals will look to Australian all-rounder Shane Watson to contribute heavily with both bat and ball although he’s not expected to arrive until early next week.

Sunday sees the Sunrisers become one of the first teams to try and survive the ‘Gayle-storm’. Bangalore visits the new Hyderabad franchise knowing Chris Gayle puts on a one-man batting master class more often than not. It is not to be missed.

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.