It was early 2017 when Mumbai Indians raised the paddle for Nicholas Pooran. An unknown commodity found a franchise that believed in star power. A year later, Royal Challengers Bangalore snapped up Shimron Hetmyer for a bid that would make the latter a millionaire overnight.
West Indies cricketers have always been on the right side of the IPL mania - and have excelled in it too. Be it their ability to entertain the audience with sheer stroke-making or bringing in that much-celebrated “Calypso Power” to everything they do on the field. It is an investment that keeps on giving for the franchises, not so much for the national team, though. More on that later, but as the India-Windies series came to an end with a cracker of a finish at the Barabati, Windies Cricket can certainly look at the future with glowing eyes. Nicholas Pooran and Shimron Hetmyer breathed fire into the series, entertained crowds with an authentic Caribbean flavour, ensuring the battle was not lost till the very last minute.
Statistics might help in understanding the importance of the duo but to figure out the real impact, it is imperative to look at Shai Hope first. The second-fastest of all-time to get to 3000 ODI runs - faster than Virat Kohli, AB de Villiers, Viv Richards even - plays with a sense of assuredness at the top, which people haven’t associated Windies cricket with at all. He is the calm to Pollard’s fire and brimstone, letting the storm pass without any visible sign of weakness. With Shai providing the over-my-dead-body assuredness at the top, Windies needed two players to take the attack to the opposition. Phil Simmons should thank his stars for having the duo at his disposal.
In the first game, Hetmyer showed a facet of his batsmanship which revealed his true character. Not only did he smash Shivam Dube’s dibbly-dobblers out of the way, but he also unfurled the slog sweep against Kuldeep Yadav. By cutting late against the good-length deliveries, Hetmyer ensured that his tight technique belied the kind of hapless picture he painted in the 2019 Indian Premier League. If Garry Sobers said the youngster reminded him of himself, then you must be doing something incredibly right.
The runs that Hetmyer scores - of course, he doesn’t do with the alarming consistency like he is hyped up to do - is not the biggest indicator, rather the manner in which he scores them makes for a great theatre. He is flamboyant and elegant, full of power, yet bats with a grace that few others can match. The innings in Chepauk was the highest level of batsmanship, making a game out of a precarious situation, and then keeping at it with a focus that doesn’t normally come to the modern breed of Caribbean youngsters. It was sublime artistry in play and what artistry it was!
If Hetmyer was solid and compact, scoring over 100 S/R, Pooran’s unbelievable audacity to play according to the situation took the cake - both in Vizag and Cuttack. His 47-ball 75 and a subsequent 64-ball 89 were the representation of what we had been promised long back, long before the wicket-keeper batsman even injured his left leg in a road accident in St Mary's at the age of 19. His batting in this series was the combination of grace and substance - the lineage of Trinidad and Tobago's glorious tryst with our beautiful sport.
The duo’s presence in the middle overs, after the stoic top-order resistance by Hope, also alters opposition plans, like it did against India. When Pollard and Pooran started attacking, it freaked Kohli out and India took Kuldeep Yadav off in the middle overs, resorting to a more conservative and defensive approach of having Ravindra Jadeja. Mohammed Shami might be a middle-over wicket-taker but he can never contain runs. Not at least, with Pooran in full flow.
It was not only a result of Windies’ stoicism but also a tribute to the new perfectly-balanced policy of Cricket Windies. Ever since Ricky Skerritt ended Dave Cameron's controversial reign as the Cricket West Indies president, he focused on having a balance between the requirements of the international team and players’ desire to earn money and gain new experiences in T20 leagues around the world. It created a system and in the form of Kieron Pollard, they found a skipper who is a mercenary yet understands the intricacies of the sport like few others. When he talked in the middle, players listened, and now, who would disagree that a part of the transformation of Windies Cricket, with Hope, Hetmyer, and Pooran leading the way, is not down to the presence of their inspirational leader.
The India series is a reminder that they have it in them to scale peaks and that the embers of the "Fire in Babylon" are starting to glow again. It is just a matter of time before things fall in place and they start to dominate once again - not through nerve-racking struggle, but with unbounded joy. With Pooran and Hetmyer, they have their hearts in the right place.
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