The league stage of IPL 10 has come to its close. The playoff stage is about to kick off with Rising Pune Supergiant(s) travelling to Mumbai Indians for the first qualifier. But this post is about a player from one of the other teams in the playoffs, the Kolkata Knight Riders, who fell into the eliminator match after a strong start to the season
Sunil Narine has been in an extraordinary run of form since being promoted to the top of the order in KKR's third match of the season. Having never batted higher than 8 in the IPL before 2017, he is now doing things like scoring the fastest ever IPL 50
If you had asked a few years ago, he would have been one of my top two picks for best player in the IPL: Gayle with the bat, Narine with the ball. His performance with the ball has slipped in recent seasons but could he possibly have reclaimed his status as one of the most valuable players in T20 having re-invented himself as an all-rounder?
Let's start with his bowling. Whilst Narine has been a revelation at the top of the order, he still has considerable value as a bowler. In fact, no player has had a bigger impact with the ball in the last 6 years
The table shows the stats for the top five bowlers in the IPL from 2012 - 2016 based on a measure called 'runs prevented'. One way to measure the value of a bowler and take into account the varying degrees of difficulty between different overs and different game situations is to build some baseline expectation to compare them against. Runs prevented shows how many fewer runs the opposition scored than we would expect from an average bowler
Narine earned 420 runs (and 3.1 wins) for KKR in those five years, far surpassing the feats of any other bowler. This was largely done in two phenomenal campaigns in 2012 and 2013. Only 9 bowlers have ever bowled a full season (at least 250 balls) in the IPL at less than 6 runs an over. None took as many wickets as Narine did in those first two seasons.
Using a model which predicts a team's expected innings total based on the score and remaining resources (overs and wickets) we can see how much that expected total changes after every single ball. For example, we might start the sixth over at 33-0 which is slightly below average but roughly on par for the Powerplay overs. The expected innings total at that point is 157. Our bowler then comes in, takes a wicket, and concedes just one run by the end of the over. He has significantly impacted the total that the batting team are likely to achieve. That expected total is now 143. The bowler has effectively earned 14 runs (157 - 143) for his team
We can also evaluate the impact of each player on winning games. In this case we are calculating the probability that each team will win rather than innings totals. In our example, the probability that the batting team would win the match would have fallen from 54% to 43% over the course of the over. We would therefore credit the bowler with 11% of a win (54 - 43)
Although the aim of the gain is to win, evaluating the impact on runs can be more a more reliable measure of value. Wins are far more sensitive to situational factors. This is especially true at the end of a match. In a tensely poised match, the final ball could take a team from a 50:50 shot to winning or losing. It can be unfair to attribute all the credit to a single bowler or a single batsman as luck often plays a role
But Narine has declined since those first seasons: his economy rate has risen, even as he has started to bowl in less challenging overs. He is clearly still an asset to his team - his economy is no longer ridiculous but it is still very good. He has been top 10 for economy in every IPL season that he has played.
However, we are forgetting that Narine isn't a bowler any more. He is an all-rounder! So do his new-found abilities with the bat make up for his decline in bowling prowess? Let's see...
The short answer is 'no'. He is still a great bowler and he does add a significant amount of value with the bat. It just isn't enough to make him the most valuable player in the league anymore.
But that doesn't tell the whole story. What Sunil Narine does with the bat is still absolutely extraordinary. No one scores from the top of the order in quite the same way that he does
Narine's innings are the purple bubbles vs. all the other opening batsmen in grey. He is the only opening batsman this season who has failed to face 20 balls in an innings even once (at least 4 matches played). He is also the only opening batsman scoring consistently at a rate of 200 or more
Looking at the value added stats, Narine does not have the best resume on his team. He earned slightly more wins than any other player but trails a long way behind some of the more conventional batsman in runs added (Uthappa, Pandey, Lynn). It isn't easy for a player to accumulate value when they they spend so little time in the middle.
Narine's value to his team is undersold by these statistics. Having a genuine bowler who bats creates an extra space for KKR to include another bowler or more batting firepower. If he is guaranteed to score faster than any of your actual batsmen then you are receiving extra runs at virtually zero opportunity cost. I would argue that makes Narine his team's MVP