Birmingham: West Indies captain Darren Sammy has dropped the strongest possible hint that 'mystery' spinner Sunil Narine will make his Test debut against England here at Edgbaston. Indies, 2-0 down in the three-match series, called up the Trinidadian after fast bowler Kemar Roach was ruled out of the finale with a shin injury. The 24-year-old Narine, primarily an offspinner but who also boasts a 'knuckle ball' that turns the other way, missed the start of this tour because of his commitments in the lucrative Indian Premier League.
In the IPL, he took 24 wickets at 13.50 and an economy rate of 5.47 from 15 matches, fully justifying his $700,000 price tag. These were the latest set of impressive figures in his brief career, with Narine having taken 34 first-class wickets at an average of 11.88 in just six matches, 14 at 20 in one-day internationals and 46 at 14.04 in Twenty20 games.
Such has been Narine's impact, he has been compared to Sonny Ramadhin, another unconventional offspinner from Trinidad, who played a major role in West Indies' Test series win in England in 1950. Although conditions at Edgbaston, where the third Test starts on Thursday, are set to favour seam bowlers, Sammy, speaking at the ground on Wednesday, said Narine had "every chance of playing". Sammy added: "Everyone is calling him the mystery spinner and he could come in and make an impact for us. It's a difficult place for spinners to make their debut but he has a lot up his sleeve and we're backing him to make an impact. Hopefully, this is the start of something that could be a great Test career."
Sammy, recalling his own experience of facing Narine, said: "He opened the bowling, I think it was against the Windward Islands and he got 10 wickets in the match but I got 88 in that match as well. "He's very exciting and all of the Caribbean are very excited about having him in international cricket. We're very happy to have him here."
England captain Andrew Strauss, understandably, tried to play down the hype surrounding Narine by saying: "We've had a look at a bit of footage. He's like the new kid on the block and hasn't played a lot of cricket, so if he does play we'll look forward to the challenge of facing him. We encounter these things quite often and the key is to make sure you react well in the middle. You can do all the preparation you want but it's how you play on the pitch and hopefully the stuff we've done over the winter will stand us in good stead on that front."
For West Indies, however, the most pressing issue as they bid to improve on a record of just two wins in 32 Tests is their top-order batting. Collapses in the first two Tests have cost the tourists dear, and Sammy indicated reserve batsmen Narsingh Deonarine and Assad Fudadin were in line for a call-up after missing out at both Lord's and Trent Bridge.
"We have two batsmen on the bench," Sammy said. "They are working hard in the nets although that is not the same as in the middle."
Sammy, asked what West Indies needed to do to start winning Tests again, replied: "We need to compete longer. If you look at Test matches for the last year-and-a-half, we have a bad hour or session that takes us out of the game. We play four-day cricket at home and sometimes they finish in two-and-a-half or three days, so I guess our concentration span is not as long."