Sunil Narine, a 'Go To' player for Kolkata Knight Riders for more than ten years, will need to perform at the top of his game to earn a spot in the starting eleven when his side plays Punjab Kings on Monday in a crucial Indian Premier League matchup.
The Trinidadian player has 159 wickets, 1039 runs, and four half-centuries after working on his batting after his action was judged questionable and he lost the zing of the pitch during the course of 158 games played over 12 seasons, including the current one.
Narine would be the first to say he has been very fortunate, but he hasn't been the same “mystery bowler” that exploded onto the T20 franchise scene for several seasons.
The primary decision-makers at KKR, CEO Venky Mysore and assistant coach Abhishek Nayar, have persisted with the player despite his struggles for at least two of his previous three seasons. He was the architect of the 2012 and 2014 IPL victories, with 24 and 21 wickets respectively.
There is little margin for error in the remaining four games, however, as KKR faces yet another round robin exit with just four victories in 10 games.
The player only has seven kills from ten games with an economy rate of 8.76 and a total of 14 runs from eight innings of batting with a strike rate under 80. The issue is if KKR can still afford to play him.
While Punjab Kings is also in trouble and the game is of similar significance for them, KKR must make some difficult selection decisions.
The Shikhar Dhawan-led squad may be two points clear of the eighth-placed KKR after being out-batted by Mumbai Indians in their most recent match, but both organisations are facing elimination.
More so in the case of the host team, led by Nitish Rana, who will play in their last four games of the campaign.
Their strategy team, lead by Chandrakant Pandit, a shrewd home strategist, must look beyond their two Caribbean stars, Narine and Andre Russell.
Russell is the finest T20 all-arounder, as CEO and managing director Mysore reaffirmed the other day during a meeting with the media team. I don't need to say much more about Narine.
One foreign quota is now blocked by Narine's regular status, leaving KKR without choices like paceman Lockie Ferguson and David Wiese, a true all-round seam bowler who can also contribute with the bat.
Varun Chakravarthy has emerged as their top spinner, taking 14 wickets at an average of 20.14, which strengthens the argument that KKR must consider options other than Russell and Narine.
Chakravarthy, a leg-spinner who bowls at 90 to 95 kph, has expertly led the spin assault.
As KKR won a dramatic five-run victory against SRH, he led the way when Rana handed him the assignment to preserve nine runs in the last over.
Russell has little chances to demonstrate his batting prowess, therefore KKR has to find a method to move him up the order.
The big-hitting Jamaican has 166 runs and a strike rate of 148 or higher.
He has, however, had an effect as a bowler, providing the side with critical wickets in the middle overs (seven at 20.14).
With three more home games remaining and a challenging away game against Chennai Super Kings, KKR must take advantage of the conditions at Eden Gardens to maintain their chances.
KKR's last game was a flawless team performance against Sunrisers Hyderabad.
The onus would be on the KKR hitters to put on an outstanding performance against a bowling staff that would be lacking in confidence after Mumbai Indians' rout in their last game.
Despite having a strong bowling lineup that included Nathan Ellis, Sam Curran, and Arshdeep Singh, Punjab Kings were unable to stop MI from crossing the finish line with seven balls to spare.
Arshdeep went for 1/66 from his 3.5 overs with four dot balls, while Ellis conceded 2/34 with only four dot balls. Curran (0/41) let up the most runs, therefore KKR has to use a same strategy while facing the three.
The KKR bowling attack would try to contain the three, but Liam Livingstone, Shikhar Dhawan, and the newest keeper-batter prodigy Jitesh Sharma have been their backbone in the batting department.
Kolkata Knight Riders: Nitish Rana (c), Jason Roy, Rahmanullah Gurbaz, Venkatesh Iyer, Andre Russell, Sunil Narine, Shardul Thakur, Lockie Ferguson, Umesh Yadav, Tim Southee, Harshit Rana, Varun Chakravarthy, Anukul Roy, Rinku Singh, N. Jagadeesan, Vaibhav Arora, Suyash Sharma, David Wiese, Kulwant Khejroliya, Mandeep Singh and Aarya Desai.
Punjab Kings: Shikhar Dhawan (c), Shahrukh Khan, Matthew Short, Prabhsimran Singh, Bhanuka Rajapaksa, Jitesh Sharma, Gurnoor Singh Brar, Rishi Dhawan, Liam Livingstone, Atharva Taide, Arshdeep Singh, Baltej Singh, Nathan Ellis, Kagiso Rabada, Rahul Chahar, Harpreet Brar, Sam Curran, Sikandar Raza, Harpreet Bhatia, Vidwath Kaverappa, Mohit Rathee, Shivam Singh.
Match begins at 7:30 IST.