ESPNcricinfo– It’s the first week of 2015. A spunky 19-year old has just finished his training with the Trinidad & Tobago team. He’s in the spotlight after a remarkable Under-19 World Cup in the UAE, and he’s preparing for his first full season as a first-class player.
He’s driving home from the National Cricket Centre in Balmain, probably wondering what the future holds for him. He’s almost reached home, but he sees the two cars in front of him trying to overtake each other. Forced to hit the brakes, he loses control of the car. He smashes into a sand heap on the side of the road, and then he’s pummelled by a car just behind him. He’s unconscious.
Ambulances rush in. He regains consciousness in the hospital, where the doctors ask him to move his toes. He tries, but his toes don’t move. Neither do his knees. This is when reality hits him – he may never play cricket again. Welcome to Nicholas Pooran’s world.
Four years and two surgeries later, Pooran is back where he’s supposed to be – in West Indian colours, now touring India. Between then and now, the left-handed wicketkeeper-batsman has swiftly become a regular for T20 franchises worldwide. He’s been part of the Mumbai Indians squad, he’s represented Islamabad United in the PSL, turned out for Khulna Titans in the BPL, and has even found a spot at City Kaitak in the Hong Kong T20 blitz.
Despite all that, Sunday night’s game is only his fifth T20I for West Indies, and when he walks out on a cool Sunday night at the MA Chidambaram Stadium, he might just be playing for his place. His first four T20I innings, spread over more than two years, have brought him a top score of just 16. This may be his last chance, with other middle-order batsmen breathing down his neck to break into the side.
West Indies are 94 for 3 in 12.5 overs. They have a decent platform, but there is no guarantee they will build on it, given the batting disappointments of the first two T20Is in Kolkata and Lucknow. With a little over seven overs to go, Pooran has all to play for.
His first boundary, a flashy square-cut, beats the infield and moves West Indies past the 100 mark. Thereon, with Darren Bravo for company, Pooran throws caution to the winds. He welcomes Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s return to the attack, for a third over, with back-to-back sixes that bring the Chennai crowd to its feet. This crowd wants a good game of cricket. Too often on this tour, games have been one-sided. Pooran ensures the crowd will get their money’s worth even if India are to win tonight’s game.
He’s swiftly moved on to 21 off 12, and Rohit reintroduces spin. Surely this can stop the onslaught? “Not tonight”, is what Pooran probably mutters under his breath. Tonight is Pooran’s chance to show the world what he’s made of. He switch-hits Yuzvendra Chahal for six off the first ball of the 17th, swatting it right over square leg.
At 31 off 16, with three overs to go, Pooran has his sights set on a maiden international half-century. But Bravo’s getting bogged down by some good death bowling by Khaleel Ahmed and Bhuvneshwar, and he faces the bulk of the 18th and 19th overs.
By the time the final over begins, Pooran still needs 12 to get to his fifty. He gets the strike with five balls remaining. The first of them is a dot, a slower ball he fails to connect with. Can he do it?
You bet. With four to go, Pooran slaps Khaleel over extra-cover. The crowd don’t mind. The more West Indies score, the more they can see of India’s batting stars. Khaleel goes short for the next delivery, and Pooran’s already on the back foot to thumps a pulled six. He follows that with a reverse-sweep to reach his maiden fifty off just 24 balls. The final delivery is bunted into the covers, and Pooran’s added 53 in a 43-ball partnership of 87. West Indies post 181 and it’s game on for the first time in this series.
Sure, it isn’t all rosy in the end for West Indies. On a surface with true bounce, Shikhar Dhawan and Rishabh Pant smoke the ball to all parts and ensure an India whitewash. But unlike their counterparts in Kolkata and Lucknow, the spectators in Chennai have left satisfied after 40 overs of cricket.
And they have appreciated Pooran’s inventive batting, reveling as much in his switch-hit as they do in Pant’s pull, applauding his half-century almost as loudly as they do Dhawan’s.
On the last game of West Indies’ tour, Pooran has left an indelible mark. It’s the last impression that often counts. And with the IPL auction just five weeks away, Pooran couldn’t have chosen a better time and place to make that impression.