“A Worrell innings knows no dawn. It begins at high noon!”
“He never played an ungrammatical stroke.”
Those two sentences describing the batting of the West Indies greatest ever captain Sir Frank Worrell were penned by Neville Cardus, the doyen of English cricket writers.
That, so the story goes, was the immediate response of a British schoolboy who, not long after the 1979 World Cup, was asked what is Black Power. Lloyd, of course, is the WI’s most successful captain ever.
I bring the two former captains up here to remind readers that some Englishmen genuinely appreciate WI cricketing achievement. And I add former Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack editor Scyld Berry’s consistent salute of Viv Richards as ‘The Great Man’, the ultimate accolade. And universal ungrudging acknowledgement of Brian Lara as ‘The Prince of Port-of-Spain’.
All that, I hope, will help frame a former England captain’s comment—made on SportsTiger’s show ‘Off-the-Field’ recently—on the current WI white ball skipper.
According to 63-year-old David Gower, Kieron Pollard, the big-hitting all-rounder with over 500 T20 matches to his name: ‘is one of the world’s best T20 players. But he knows as well as I do that he cannot play Test cricket; he isn’t good enough to play Test cricket’. (my emphasis)
Pollard has played 113 ODIs and 73 T20Is and featured in 27 first-class games, scoring 1584 runs with four centuries. But he has never been selected on a WI Test XI.
In 2010, at the height of his powers, Polly opted to turn down the restrictive central contract offered by the WICB. Foresight being T20 vision, he had arguably perceived early that a successful career in the short format would be much more lucrative than an equally successful Test career.
He made his choice, stood by it. It may have cost him a WI Test place. It also seems to have earned him Gower’s ire. And perhaps something else?
“Someone else playing Test cricket for WI, however, won’t be able to make as much money as Kieron Pollard,” Gower continued “I am quite comfortable with that but this is how the world works now.”
Sour grapes? Who knows? He would not be the first England player to begrudge a West Indian his spurs.
Remember Geoffrey Boycott, beg yuh pardon, now Sir Geoffrey Boycott in 2017? His undisguised anger at how knighthoods were handed out ‘like confetti’ to Black WI cricketers? His comments about how much more deserving of a ‘Sir’ before his name he was than Garry Sobers, Viv Richards and Curtly Ambrose?
Who has forgotten Mark Nicholas’ dismissive one-liner a year earlier about WI cricketers being ‘short of brains’? Thank God Daren Sammy’s side was almost immediately able to ram those words back down his throat with their World T20 Championship triumph.
So, returning to our primary subject, Gower’s comment is not all that surprising. However, while Pollard does know that he has not played Test cricket, he certainly has never conceded that he cannot play Test cricket. Not publicly anyway.
And to go from ‘has not played’ to ‘cannot play’ is a leap which, notwithstanding 117 Tests and 114 ODIs played and countless others watched, not even Gower is in a position to make. Not without evoking memories of Jesse Owens, Bob Beamon, Carl Lewis and Mike Powell in their prime.
Pollard’s stats certainly do not bear Gower’s claim out. His first first-class century came in 2007 in his debut appearance against Barbados, 86 of his 126 runs coming in boundaries. He made a second first-class century against the Leeward Islands and earned himself five Man-of-the-Match awards in his first 15 senior matches. He finished as the top run-scorer in the 2006/07 regional competition, amassing 261 runs from his seven innings with a 40+ average.
No comparison, of course, to the elegant left-handed opener’s final tally of 8231 Test runs, fourth highest by an Englishman, and 3,000-plus ODI ones as well. But is that reason enough to make a completely unsubstantiated 13-word claim and leave it at that? Without a shred of supporting evidence?
No one expects Gower to produce Pythagorean arguments about the right angle to get Pollard on all three WI sides. Nor do we expect him to produce voluminous Einstein-like e=mc2 scribblings to persuade us.
But is it too much to ask for a lil QED?
Ignoring England’s Mark Ramprakash—he did play Test cricket but could he?—I shall cite only their Graeme Hick. He eventually scored 136 centuries and 158 50s in 526 first-class matches. But in 65 Tests, he managed only six centuries and 18 half-centuries.
Does that singular example tell us anything about the predictability of performance at the highest level?
Closer home, a handful of WI names come to mind as inviting comparison with Pollard. This time, there are two deliberate omissions: Rakheem Cornwall (3 Tests) and Sammy (30 when he played the last of his 38 Tests).
But what qualities did Collis King, whose contribution to the WI 1979 World Cup win no WI fan has forgotten, have that Pollard does not have? Yet, between 1976 and 1980—in an era when WI already boasted abundant riches in the cricket bank—King played as many as nine Tests.
Consider too Ricardo Powell and Dwayne Smith. Does either player strike one as being a more talented cricketer than Pollard? Powell was quickly discarded after just two Tests; between 2004 and 2006, Smith earned selection in 10 Tests.
What of Brendan Nash, easy to forget despite his 21 Tests that yielded 1103 runs? If, knowing what we now know, we had to pick a WI Test player in 2008 (when Nash made his debut), which of us—Gower, of course, excluded!—would choose the Australia–born all-rounder?
It is, I think, entirely plausible that Pollard would have struggled to hold a Test place. But what justification can there be for his not having had the opportunity to prove himself at that level?
So we await Gower’s explanation. Or more likely, like Nicholas and Boycott before him, his abject apology.
But the fairy-tale ending—say Greig!—would be for the WI selectors to belatedly give the 33-year-old all-rounder a Test call-up next year.
And make G-o-w-e-r g-r-o-v-e-l.