COZIER ON CRICKET – Pollard dilemma
IN A WEEK when the sporting world – indeed, the world, period – had ears and eyes only for the football World Cup, when South African cricketers would rather have been back home to be part of the historic event than a simultaneous Test match where the vast emptiness at the Queen’s Park Oval reflected Trinidadians’ preference, one West Indian player at least managed to keep cricket in the public consciousness.
Kieron Pollard’s first match in the English Twenty20 championship for Somerset against Middlesex at Lord’s, the game’s pre-eminent ground, produced an awesome display of power-hitting that, virtually single-handedly transformed a perilous position into victory.
If it didn’t supplant Messi, Rooney, Ronaldo and Kaka on the sports page, it certainly merited attention amidst the welter of World Cup coverage.
His 89 off 45 balls, with seven sixes and seven fours, following three wickets in the Middlesex innings, carried Somerset from a tottering 31 for four after six overs, to a winning 158 for five with 2.1 overs in hand. One hit came within a few feet of clearing the famous pavilion, a feat only one other batsman had ever achieved.
Impressive as the straight statistics were, they required the embellishment provided by Brian Rose, Somerset’s former captain, now director of cricket.
“I watched Viv Richards and Ian Botham produce some very big hitting for Somerset, but for sheer power I have never seen anything like Kieron’s knock,” he said.
More powerful than the Master Blaster and Beefy? It was a remarkable, almost sacreligious, statement. But others had made a similar assessment.
The Mumbai Indians of the Indian Premier League (IPL) paid over US$1 million for such power. The South Australian Redbacks and the Somerset Sabres soon followed suit.
So why is Pollard, only 23, not among the 33 players retained under contract by the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB)? Where was he yesterday when wickets were tumbling like ninepins at the Oval, or at Leicester over the past couple of days where West Indies “A” were similarly collapsing against India “A”?
The short and obvious answer is that his reputation has been made exclusively in the newest version of the game, restricted to 20 overs an innings to which Pollard’s clout is perfectly suited.
Defence, so essential in the traditional, long format, is almost an encumbrance. Any dot ball is a travesty. What is more, while his performances for Mumbai, South Australia and Somerset – and, before them, Stanford SuperStars – they are distinctly ordinary for the West Indies.
His highest score in 30 ODIs is 62, his average 19.92, in Twenty20 Internationals 38 at an average of 12.56. His medium-pace bowling add to his value but is hardly front-line.
Yet all this does not necessarily mean that Pollard is strictly a limited-overs cricketer, just that he has had no opportunity in the past year-and-a-half to show that he can be effective at first-class level.
Standards have undeniably fallen in the West Indies’ four-day competition over the years but his first-class average of 37.46 puts him on a par with several contemporaries selected in the Test team
His last innings was in the 2009 regional season. It was 174 against Barbados. It was his third hundred in 20 first-class matches. Since then, he has been confined to late order ball-beating in the restrictions of ODIs and Twenty20s.
He has said, as have most other young players, that he regards Test cricket as the true examination of a cricketer’s worth. He wants the chance to prove that he is up to it. That places him in a dilemma.
As a professional, his financial worth is measured by the type of innings that electrified Lord’s on Wednesday and those in India when he was so dominant in Trinidad and Tobago’s march to the final of the Champions League last year.
Now he needs to decide how he can combine the two.
When chosen for the West Indies in the ODI series against Zimbabwe earlier this year, he initially sought release so he could fulfil his IPL contract from the start. The IPL regulation that the requirements of players’ national teams supercede contracts with their franchises kept him at home.
Picked for the current “A” team’s tour of England and Ireland, he informed the WICB that he was unavailable as he was fulfilling his pre-existing Somerset contract, reportedly worth £30 000.
For its part, the WICB stated its disappointment but, since it does not have Pollard under contract, it could not dictate to him where he can and cannot play.
But it is also the WICB’s responsibility to see to it that its selectors have the best players from whom to choose.
Pollard comes into that category and not purely as a short-game belter. He has proven at first-class level he is capable of long innings, his bowling has markedly improved and he is a dazzling fielder.
Above all, he is one of the most exciting cricketers in the modern game, the kind that West Indies cricket needs in this time of despair.
The WICB should see that it finds out from him how he sees his future.
If he is serious about his desire to commit to the West Indies, he will have to forego conflicting contracts. He can’t have it both ways.
It’s a predicament that he has in common with most emerging cricketers – and, come to that, the various boards – in the new age of burgeoning private Twenty20 leagues.
But it would be a pity if he never gets the opportunity to show his potential in the one form of the game that he says he is keenest to conquer. l Tony Cozier is a leading cricket writer and broadcaster in the Caribbean.