Harping on the vexed WI Test captaincy question; is Pollard the answer?

Five overs. For an ODI captain, those 30 balls are sometimes a real test. Think West Indies Test captain Jason Holder bidding just to keep the ball in the park when AB De Villiers took a liking to his bowling in the ICC World Cup in Sydney in 2015.

Five balls. That is sometimes the length of the T20 captain’s test. Think Sri Lanka’s Mahela Jayawardene trying to slow Marlon Samuels down in the ICC World T20 final in Colombo in 2012.

Photo: West Indies captain Kieron Pollard gestures during their first ODI match against Sri Lanka in Colombo on 22 February 2020.
(Copyright AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

Or the ICC World T20 final in Kolkata in 2016 and England’s subsequently title-winning T20 captain Eoin Morgan’s spectacularly unsuccessful efforts to protect Ben Stokes against a rampant Carlos Brathwaite.

Now let us for argument’s sake suppose that, in World Cup 2021 in India, some batsman were to get stuck into Holder, say. Who dares predict how the current West Indian white-ball captain, Kieron Pollard, might respond? Would Pollard instruct Holder to pull a muscle? Or to bowl underarm? Might it take all of 10 minutes to finish a single over?

We don’t know just how KP would slow the speeding train but slow it we all think he would. Aren’t we all equally confident that successive balls simply would not be disappearing over mid-wicket and long-on in rapid enough succession to give the bowler whiplash?

We all know too that Pollard plays to win; he asks no quarter and gives none. An ESPNcricinfo report on a 2017 CPL incident carries the headline LEWIS NO-BALL NOT INTENTIONAL, SAYS POLLARD. The strap reads: “The Barbados Tridents captain said he had overstepped while looking for the extra effort needed to send down a short ball.”

Plausible deniability? In 2017, perhaps. In 2020? Not so much.

Pollard, all agree, is an excellent short-format captain, both a quick thinker and a problem solver. The combative Trinidadian all-rounder who once captained the Barbados Tridents now skippers the Trinbago Knight Riders and is the stand-in captain for the Mumbai Indians in the IPL. We have all now seen and heard enough of and from him to know better. To adapt a familiar slogan, that’s the way he plays.

Photo: West Indies cricket captain Kieron Pollard (left) puts an arm around batsman Shimron Hetmyer during a training session ahead of their third ODI against India in Cuttack on 21 December 2019.
(Copyright AP Photo/Mahesh Kumar A)

He also leads from the front, in good times and in bad. Additionally, he is courageous, decisive, passionate and inspirational with bat, ball and in the field. He lacks Holder’s urbanity and his, you know, linguistic fluency and shoots, you know, from the hip, never afraid, you know, to speak truth to power.

Additionally, his understanding, if not mastery, of algebra far outstrips Holder’s very ordinary grasp of mere arithmetic.

Holder is all predictability and orthodoxy, consistently preferring the highway to the bridle path. (See examples here and here.)

Pollard’s preference is for the road less travelled, making it up as he goes along. He has no textbook in his back pocket, no formulae at the back of his brain. He seems comfortable eschewing the easy solutions suggested by yesterday’s successes and, perhaps drawing on his parenting experience, treating each new match as a completely different challenge.

For him, five balls often suffice; what magic might he work in five sessions, let alone five days!

Photo: Barbados Tridents captain Jason Holder (centre) celebrates a scalp against the St Lucia Zouks during 2020 CPL action.
(Copyright CPL 2020)

A cricket match, remember, is played in the heads of the opposing captains. Who can forget the last World Cup when, with Test captain Joe Root on the field, England’s temporarily incapacitated white-ball skipper Eoin Morgan handed the reins over not to Root but to Joss Buttler?

Whence this burning question: to what extent if at all are the short-format captaincy skills successfully transferable to the Test arena and vice-versa?

Perhaps what psychologist Rudi Webster writes in the Sunday Express of November 22 under the headline In Defence of Our Sportsmen is helpful: “Athletes are judged by their actions on the field. (…) The skills of numeracy and literacy are required in sport but they are not as important as the skills of operacy or doing.”

“(…) Academic intelligence and sport intelligence are very different things.”

No suggestion that the two are mutually exclusive. But might Clive Lloyd, who in 2014 judged Holder to have a ‘good cricketing brain’, have taken a six for a nine? More to the point, might lead selector Roger Harper not be as clear as WI need him to be on the difference?

Photo: Former captain Jason Holder has been recalled to the West Indies T20 team.

Because, given what we have already seen of Holder and Pollard in charge, is it not insulting for people to be seriously asking the question of if not Holder to lead the Test team, then who?

Here again is Webster under the headline Ability is Not Enough, (Sunday Express, 6 Dec 2020): “Success in top-class sport is no longer possible with just ability. Success must first be created in the mind, then planned and pursued diligently over time. It does not happen all at once or in a straight line. It is a journey that takes time and energy, patience and persistence, and is usually punctuated by ups and downs, successes and failures.”

Pollard made his first-class debut in 2006 and, in 2019, was already well on his way to his record 500th T20 game when he was elevated to the rank of West Indies white-ball captain. Along the way, he had turned down a contract offered by the West Indies Cricket Board, which he viewed as potentially restricting his earning ability.

Who better to try to give the current crop of young West Indians back the winning habit and to teach them about achieving durable success? To try to teach them about winning series and not just occasional matches?

Holder has had five years to work his plan. What is the prognosis?

Photo: TKR batsmen Kieron Pollard (left) and Khary Pierre exchange a bounce after getting runs off Barbados Tridents captain Jason Holder during CPL action at the Queen’s Park Oval on 29 August 2020.
(Copyright Randy Brooks/CPL T20 via Getty Images)

But neither Holder nor Pollard will now be leading the weakened red- and white-ball teams in Bangladesh. Still, we might not have long to wait.

Harper, one notes, has insisted that Nicholas Pooran must prove himself in red-ball cricket before he can seriously vie for a place on the Test XI. Perhaps as a direct response, the TTCB has offered Pollard the captaincy of the Red Force.

So if it is to is, it will is; man to hang cyar drown…

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About Earl Best

Earl Best taught cricket, French, football and Spanish at QRC for many years and has written consistently for the Tapia and the Trinidad and Tobago Review since the 1970's. He is also a former sports editor at the Trinidad Guardian and the Trinidad Express and is now a senior lecturer in Journalism at COSTAATT.

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