Originals fall short as Sunil Narine’s variations stifle chase on used surface
Oval Invincibles 145 for 8 (Billings 49) beat Manchester Originals 136 for 7 (Brathwaite 37) by nine runs
Oval Invincibles emulated their women’s team on Wednesday’s opening night of the Hundred, as they scrapped a route to victory in the men’s curtain-raiser in south London, despite appearing at the halfway mark to have fallen short of par in their total of 145.
That Originals made it that far was almost entirely down to Carlos Brathwaite. West Indies’ hero of the 2016 T20 World Cup set himself to take the contest deep. His first boundary came from his 15th ball, but it was his bullet-drive of a six off Tom Curran from the 82nd ball of the chase that ignited Manchester’s possibilities.
And just as at Kolkata five years ago, where the equation had ticked down to 19 runs off the final over when Brathwaite launched his salvo of four consecutive sixes off Ben Stokes, so it was Sam Curran’s turn to defend 19 off his final set of five, with expectation tingling. His first ball was in the slot for a slap over mid-on, but it lacked the elevation, and as Jason Roy clung on, so the Originals’ hopes died.
Narine in the zone
Narine has plied his trade all around the world during a remarkable decade of T20 itinerance, but never before had he made his presence known in an English domestic competition. It didn’t take him long to demonstrate why he had been retained as the Invincibles’ top pick, almost two years after that original draft in 2019.
With his long-levered approach, hiding his variations behind that familiar slingy action, Narine served up his 20 balls across four targeted bursts throughout the Originals’ innings. He left the stage with eight dots, 22 runs, and the critical, game-defining wicket of Buttler.
Coming into the contest, Buttler’s unease against Narine was plain – 54 runs and two dismissals in 48 previous deliveries in their T20 careers – and though he connected sweetly with a switch-sweep through backward point, the speed with which Buttler went to that stroke was proof of how hard he finding him to pick. One ball later, he was on his way, caught in the covers after giving himself room for a carve, only to be cramped on his crease by a spitting offbreak. At 41 for 3 after 34 balls, the Originals were already deep in a hole.
Powerplay power failure
Billings, the Invincibles captain, seemed to have implied before the game that his openers would be Roy and Will Jacks, when he called on the pair to make Hundred history, in the manner of Brendon McCullum at the IPL opener in 2008. But if it was a double-bluff, it didn’t quite pay off as planned.
In a sign of spin dominance to come, Hartley rattled through the first ten deliveries of the match, leaking just ten runs all told in the process, before Fred Klaassen took up the left-armer baton with a penetrative first five that included the wicket of Narine with his fourth ball, pinned lbw by one that would have been missing leg had Invincibles opted to review.
And when Hartley – retained from the Pavilion End for 15 balls in a row – lured Roy into a violent swipe to midwicket where Tom Lammonby clung on brilliantly into the sun, the Invincibles had shipped three wickets in the Powerplay, and had quickly to reassess their ambitions.
Matt Parkinson and Steven Finn produced probing spells of vastly contrasting methods – teasing and loopy on the one hand, and pitch-hitting awkwardness on the other – to maintain the Originals’ apparent upper hand. But Billings, a frustrated bystander for too much of this summer – be it bubble-life in the England dressing-room or isolation after the ODI-squad Covid outbreak – found the tempo his team needed to post a competitive total.
With Tom Curran proving a handy foil, Billings thumped four fours and two sixes, predominantly over the leg side, before Klaassen capped a fine night with two more wickets in three balls for figures of 2 for 23 in 15 balls. But the skipper had read the contest well, and as he rung the changes across a seven-man attack featuring a fit-again Reece Topley, two Curran brothers in command of their games, and a teasing spell of legspin from Nathan Sowter to complement Narine’s intermittent points of difference, the Invincibles always had the edge.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket