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Best: What Pooran at the helm says about tomorrow’s West Indies 

‘A man hit a ball in St Lucia and it end up in Trinidad…’

Superblue’s original reference is to a prince, Brian Charles Lara, the Prince of Port-of-Spain, in Antigua; mine is to a batsman, left-handed like Lara, who, in the 1st T20I between West Indies and Australia at the Daren Sammy Stadium on Friday, hit a ball which I thought might end up in Trinidad.

His name is Matthew Wade and, at the top of the Australian order, he contributed 33 off only 14 balls to his team’s losing score. But in the fourth over of the innings, he twice hit Andre Russell over midwicket, once so high and so hard that the adjusted Superblue line flew instantly into my head. 

Photo: Australia batsman Matthew Wade smashes a delivery for six runs.
(via The Sportsrush)

This column’s focus, however, is neither Lara nor Superblue nor Wade. It is 25-year-old Nicholas Pooran, who is currently captaining the regional T20 side in the absence of the injured Kieron Pollard.

Undeterred by Wade’s early fireworks, Pooran could not have placed Shimron Hetmyer with greater pin-point precision down on the cover boundary if he had used a slide rule. Standing on the exact blade of grass, the sweeper did not have to move a millimetre when the power-hitting wicketkeeper clouted the last ball of Russell’s over down his throat.

A fluke? Perhaps. We have only the evidence of three matches, hardly sufficient to draw more than tentative conclusions. So far, however, there is room for optimism.

First, let us go back for a moment to the future. 

I am on the record as being 100% in favour of selecting promising young players to understudy the incumbent, generally a veteran. But I have argued that the first criterion for that promotion should be that the player be a shoo-in for a place on the starting XI.

Photo: West Indies batsman Nicholas Pooran salutes the crowd.
(via CWI Media)

Who dares say that currently about Pooran? Or Hetmyer, the other vice-captaincy horse I have backed? Significantly, skipper Pollard has only recently been called on to defend their selection, more hopeful than confident, I reckon, that they will justify the selectors’ faith in them.

And if Pollard’s words are to be taken as reflective of policy, if CWI are indeed determined to rely on training and exposure rather than vie-ki-vie-ism for the succession, would it not make sense to spread the experience around? Should we not apprentice 27-year-old Shai Hope to Brathwaite as we have done, 25-year-old Pooran to Pollard in the T20 unit and 24-year-old Hetmyer to Pollard in the ODIs? 

Would it not make sense so to do? And, going the whole hog, ensure that our current and former Under-19 captains enjoy some kind of mentoring relationship, at least informally, with both the WI incumbents and their CPL skippers? 

Nuff said. Back to Pooran. 

There is something else I noted about him on Friday. It happened when he was unfortunately run out, trying, it is worth mentioning, to steal a single. The attempt cost him his wicket. But stealing—or simply taking—singles is an area where Pollard’s team has not been strong.

Photo: West Indies batsman Jason Holder (right) is run out by South Africa’s Anrich Nortje during the Second T20I in Grenada.
(Copyright CWI Media)

The evidence remains flimsy for the moment but that should go into the In-box. For future reference.

Another small point. When the Third Umpire’s review showed that he was short of his ground as Josh Philippe’s throw broke the wicket, Pooran turned and made a curious gesture at Hetmyer.

I’d be prepared to bet it was an admonition, a reminder if you prefer, rather than a reproof. You’ve cost me my wicket, I read it as, now you’ve just got to make runs for us both.

In the event, the 24-year-old left-hander added 36 with Russell to see the score into triple figures. One suspects the stand-in skipper would not have been entirely satisfied with the way his player got out, flailing at two balls that were actually called wide before edging the next, directed inside the guide line but still outside off-stump, straight into the hands of the waiting Mitchell Starc at short third man. 

But that was preferable, one suspects Pooran told him, to what we have become used to seeing, an attempt to heave it over midwicket and succeeding only in threatening the clouds.

Photo: West Indies batsman Shimron Hetmyer in action against Australia.

On Saturday, there was, what he referred to as ‘the decision to send Dwayne up the order to keep a left-right combination’.

It would have been intensely satisfying to discover that the idea had come not from Bravo but from the stand-in skipper. And to see that reasoning similarly affect the batting order on Monday when Pooran and not Bravo came to join Gayle after Simmons’ dismissal at 42 for 2. 

But Pooran’s Saturday comment about ‘a senior player raising their hand and showing their experience’ and that ‘we just saw it was important to have a left-right combo with the wind factor so I held myself back’ provides an insight into a very healthy team dynamic. There have been captains, leaders, who do not welcome what is perceived as interference from subordinates, especially former captains.

So, so far, so good. All in all, things are looking positive. There is, of course, adrenaline and beginner’s luck to be taken into account—remember the recent Bangladesh Test series? 

In Fidel Edwards’ opening over on Friday, Pooran dispensed early with the slip. I remember not a single chance going begging in that area. 

Photo: West Indies stand-in captain Nicholas Pooran (left) and star batsman Chris Gayle demonstrate their solidarity with the black lives matter movement before the Third T20I against Australia on 12 July 2021.

At the opportune moment in the first ten overs, he hustled Edwards, Russell, Obed McCoy and Hayden Walsh out of the attack. And at 105 for 4 after 10 overs, he brought Walsh back when you thought he would go for broke and look to bowling spearhead Bravo to quiet the dangerous Mitchell Marsh—even if it meant he would have only one over left in the kitty.

With two new batsmen at the crease when Marsh fell to Walsh in #13, I was certain Pooran would get rid of Fabian Allen’s final over. Wrong call!

He stuck with McCoy, opting to leave well alone…

…and won the game for his side, the left-hander delivering in splendid fashion. 

Saturday’s result meant that Australia had lost ten wickets in successive T20 matches, most likely a rare occurrence. And worthy of note, 19 of the 26 Aussie batsmen out have been caught, arguably a tribute to disciplined bowling and thoughtful, accurate field placing.

Photo: West Indies bowler Hayden Walsh Jr (centre) celebrates the wicket of Australia batsman Josh Philippe (right) while wicketkeeper Nicholas runs to congratulate him.

So let us all wish Pollard a speedy recovery…

…but perhaps not so rapid as to deny Pooran the opportunity to begin his captaincy career with a confidence- and morale-boosting 5-0 series win over the highly-rated—over-rated?—Aussies. 

 

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About Earl Best

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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