Pollard – the T20 pioneer who astonished, entertained and even underperformed
If you come to think about it, you’ll realize that few pro teams in the sport have experienced as much change in the last fifteen years as the West Indies. From the onset of 2007 until the current date, so much has made headlines in the Caribbean- often for bad but also for good- that it changed the template of West Indies cricket, once and for all.
Today Roston Chase is a T20 international, Sammy and Narine are nowhere in the picture, Badree presided over a brief but brilliant career that faded away much too soon for fans’ liking, Bravo excelled, helped his team pick two T20 world cup titles, went away from the sport only to come back and retire for good, Gayle’s not been seen but is still around, Hope’s debuted and even struck fifties in T20 cricket, Pooran is the next big thing in Caribbean cricket, a new legion of exciting talents in Shepherd, Rutherford, Smith and Powell is ever-present and the West Indies have found new audiences in the United States to showcase their T20 skills.
But if there’s been a constant amid these changing vagaries of Caribbean cricket, then it’s a certain Kieron Adrian Pollard.
He was one of the unflinching enigmas of West Indies cricket that withstood frequent skirmishes, tackled pressure, lent his icy cool demeanour amid raging storms and moreover, provided a cushion of comfort to the bumpy ride that is West Indies cricket.
Alas, that won’t be a phenomenon on the crease now.
The good news is, at 34, he’s still around in the T20 circuit to enthrall fans and spread the fragrance of Caribbean cricket, one played with a dash of power and strokeplay.
The bad news, however, is that he’s called time on his West Indian career.
In a sport that is basically based on timing, it could be said, the timing of Pollard’s decision, isn’t that brilliant.
Not one bit considering the mother of all sporting battles in the T20 format, i.e., the T20 World Cup is only a quarter of a year away.
And Pollard’s’ won’t be an ordinary absence for his West Indies; his team is fundamentally going to miss the experience of a man who has against his name 580+ T20 contests.
Let that number sink in.
The West Indies will no longer have the soothing comfort of a lower-order six-hitting monster for whom perhaps only the Gabba’s side boundaries seemed big enough to scale (as per self admission) for he’d bludgeoned many a blows in most of the world’s stadia.
To not have a T20 world cup winning member in your squad, especially one with a strike rate of 135 for his country is some serious vacancy, one that can’t be perceptibly matched even if a younger generation boasting of burly men is already around to take up the place!
But again, the key question that should beckon some discussion here is whether Pollard’s absence is going to hurt a team that could now be led by Pooran in both white-ball formats?
To the intrepid West Indies fan, one that has seen a Lara win games singlehandedly, Chanderpaul hold fort long after everything seemed over and Gayle cause a storm, the absence of Pollard on a pitch effectively means a friendly uncle going off the party scene leaving behind the nephews to take care of the party and the pomp.
But to a generation that basically grew up in the time of T20 cricket, holding a gadget in one hand and a bottle of cola in the other, spending time on both social media as well as on fantasy gaming apps, Pollard’s absence may not really matter, at least, emotionally.
Because this is a generation for whom an Odean Smith, Hayden Walsh jr., Jason Holder, Brandon King, Obed McCoy are the familiar faces and pretty much the forces who are anyways going to march ahead carrying the baton of West Indies cricket.
As a matter of fact- and perhaps unfortunately so- Pollard’s statistical gatherings offer sufficient material to inspire a polarising discussion.
It is a career that has been celebrated, lavished effusive praise, one that travelled around the globe as a cheerful proponent of Cricket’s most dominant modern currency: T20’s. And yet, it’s a career that perhaps seems a tad bit underwhelming, especially when seen wearing the maroon.
For someone who played 101 T20I’s for his country never struck a single century and could only score six fifties. Yet, it’s the very career that saw its author smash no fewer than 99 sixes, more than what Samuels, Bravo or Russell have hit.
At the same time, Pollard sits against a smashing white-ball freelancing career that featured in no fewer than 588 T20’s, was responsible for plundering 11,523 runs and collected 56 half-centuries and yet, it’s the very career that was able to score only 3 centuries for West Indies national duties.
Forget not that over the course of playing for fifteen years for the West Indies, Pollard was able to score 2,700 ODI runs, scoring merely three centuries in them.
How he must be celebrated, therefore, in a way, comes to define our own standing as fans.
Could it be that we’ve embraced the “less is more” principle in hailing Pollard; the notion that the lesser you have is actually sufficient. And hence, despite his lack of a stirling white-ball West Indies record, the Trinidadian is considered a great?
Make no mistake, for he certainly had the makings to become a great. That’s not only limited to his physical prowess and towering personality as an athlete; the broad shoulders, the havoc-creating muscles and the unmissable lanky frame.
As a batsman, Pollard, it shouldn’t be forgotten, announced his International arrival by hoisting a six in his debut T20 (the 1st game of the series) at Eden Park, Auckland, against New Zealand. His last ever T20 run would be a boundary off Venkatesh Iyer in the third and final game in India, earlier this year.
A batsman we were drawn to for his penchant at hitting big shots to the fence instead of labouring for singles, Pollard played some bamboozling innings albeit at irregular intervals.
He’d score a mind-boggling cameo in the much-important T20 semi final against Australia in 2012, scoring 35 off just 15 deliveries. He caused havoc at the Wankhede in scoring 68 off just 39 deliveries, as he guided his team to a 173, which clearly at one stage seemed just unreal. In 2013, he’d combat Hafeez, Irfan, Afridi and Junaid Khan in his blistering 49 off just 36, perhaps his most under-appreciated unbeaten T20I knock; 28 of those runs were hammered through luscious blows that often crossed the boundary ropes.
But where Pollard was found wanting was his footwork and technique against spin, coupled with the uncontrollable desire to take on the slower bowlers from the word go. Forget the silly dismissal against CSK for Mumbai Indians the other evening where a fielder was deliberately stationed at the long on boundary to take a catch that Dhoni unfailingly believed would be stroked at that direction; remember his first ball duck against Chahal in the 1st ODI earlier this year in India, where barely a few moments ago, Pooran’s wicket had fallen.
Don’t forget hitting McBrine high into the air toward deep mid-wicket in the 2nd ODI (also in 2022), which is when the West Indies were 4 for 91 at one stage.
While the impressive ease with which he’d send bowlers out of the ground contributed to the Kieron Pollard allure, his lack of surety about his game against spin often contributed to untimely departures. That he continued the wild- if also unadventurous- slogs against spin even as captain contributed to a depleting white-ball form in 2022: up to this point, he scored merely 73 runs from 4 ODIs including a duck.
And yet it was against spin that Pollard carved perhaps his most glorious chapter in T20 cricket when he carved Danajaya for six back-to-back sixes in March 2021.
All said and done, Pollard’s beast-like reputation deserved to be more predatory than it actually appeared. He should have sunken the fate of more bowlers than he did and perhaps should have found a way to replicate his mammoth success with the Mumbai Indians for the West Indians.
But then ideal is a word that perhaps exists only for the ideal world where everything runs on convenience and imagination much the realm of Peter Pan. For in real life, there’s the highs and lows, the uplifting moments as also the pitfalls.
That Pollard didn’t really make most of his incredible talent will hurt the true fan. But what certainly won’t is that Pollard continued to be a white-ball mainstay for an onerous period of fifteen years, during which he excelled, lost but also won; and not just games but the fans’ hearts nearly everywhere he played.
Go well, Polly!
Courtesy: Article republished with permission from Vinode Mamchan, CricScope