By Garfield Robinson
Even the casual observer of cricket would have been aware of the awesome power of Kieron Pollard. He has travelled the cricket world, plying his trade as a six-hitter wherever there is a T20 league able to afford his services. The financial reward has been immense and he probably could be forgiven, in this age when material considerations supersedes all others, if he chose to live out his career concentrating on the game’s briefest form.
Some months ago, however, Pollard expressed a desire to play test cricket. In an interview in March last year with West Indies cricket sponsors, Digicel, the tall Trinidadian had this to say:
Yes definitely I do want to play Test Cricket. In regards to preparing for it I am working on batting longer through the innings, being more patient and focusing on my shot selection. I also need to play more 1st class cricket and just work on overall improving my game. I feel like I am moving towards that goal and that it will happen.
His hundred in the fourth ODI against Australia in Sydney indicates that he just might have the game for cricket’s most demanding format.
This was Pollard’s third ODI hundred, having already reached the milestone against India in December 2011,and against Australia last March. Both those innings were constructed at a rate of more than a run-a-ball, while his 109 at Sydney required 136 deliveries. In fact, when he was 40 he had used up all of 85 deliveries. So while you could not go as far as to say that this was a new Kieron Pollard it is good to see that he appears to have figured out the difference between building an innings and bludgeoning one.
The case against him advancing to test cricket was always his hit-or-miss approach. His debut 50-over innings against South Africa in the 2007 World Cup was curtailed by an almighty and ugly swipe to a straight ball from Jacques Kallis that dislocated his middle stump. Frustratingly, he has thrown away his wicket in like manner enough times since then for him to be dismissed as a serious contender for a test spot.
That he could be a very effective T20 player was without dispute; his ability to nonchalantly clear the boundary with his attacking strokes meant he could run up fairly good scores at an insanely rapid rate. It is his technique for defence that was always in question. At Sydney he stood firm, while batsmen dropped all around him, by deploying a firm defence for long periods.
And it’s not that he was rendered strokeless either. His last 56 runs were made from only 36 deliveries, off which he found the boundary seven times and cleared it on two occasions.
The admirable thing about this innings is that it was played to suit the situation. He joined the action with his side in trouble at 17/3 and stayed until the end, guiding them to a somewhat competitive 221. Had he fallen early, then a game as brief as the first ODI in Perth might have been in store. He at least gave the bowlers something to bowl at.
Another shortcoming of Pollard’s game was his limited range of strokes. Put the ball in his favourite areas and a forward stride and a gentle swing would send the ball over the ropes anywhere from the extra-cover, say, to the deep midwicket area. He could play the occasional pull-shot but he was not as competent playing square of the wicket as top-class batsmen normally are, and he didn’t seem particularly comfortable off the back foot. That is changing. He still prefers to hit down the ground but he is beginning to score in more areas of the park. His third boundary at Sydney was punched off the back-foot through cover in a manner that more than hinted a touch of class. His range is widening.
Pollard will need to continue in this vein if he is to warrant serious consideration as a test player. His brutal power allied with a strong defence would undoubtedly serve the West Indies well in its struggle to rise from near the bottom of the world rankings. He is also a useful medium pacer, and the almost impossible catches he was able to pull off in Adelaide testifies to his value as an athletic and spectacular fielder. If he can get his batting right he could become one of the most cherished players of the side in all three formats.
His celebration upon reaching a century yesterday was belligerent. Apart from the fact that it might have been, in part, a response to the usual heckling from the Australian fielders, it showed how much the innings meant to him. His innings was marked by patience and an ability to focus; and he should be prepared to work as hard every time he goes to the crease. That’s the only way he will fulfill his desire to become a regular member of the test team.
The West Indies, by the way, lost the game by three wickets.