“Impact” – That’s perhaps the single most important thing about any sportsman; how can he impact a contest?
It’s the currency sportsmen deal in. It’s the basis for their selection in a team. This is also the cause for which they fight and sweat it out.
Lewis Hamilton’s impact in Formula 1 is that he made winning a habit. So utterly dominant was he until 2020 (from the onset of 2014) that he made the likes of Ferrari and Red Bull merely banal participants in the fastest form of motor-racing on earth.
Similarly, Rafael Nadal’s impact can be gauged by the way he devoured – and still does- opponents on the clay turf. There’s no better athlete on the red surface than the ‘King of Clay!’
But as a famous career comes to an end in the world of cricket, one’s compelled to ask what was the true impact of Kieron Pollard?
A big man with a big legacy
There’ll be many who’ll be quick to point to his 99 sixes in the T20 internationals. Others will state his powerful batting that contributed to the 2012 team that lifted the T20 World Cup in Sri Lanka. If you were to separate Pollard from the narrative statistics paint, though, you’ll notice that his true impact in the sport was fear.
It’s what transformed Kieron Pollard the person into the cult of the personality we know today. Pollard brought fear into the minds of the opposition. Pollard made bowlers conscious. He was utterly unafraid of stepping down even to fast bowlers.
He backed himself to go for those big strokes that have today become famous depictions of the mayhem he caused with the bat. The blows he hit against one and all; whether a Malinga or Watson, Dananjaya or Bumrah, McBrine or Saini, Afridi or Maxwell, Boult or Jordan.
All have suffered the Pollard plight. The West Indies, meanwhile, have lorded many a time on Pollard’s ferocity. It’s in this impact where part of the Kieron Pollard success story lies.
Few have gone on to extract as much from a truly behemoth physicality as the right hander. At 6’5”, you were intimidated by Kieron Pollard’s presence around you, forget the feeling he hit you with when you landed anything in ‘the slot’ or too short for his comfort.
Just the kind of man you didn’t want to be stuck-hypothetically speaking- in an elevator with. The game, well and truly speaking, wasn’t over for as long as Pollard was at the crease.
How good is Pollard?
Make no mistake, Pollard was no master of technique akin to a Kallis, Jayawardene or Dravid, the Wall. He didn’t wield a watertight technique that could suppress a bowling attack. Nor was he gifted much like Lara or Chanderpaul, his famous compatriots, to focus for long hours at the crease.
Much of what Pollard did- 3 ODI centuries, 19 white-ball fifties, 4275 runs, 224 caps for West Indies- was down to brute power and quick judgement of length.
He was the mayhem maker; that he arrived in T20 cricket with a huge six in New Zealand and ended his favoured format, one where he struck almost 1600 runs, with a boundary against India, offers sufficient evidence that Pollard was power and stroke play.
That was his true impact. The fact that he was ready to take you on. Someone who switched quite comfortably into the battle mode.
Very often that was much to the surprise of the opposition that would think that a quiet start – say 0 from 4 deliveries- would also end the over quietly, which is where he’d lift the slower leg spin easily over long on for a 90-metre six and suddenly you’d read the scoreboard- Pollard 6*(6).
What contributed to Pollard’s success is that he backed himself to clear the ropes at any given point in the match. That 970 of his 1569 T20I runs for West Indies, which is more than half of this share of runs, came only through fours and sixes is evidence of Pollard’s brute strength as also the damning condemnation of bowlers.
It wasn’t all about batting and bowling…
But his was also a dramatic career that insinuated fans that expected a great deal more from the man who was unafraid to take on any bowler.
Pollard was caught up in the whole stand against the WICB skirmish of 2014, which resultantly truncated his international journey; at times, he’d make himself unavailable and on others, he’d be simply overlooked.
How on earth did a batsman who was in great touch in the T20 World Cup, wherein his brutal 35 off just 14 against Australia helped Windies march into the finals not play in the 2014 World Cup? The board thought of others as being better than him. It wasn’t his fault.
As many will look back at a career that was chequered with blazing hits but also peppered with lost chances, one’ll question why Pollard never appeared in the 2016 World Cup? Probably, fair to say he wasn’t as motivated and refrained from participation.
The final score line reads 2700 plus ODI runs and had he participated in more national duties instead of the growing number of seemingly repetitive T20 leagues, then many more runs than his 1569 in 20-20 for Windies. And that is where one’s got to address a conundrum before passing a lame verdict.
Yes, Pollard’s growing fascination for T20 leagues around the world- think WBBL, PSL, BPL, IPL- was often at the cost of forgoing national duties.
Pollard came at the perfect time
But wasn’t he naturally inclined to be part of the culture that became Cricket’s dominant tide, debuting in 2007, which is when T20 concept truly boomed into being something spectacular?
Little is spared to note that the year Kieron Pollard first wore the Windies maroon, cricket evidenced its first showpiece T20 event: the World Cup of 2007. The Lara’s and Chanderpaul’s, Hooper’s and Sarwan’s were part of an era where Test cricket – still the sport’s most respected format- was truly the litmus test of measuring one’s worth.
But the generation that came after, the Sammy’s, the Bravo’s, the Pollard’s were caught up in the counterculture of cricket at a time where the sport, perhaps in a bid to reach wider geographies, was experimenting with T20s.
What helped Pollard, a man of big muscles and even bigger sixes, was that he was licensed to thrill in a format that was about entertainment. He readily plied his trade, clearly also to amass the moola.
What didn’t help, the West Indies of course, was that they didn’t compensate players as lavishly as some of the other boards at the time did and still do: think India, Australia and England.
That Pollard, at the ripe age of 32, chose to focus on re-calibrating a fledgling white ball career by becoming captain is worthy of respect.
Under his leadership, West Indies smashed Afghanistan in a popular bilateral series held in India, circa 2019. He’d collect famous wins thereafter, such as the ODI triumph against Ireland in 2020 and as seen in the last six to nine months, the fantastic T20I series triumphs against Australia of all teams and England.
But it was also during this stint that Pollard’s leadership earned the growing wrath of a public that believed he was egotistical. That he was responsible for ignoring Odean Smith’s inclusion in the 2022 T20Is held in the Caribbean. And lest it is forgotten, Pollard was at the helm when Ireland posted their first ever ODI series win in the West Indies. He’d later fail to inspire his team in India as the visitors found themselves quite simply, crushed.
He was a miserable failure with the bat.
But you win some, you lose some. When we assess Pollard and point to all we think he could’ve achieved it’s also important to recollect that his craft wasn’t that of a seasoned match winner. He wasn’t marked to be, for instance, the next Sir Viv or Sir Sobers or his greatest immediate predecessor, Brian Lara.
It’s only fair to state Pollard did the maximum he could with a craft that was high on power if not necessarily on long term performance.
More of a holiday shack instead of a plush holiday home. A car that zipped on cruise control, never mind if it wasn’t a sports car.
And in some sense there’s gladness that perhaps Pollard gave back something invaluably good over and above his breathtaking strokes in mentoring the man who could be the next West Indies white ball captain: Nicholas Pooran.
If that’s not big impact, then what is?