In the wake of RCB’s purchase of Kiwi sensation Finn Allen, SportsCafe caught up with the New Zealand opener’s state coach Glenn Pocknall, who gave an in-depth insight into what precisely the Reds fans can expect from the willow of the 21-year-old, come April 9.
For years now, arguably since the departure of Chris Gayle, Royal Challengers Bangalore have longed for an out-and-out explosive opening batsman who could take the bowling on and instill fear in the minds of opposition bowlers from the get-go. They thought Quinton de Kock was their man, but he didn’t meet their expectations. His opening partner in 2018, Brendon McCullum, threatened to explode, but he was inconsistent. Parthiv Patel gave the side the runs, but not at the pace the team desired. Aaron Finch seemed like an ideal fit on paper but ended up enduring an identity crisis everytime he strode out to the middle. Josh Philippe had the exuberance of youth, but that was about it.
So it is understandable why a certain section of RCB fans are apprehensive about the signing of Finn Allen. For they’ve seen this story play out way too many times before. Historically, RCB’s marriage with reputed openers who boast numbers that can make jaws drop has almost always ended in divorce.
Yet when you hear Glenn Pocknall describe his ward, it is impossible to not set reality aside for a moment and drool at the prospect of Finn Allen mangling the cricket ball beyond recognition in the IPL, just like he’s done in New Zealand, in the Super Smash.
“Finn is a dynamic batsman who likes to score boundaries from ball one and go hard at the opposition. His biggest strength is his power, coupled with his skill to access all areas of the ground,” Pocknall tells SportsCafe, defining Finn Allen the batsman.
Glenn Pocknall is the head coach of Wellington, the state for which Allen currently plays for. And when it comes to Allen, it would be wise to blindly trust the word of Pocknall, for the Wellington head coach has seen the 21-year-old boy transform into a man. After representing Auckland for three years, it was only at the end of last season Allen made the switch to Wellington. And the drastic upswing in his run-scoring, since making the move, has been mind-boggling.
With an astonishing 512 runs in 12 matches, Allen finished as the highest run-getter of the 2020/21 Super Smash in his first season under the tutelage of Pocknall, and also accumulated 241 runs @ 34.42 in the Ford Trophy, a considerable improvement from his time at Auckland, where he amassed just 260 runs in 13 innings @ 20.00.
Yet it is not really Allen’s average, or his penchant and pedigree for run-scoring, that has landed him an IPL deal. The 21-year-old has an utter disdain for the art of bowling and he generally takes out his anger on a cricket ball by dispatching it to all parts of the ground.
In the Super Smash, his 512 runs came at a ludicrous strike rate of 193.93, and in the Ford Trophy, the 50-over competition, he struck those 342 runs at a scarcely believable rate of 140.93. Only a fortnight ago he smashed a 59-ball 128 and in his white-ball career, across formats, he’s struck 1,038 runs off just 775 balls. Regardless of the level or quality of bowling, these are numbers that are Erling Haaland-esque and deserve to be respected for their sheer absurdity.
None of this, however, will guarantee the 21-year-old success in India and the IPL. Ultimately, Allen triumphing in the subcontinent will come down to how he tackles spin; whether he has enough scoring shots against the slower bowlers - to not just dispatch them for boundaries, but to manipulate them to different parts of the ground for 1s and 2s.
Luckily for RCB, going by the words of Pocknall, playing spin is something Allen enjoys. And the numbers prove it too, as the explosive right-hander, in the 2020/21 Super Smash, was dismissed just once by the spinners, against whom he took 75 runs off just 38 balls.
“Playing spin in this season’s Super Smash was a real area of strength of his. His ability to manipulate the ball, hit straight down the ground and also hit behind the wickets with conventional sweeps and reverse sweeps are key strengths of the game, and something that he’ll be looking to do in the IPL against the spinners in some of the tracks they will play on,” Pocknall says.
But it is not just the spin that can be challenging in India. Batsmen, particularly overseas batsmen, tend to find it difficult to adjust to the differing ground sizes and weird dimensions. Six-hitting, at times, can be challenging, and for someone like Allen who has played all his cricket on relatively small New Zealand grounds, there exists a fear that the transition might prove to be tricky. Pocknall, however, is not bothered a bit by the same. The Wellington coach reveals that Allen ‘easily cleared’ long boundaries at The Basin Reserve, and hence, particularly owing to the brute power he possesses, will not find it arduous to clear boundaries in India.
“Longer boundaries won’t be an issue for Finn. Our home ground here in New Zealand, The Basin Reserve, has got some of the longest boundaries in the country and we played 6 of our matches there in the Super Smash competition. And Finn managed to clear the boundaries very easily. So with his power and with his skill, boundaries I don’t think will come into the equation. He will still back himself to clear the rope on any ground. It is a sign of his success as well.”
Any T20 opener who can strike at 183.27 is a precious commodity, but Allen is a man of many talents - he can also keep wickets. Perhaps, Mike Hesson and RCB paid key attention to also what Allen does behind the wickets, for he has, after all, been roped in as a replacement for a natural wicket-keeper batsman, Josh Philippe. The 21-year-old, however, at his time in Wellington, has only played as a specialist batsman, which is precisely why his coach hasn’t quite figured out how good a gloveman the youngster is.
“Haven’t seen a lot of his keeping, to be honest. But I’m sure if given the opportunity to take the gloves, he’d do a very good job for the side,” Pocknall says of Allen’s keeping.
By 2018, at just the age of 18, Allen had made a name for himself in the Under-19 World Cup which also featured the likes of Shubman Gill, Prithvi Shaw and Raynard van Tonder, by not just finishing as the fourth-highest run-getter in the competition but also by scoring the first hundred and the fastest fifty in the tournament.
Unlike many of his counterparts and compatriots who featured in that tournament, though, Allen has grown from strength to strength, so much so that he now is on the verge of breaking into the national side. Pocknall says that Allen is a special cricketer not because of his talent, but because he has successfully managed to translate his potential into performance.
“Finn is certainly very talented but talent only takes you so far. I think the key thing with him is that he’s turned that talent into performance and shown everybody in New Zealand how good a player he can be. Sometimes it’s just believing that ‘you are good enough’, and sometimes it’s just getting a few balls out of the middle (of the bat). But he has certainly turned that talent into performance, which is the key part,” says the Wellington coach.
So then, is a national call-up for Allen imminent? Yes, according to Pocknall. But the challenge for the New Zealand management, the Wellington head coach believes, will be to find a slot for the youngster in what is already a packed side.
“Finn could play international cricket now for New Zealand. The key question, I guess for him and the New Zealand selectors, is where would they put him and who would they put him in for. The team’s performing really well - just recently beating the Aussies 3-2 in the T20s - so finding a spot for him is the key question that everybody has got on their minds.
“But he certainly is good enough to play. I’m sure in due course he will get an opportunity because he is banging the door down and is showing everybody how good he is. It’s a matter of time before he does end up playing for New Zealand. It’d be a very exciting time for him and for everybody to watch him, because it is a joy to see how he goes about his batting.”
For RCB, even if Allen fares half as well as he did for Wellington in the Super Smash, you’d think he’d have outdone all his predecessors not named Chris Gayle.