In the final ball of the 44th over of the West Indies innings at Cuttack, Mohammed Shami aimed for a yorker on off-stump only to be met with some extraordinary improvisation from Nicholas Pooran. The southpaw got the bat down just in time and opened the face of the bat to send the ball scuttling through third man for a boundary.
Two overs later, Navdeep Saini was taken to the cleaners by Pooran with three boundaries off four balls: The first one disappearing over the bowler's head off a straight drive, the second slogged through wide long on and the third pulled off one leg through midwicket.
Earlier in the T20I series at Thiruvananthapuram, Pooran walked in with the required run-rate closing in on 10 runs per over. Off the third ball of his innings, he rocked back to pull Yuzvendra Chahal over midwicket for six. In the next three overs, he would take on Bhuvneshwar Kumar for three fours and a six, all off crisp, well-timed, proper cricketing shots.
Each of these shots from across two matches is anything but West Indian, instead oozing the kind of controlled aggression you see in modern-day all-format batsmen. Pooran only made his ODI debut earlier in the year, but months later he appears to be West Indies' future white-ball genius.
A match-winning 18-ball 38 at Thiruvananthapuram mostly had risk-free strokes while at Cuttack on Sunday, Pooran built up his innings focusing on taking on the seamers while Kieron Pollard did the bulk of the work against the spinners. The 64-ball 89 from Pooran and 51-ball 74 from Pollard helped West Indies to 315. Even when the total wasn't eventually enough for Windies to record a rare ODI series win, it sure gave an indication of the direction they are headed.
"Polly (Kieron Pollard) is stronger to the spinners, so we had him attack a little bit against them. Against the pacers, I try to play a little more shots against them. It worked out today and we're happy that it worked out that way," Pooran said in the post-match press conference.
Pollard has been instrumental in Pooran's rise in international cricket, helping him through rehabilitation after a career-threatening accident in 2016. From providing rehab tips — given his own tryst with surgeries in 2013 and 2014 — to playing a big role in helping Pooran land gigs with the Barbados Tridents in the Caribbean Premier League (CPL) and Mumbai Indians (IPL), Pollard has been a "father figure" according to Pooran.
Even as he becomes a mainstay in T20 franchises across the world for his exploits in the shortest format of the game, the first few deals after his under-19 days came due to Pollard.
"He's (Pollard) been there since I returned to cricket from the accident. He gave me an opportunity, which I am thankful for. We know each other well and are good friends on and off the field. We complement each other while batting as we play for the same club and same franchise back home. So, it's about understanding the wicket and situation of the game and just executing the skills," Pooran said.
Importantly, as skipper of the fifty-overs side, Pollard appears good enough to be the pioneer who would take West Indies into their heydays by grooming the next generation of cricketers. Since taking over as captain of the limited-overs side in September, Pollard led West Indies to their first ODI series win in five years, albeit against Afghanistan.
But more importantly, Pollard has invested his faith in youngsters and has been a proactive figure on the field, marshalling his troops with a swagger that West Indian captains of late haven't reflected. Under him, the Windies have evidently shown more responsibility, be it the first innings onslaught at Hyderabad (first T20I), the run-chase at Thiruvananthapuram and Chennai (second T20I and first ODI) or the fight at Cuttack (third ODI).
The likes of Pooran, Shimron Hetmyer, Keemo Paul, Shai Hope and Alzarri Joseph all shone at key moments in the series. More importantly, Pollard has instilled more responsibility in his men — the usual hara-kiri with the bat was evidently replaced by a more composed approach. From Hetmyer's and Hope's match-winning knocks at Chennai to the Pollard-Pooran stand at Cuttack, this controlled aggression, in particular by the younger players, came through quite glaringly.
Pollard, before the series, had commented on how he wanted to give the youngsters security by staying invested in them.
"You can't judge people on a couple of games and I think that's the problem we have as individuals. We try to judge people too quickly. We need to give people time in everything we do. In order for guys to invest in what they do, they need experience and we as the management team want to back these guys and see how far we can go because we have seen their talent and attitude and that's some of the things we look at," Pollard said ahead of the limited-overs series against India.
The confidence and chutzpah he oozes has rubbed off on some of his disciples. Even if the Windies lost the T20I and ODI series on this tour, they will return with more hope than ever.
In Pooran, they have found the future of their limited-overs middle-order. In the 32-year old Pollard, they have found a captain capable of bringing out the best in his men. Given freedom, a proactive Pollard, who once stepped in as skipper for Rohit Sharma at Mumbai Indians admirably, can lead West Indies into a new decade where their substance is talked about more than their swag.
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