West Indies cricket would have hoped for the ‘Spiderman points Spiderman’ meme to represent Nicholas Pooran’s game in the shortest format. However, in reality, his T20 form vs T20I form can only be best represented with the meme ‘Buff Doge vs. Cheems’ and rightfully so.
An average of 16, with a strike rate of 86.49, sixth-worst amongst the 17 players who have got a hit in the middle-overs in the series between West Indies and South Africa, Nicholas Pooran’s numbers don’t match his potential. With the hype that he has developed over the last few years across the various global T20 tournaments, Pooran’s international career is still on the road to resurrection.
Since the start of 2019, across the two seasons of Big Bash League, Indian Premier League and the Caribbean Premier League, Nicholas Pooran stands overpowering the leagues with his batting display in the middle-overs. In the span of two years, Pooran finds himself only behind Marcus Stoinis, in terms of runs scored, with 656 runs at an average of 38.59.
However, it is not his runs or the average which has caught the attention of several and made him a global T20 superstar. His strike rate across the board, standing at 142.30, the ability to come out swinging in the middle-overs, as Punjab Kings (Kings XI Punjab) back then experienced, was the aspect that made him stand out and turn him into a sought-after star.
46 fours and 42 sixes showed that his muscle was employed with a brain, to not stop the scoring rate in the middle-overs, breaking the T20 norms that were standardised. Some even say that the southpaw has revolutionized the shortest format of the game which, in reality, is true. In the 2020 edition of the tournament, which incidentally was also in the Middle East, Pooran was a real ‘ace’ in the hearty cards of the IPL, scoring 162 runs off just 79 deliveries, at a strike rate of 205.01.
That’s where, however, unfortunately, we have to draw the boundaries. The T20 global leagues’ most-wanted star Pooran isn’t the same as in the international scene. Let’s break it down further! Since the start of 2018, around the same time when the hype about the prodigious talent, Pooran, started to float around, his international career started to take a tumble.
Since 2018, across 18 international fixtures around the globe, the globe-trotter Pooran scored 208 runs at an average of 20.80, with a strike rate of 99.52, something that is only considered a nightmare for him. Contrastingly, in the 2018 Caribbean Premier League, the left-hander walked out handsomely with 267 runs in ten innings, averaging 33.4 and a strike rate of 144.3, one of the main reasons for Windies continually trusting him.
Only twice in his entire T20 career, across several tournaments, has Pooran had a strike rate poorer than the one he has with the national team - coming in the 2013 Champions League T20 where he struck at 88.9 and the 2021 Indian Premier League where he struck at 84.8, with four ducks in six innings. A natural power-hitter, one of the best middle-over batters in the shortest format, if not the best, was suddenly in water that he had not trodden before.
In the same time frame where his T20I career hit the rock-bottom, West Indies skipper Kieron Pollard, with just 34 more deliveries than Pooran, scored 329 runs at an average of 32.90 with a strike rate of 135.39, holding the flag upright properly for the Windies. So the case of a global T20 superstar gone missing isn’t really a big phenomenon, there were several with the same syndrome, including Rishabh Pant.
But Pooran isn’t an ordinary superstar, his peak performance was certainly more than any middle-order batsmen could in the IPL and certainly more than any other talented Windies star out there. To add to that, Jarrod Kimber, before the 2019 World Cup, called Pooran a 'firework more than human' and stated that he would come swinging. Ever since the 2020 edition of the IPL happened, the talented left-hander in international cricket has scores of 1, 7, 0, 8, 23, 9, 26 and 16, the last of which came against South Africa. While his run-tally wasn’t always the one that hyped him around, his strike rate across those games has only crossed the 100 mark thrice.
The Trinidadian, whose life came under serious threat in 2014, with a torn patella tendon, fractured tibia and fractured ankle, has travelled the long road from that time to establishing himself as one of the prime-time players in the shortest format. Not just T20s, Pooran also made a name for himself in the T10 leagues, with his blistering knocks, coming at a strike rate of well around the 180 mark, which later helped him establish his credentials in the middle-overs.
His technique wasn’t the most marvelled at, with a forward press, a neat front-leg press and a golf-like swing which brought the momentum into the game while still separating his hip and shoulder. And against pace, his technique was well under the scrutiny, with several bowlers employing the short-ball strategy against him. So what’s the problem in international cricket?
In theory, with Kieron Pollard being the skipper, Pooran, a natural aggressor, should have marvelled and excelled with the chances. However, in reality, it has been the complete opposite. Pooran has struggled to make the middle-overs his own, getting out to spinners twice in three innings, failing in his own game. In the other innings, a painfully cruciating one, he got out to Anrich Nortje after scoring a 28-ball 27, in an encounter where West Indies lost the game by one run.
It isn’t all technical, for a batsman like him it is more about the mindset and the mentality. Having failed in the last eight T20I fixtures, there seems to be a cloud of doubt around his place in the national side, yet the fact that his talent is rare as an oasis has kept him and his talent in the playing XI.
“I hate the word ‘talent.’ People use it so freely and so often that you would think it actually carried some weight behind it. Take it from someone who is said to be ‘talented’ in many different areas: talent ain't spit. All that really matters is intelligence,” as Elite Daily’s Paul Hudson points out.
But for Pooran to succeed, he must bring about a familiar demon - his T20 self in the park, on Saturday, against South Africa. While the demon might have suffered the form in the 2021 edition of the IPL, later dropped by his franchise, there is not an iota of doubt over his talent, something that he has to make use of. So in Paul’s own words, Pooran’s talent means nothing if it is not married well with ‘intelligence’.