West Indies hope Narine's knuckle ball can revive their punch

IPL heroics earn talented mystery spinner a Test call and revive memories of Sonny Ramadhin

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The Independent Online

A mystery spinner from Trinidad who has never played a Test match will almost certainly be employed as West Indies' secret weapon next week. With the selection of Sunil Narine the clock has been rewound fully 62 years.

Narine has been called up as a replacement for the injured fast bowler, Kemar Roach, and will be drafted into the side for the third Test against England at Birmingham which starts next Thursday. He has played only six first-class matches and it was impossible on hearing of his enlistment not to think of his predecessor, Sonny Ramadhin.

In the past few months Narine has a cut a swathe through some of the world's top batsmen. He bamboozled Australia in a one-day series earlier this year with his so-called knuckle ball and was a sensation in the Indian Premier League, in which he appeared for the winning team, Kolkata Knight Riders in a close final last Sunday.

Narine, 24 last week, comes from Arima. Although labelled as an off-spinner, he can turn the ball both ways and has a fast top-spinner. The knuckle ball is conveyed by being pushed with his index and middle fingers. He was called after the great India batsman, Sunil Gavaskar, though it might easily have been another Sunny, Ramadhin.

Although Ramadhin was utterly unheralded, there are uncanny similarities. In the spring of 1950, Ramadhin (and the equally inexperienced left-arm spinner, Alf Valentine from Jamaica), was picked in the West Indies squad after playing in only two trial first-class matches at home. He was 21 and although he was billed as an off-spinner he could turn the ball both ways.

In the four Tests that summer, he took 26 wickets, including 11 in West Indies' first victory at Lord's. After losing the first Test, the tourists won the series 3-1 and prompted a calypso: "Those two little pals of mine, Ramadhin and Valentine."

West Indies, 2-0 down in the series, must desperately hope that Narine can do something similar. It was his visit to Australia last year to rectify glitches in his action that seems to have transformed him as a bowler. More side-on now, he bowls with transfixing accuracy, has an off break which turns considerably and other varieties difficult to pick because of a scrambled seam.

Mystery spinners are usually more effective early in their careers because the mystery wears off but Narine has shown himself quick to adapt. He took 11 wickets in the limited-overs matches against Australia and would have been an automatic choice for the tour of England until the IPL came calling.

He brought an astonishing $700,000 in the auction in a bidding war won by KKR. Although it has been said that he refused to join the tour of England, that is wrong. The West Indies board recognised they could not match such riches and sanctioned his playing in India. He took 24 wickets, second only to Morne Morkel at an economy rate of 5.20. England need to look at the tapes.