Kieron Pollard’s West Indies mean business

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FILE: Kieron Pollard Captain of West Indies and Keemo Paul of West Indies during the 1st One Day International match (ODI) between India and the West Indies held at the M. A. Chidambaram Stadium, Chennai on the 15th December 2019. Photo by Deepak Malik / Sportzpics for BCCI
Kieron Pollard Captain of West Indies and Keemo Paul of West Indies during the 1st One Day International match (ODI) between India and the West Indies held at the M. A. Chidambaram Stadium, Chennai on the 15th December 2019. Photo by Deepak Malik / Sportzpics for BCCI

For those who don’t follow the CPL, regional rivalries run deep there. So deep that there were reports of protests in Barbados when Trinidadian Kieron Pollard was appointed captain of Tridents ahead of locals like Dwayne Smith and Kirk Edwards in 2014. Pollard, however, swiftly turned from villain to hero, winning the hearts of Barbadians by marshalling them to their maiden CPL title. Now the captain of the West Indies white-ball sides, he might not have triggered a revolution, but there are signs that good things might be around the corner.

Pollard’s proactive, in-your-face captaincy won approval from the then Tridents coach Desmond Haynes as well as Viv Richards. Pollard then turned into a T20 gun for hire and even had run-ins with the West Indies administration.

After leaving his imprint in various T20 – and T10 – leagues around the world and gaining a wealth of experience, Pollard has been appointed full-time limited-overs captain of West Indies, under a new management, in the lead-up to the side’s T20 World Cup defence in Australia in 2020.

More recently, in CPL 2019, Pollard’s aggressive approach worked for Trinbago Knight Riders and nearly put them in the final. Questions were asked of his captaincy throughout West Indies’ tour of India, and although they had just one trophy to show for in four series against Afghanistan and India, there are enough signs that this is now Pollard’s team.

In the T20I series against India, some sparks flew when seamer Kesrick Williams and India captain Virat Kohli had a go at each other. Although Kohli had the last laugh, Williams showed that he’s no pushover and made a statement that this side won’t back down from a challenge.

Pollard provided a throwback to CPL 2014, when had he deployed twin short midwickets – a catcher and another at the edge of the circle – and unleashed Sheldon Cottrell’s left-arm inswingers on Kohli in Hyderabad. The India captain struggled to get the ball off the square in the early exchanges and even flapped a couple of inswingers in the air, but wide of those two fielders. Kohli somehow saw off the incisive burst from Cottrell and ushered India home.

Pollard’s plan, however, reaped rewards in the ODI series opener in Chennai. Cottrell was moving the ball around – both in the air and off the seam – at Chepauk, and most captains would have preferred having a slip in such a scenario, but Pollard went against the grain. He whisked slip to short mid-off and blocked Kohli’s straight drive. Cottrell then shortened his length and dared Kohli to dink the ball down through vacant slip. Kohli took the bait and chopped on for 4.

And when the inexperienced spinners, Hayden Walsh Jr. and Khary Pierre were operating, Pollard often stationed himself at mid-off or short-cover, helping them, in that moment and in international cricket. A two-month-long tour of India brings immense pressure, but Pollard was out there to protect West Indies’ bright, young talents from the “vultures”. That’s the way he works. On the eve of the limited-overs series opener in Hyderabad, Pollard was asked if the CPL stars Brandon King and Walsh Jr. were ready to handle international cricket. Pollard quickly shot that question down, threw his weight behind them, and called for more patience with the youngsters.

Pollard’s relationship with youngsters isn’t too different from the one Tony Stark shares with Peter Parker in Spider Man: Homecoming. Just the way Tony mentors Peter and makes him believe that he’s worthy enough to be an Avenger, Pollard has created a nurturing environment for West Indies’ newbies.

Nicholas Pooran is no longer a newbie, but Pollard has played a central role in his stupendous rise. In 2015, Pooran had met with a freak car accident and feared for both his leg and his career. However, Pollard took him under his wing, and motivated him to bounce back. He even got Pooran an agent and helped him get gigs in T20 leagues. In the ODI series decider in Cuttack, the master and his protégé combined to give India a scare.

Pooran has also worked with Pollard at Tridents, Multan Sultans (PSL), and Mumbai Indians (IPL). Their tactical sharpness and clarity of thought came to the fore in Cuttack. Navdeep Saini was hitting speeds around 140kph and was troubling Pollard with serious pace and bounce. So, Pooran took more risks against the quick and threw him off his lines and lengths with his trick shots. At the other end, Pollard laid into Kuldeep Yadav’s wristspin as West Indies pillaged 105 from their last eight overs to end with 315 for 5.

Rohit Sharma, who has seen Pollard’s leadership skills up close at Mumbai Indians in the IPL, delivered a glowing appraisal of the West Indian’s captaincy.

“I know Pollard really well,” Rohit had said in Mumbai. “I know as a leader what he would be expecting from the team. It’s a different team that we are seeing now. When it comes to Mumbai Indians, he was always part of our leadership group. He is a very smart thinker of the game, knows exactly how to make use of each player’s strengths, is a confident leader and has great knowledge about the game. He has played so many games around the world. That helps him handle situations and the group pretty well.”

West Indies’ muddled approach during the World Cup earlier this year saw them lose from winning positions more than once. Under Pollard, they seem to have found the balance in their batting line-up. Roston Chase, who doesn’t play the CPL, was picked as a floater to drop anchor around the six-hitters. The left-field selection did come off against Afghanistan as Chase gave West Indies their first ODI series win in more than five years with his all-round brilliance. Opener Shai Hope was the other anchorman, who provided the perfect foil for the big-hitting Shimron Hetmyer at Chepauk.

West Indies’ bowling combination might need a rethink, but things will fall in place once the band is back together. Pollard being at the helm has made it easier for Bravo to come out of retirement. The former captain said as much in Chennai and hoped to guide the youngsters along with Pollard. Plus, Sunil Narine and Andre Russell will be available for selection once they become fit again.

West Indies may have finished second from the bottom in the 50-over World Cup, but count Pollard’s men out at your own peril, as they prepare for their T20 World Cup defence and a steady rise up the ODI rankings. (ESPNCricinfo)