T20WC24: Pooran gets his Chris Gayle groove on—better fete for WI

Nicholas Pooran does not have the bluster of Chris Gayle, the Universe Boss. Or his belligerence. Nor can he really claim to have outbatted his fellow left-hander in any of cricket’s three formats.

But in the T20I universe, he has now overhauled a couple of the former West Indies opener’s impressive records. And put himself in Gayle’s sights if not quite in his shoes.

West Indies batsman Chris Gayle (centre) hits out against the Pakistan bowling during their 2015 Cricket World Cup Group B match in Christchurch on 21 February 2015.
Photo: AFP 2017/ William West

Gayle is, after all, as Pooran styled him in a recent interview, “the definition of batting in T20 cricket”, But he is much, much more than that.

In Test cricket, Gayle has scored three triple centuries and 7,214 runs. In ODIs, his aggregate is 10,480 runs with 25 centuries and a double century along with 1,899 runs in T20Is. A large proportion of the massive total has come from shots that landed beyond the boundary.

Pooran, now a white-ball specialist, has (in)famously contended for years that “West Indies are a six-hitting team.” And, truth be told, like Gayle, he has largely backed his claim with his bat.

In the T20 World Cup Group C game against Afghanistan on Monday, he was on 85 as the last over of the innings started. His seventh and eighth six of the innings took his tally for the 2024 tournament to 13 and, in the World Cup as a whole, to 128—four more than Gayle’s mark.

West Indies batsman Nicholas Pooran goes after the bowling during his cameo against New Zealand in their ICC T20 World Cup contest at the Brian Lara Cricket Stadium in Tarouba, Trinidad on 12 June 2024.
Photo: Nicholas Bhajan/ Wired868

Pooran also leapfrogged several batsmen to top the Most Sixes list, level with the USA’s Aaron Jones. But the 12 runs off two balls also left him two adrift of his first World Cup ton.

When he does eventually get it, he will need another to match Gayle’s pair, scored in 2010 and 2016.

Two happy coincidences, though: in a 2018 IPL game, cricinfo tells us, Gayle smashed 42 off 16 balls from Afghan leg-spinner Rashid Khan. On Monday, Pooran slammed 37 runs off the 16 balls he faced from Khan. No batsman, including Gayle, has done that in a T20I.

Against India in the 2010 T20 World Cup, Gayle was run out for 98. Pooran’s 98 on Monday evening was ended by a runout as he tried to retain the strike for the last three balls of the innings.

West Indies batsman Nicholas Pooran acknowledges supporters during the 2024 T20 World Cup.
Photo: CWI Media

In Monday’s post-match interview, Pooran said he was “gutted” not to have got to three figures.

“But I believe everything happens at the right time,” he added philosophically, “Today wasn’t the day for me but […] the century […] will come at the right time.”

How do you feel about surpassing Gayle, came another question.

Legendary former West Indies batsman Chris Gayle.
(via Cricketcountry.com)

“Proud,” he responded, after a moment of reflection. “I am just happy that I can continue where he left off. As I said in my last interview, he is the definition of batting in T20 cricket and I am just really happy that I can continue to entertain people and take over where he has left off.”

For West Indian top-order batsmen, the business of entertaining people has long been a common theme. Rohan Kanhai and Garry Sobers had it at the top of their agenda as did Vivian Richards, Brian “Did-I-entertain?” Lara and, of course, Gayle.

For Pooran, there is something resembling symbiosis involved in this relationship with the spectators, especially the home fans.

West Indies supporters cheer on their team during their T20 World Cup clash with New Zealand at Tarouba, Trinidad on 12 June 2024.
Photo: Nicholas Bhajan/ Wired868

“Wherever there are fans supporting you, magic happens,” he said on Monday. “The fans are amazing. We are happy that they are supporting us… We are happy that we can put on a show for our home crowd as well.”

So happy as to sometimes throw caution to the wind?

In the previous game against New Zealand, Pooran had fallen cheaply, top-edging his 12th ball to be caught by the wicketkeeper. Might he have been trying too hard to give the St Lucia crowd the show it always wants?

West Indies supporters cheer on their team in Tarouba, Trinidad during their ICC T20 World Cup clash with New Zealand on 12 June 2024.
Photo: Nicholas Bhajan/ Wired868

The former West Indies captain seemed to provide an explanation in bits and pieces, especially with his response to a question about his “biggest challenge on the night”.

“In the last game in Trinidad,” he said, “Sherfane (Rutherford) showed us that when it’s your day, you have to take the responsibility. He obviously inspired us all by the way he batted [so] we had no excuses tonight.” (my emphasis)

Was that his way of conceding that his approach against the Kiwis had been less than appropriate?

New Zealand pacer Tim Southee had West Indies batsman Nicholas Pooran caught behind for 17 during their T20 World Cup clash at Tarouba, Trinidad on 12 June 2024.
Photo: Nicholas Bhajan/ Wired868

Early on in Monday’s interview, he declared unequivocally that “it was important for us to cash in on the powerplay”.

Then, answering a subsequent question, he said that: “I feel we have to play the game the right way and respect the game and respect the opposition as well.”

Perhaps it is what he said immediately before that that best sums up how he sees the game, the team, his approach and his relationship with his fans:

West Indies batter Nicholas Pooran.

“Some people might criticize me for not putting [Afghan spinner Noor Ahmed] under some pressure as well. But T20 is a game where you have to be smart as well. You can’t bat an entire innings at a 180 strike rate; it just does not work like that.”

Against New Zealand, he made 17 off 12 balls; his 98 against Afghanistan came off 53 balls, a strike rate of 175.5. His strike rate in the powerplay and the death overs combined was a shade under 300!

But off the 26 balls he faced between the powerplay and the death, he neither once reached nor cleared the boundary.

West Indies batsman Nicholas Pooran posted a sizzling 98 against Afghanistan on 17 June 2024.
Photo: ICC/ Getty

Does where he bats make a difference, as at least one Wired868 commentator suggested?

“This team requires me to bat at #3 and I have the game to play that role,” he says, leaving no room for doubt. “[…] At the end of the day, I am a complete team guy and whatever they require from me, I want to do it. At the end of the day, I want to win cricket games and if I want to win cricket games, I have to do my job.”

Which raises the question of whether he did do his job in Wednesday’s Super Eight game against England. He again batted at #3 and he clearly wanted to win.

West Indies batsman Brandon King was forced to retire hurt in the fifth over against England at the Daren Sammy Stadium in Saint Lucia on 19 June 2024.
Photo: ICC/ Getty

Replacing the hamstrung Brandon King in the powerplay with the score on 40, Pooran was still there at the start of the 16th over. He had been relatively quiet throughout his time at the crease—his 36, with a solitary six and four fours, having come off 26 balls.

The St Lucia crowd, their appetites whetted by Monday’s pyrotechnics, were bracing for the coming gale. His tournament toll was now 200. Could he get West Indies to that imposing landmark in this innings?

He did not.

West Indies wicketkeeper/ batsman Nicholas Pooran.
Photo: Nicholas Bhajan/ Wired868

Recalled to start the death overs, Jofra Archer successfully targeted what Geoff Boycott used to call “the corridor of uncertainty” and eventually induced, also in Boycott’s words, “a nothing shot” from the seemingly set left-hander.

Gayle would not have approved.

So the final question comes not from Monday’s post-match interview but from the West Indies fans after the England defeat.

West Indies captain Rovman Powell leads his team off the field.
Photo: CWI Media

Gayle was 32 when he won his first T20 World Cup title and 36 when he won his second. You, Nicky P,  will be 29 in October. What are the chances that you will have your first T20 World Cup title before then?

“It’s all about us seizing the opportunity and understanding what we have to do on the wicket,” Pooran had responded to a question on Monday evening. “[…] We just need to continue to leave the egos home and take it ball by ball.”

Will he? Will they? The fans certainly want Pooran to make Friday and/or Sunday the day that elusive first T20 century comes.

West Indies star Nicholas Pooran.

And that would also make the Universe Boss very pleased.

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