Electric Pooran plays his greatest hits to silence India
With scores level in the fifth and final T20I in Lauderhill, West Indies captain Rovman Powell gave Nicholas Pooran a big hug in the dugout. In the middle, Brandon King was unbeaten on 85, his highest T20I score, but it was Pooran's 47 off 35 that had paved the way to victory.
Cricket, otherwise a team sport, can sometimes become a clash between an individual and a team. Those who followed Indian cricket in the 1990s will be familiar with this feeling. Back then, it was invariably Sachin Tendulkar vs the opposition. The opposition, too, focused on getting Tendulkar out early, because doing so meant half the battle was won.
In this five-match T20I series against West Indies, Pooran had been that individual for India. In the second T20I, he almost singlehandedly took his side to victory. In the next two, India dismissed him early and registered comfortable wins.
On Sunday, in the series decider, it was once again Pooran versus India.
Batting first, India could manage only 165 for 9. West Indies knew they could put them under even more pressure if they dominated the powerplay. So when Kyle Mayers fell in the second over, they promoted Pooran, who until that point in the series had batted at No. 4.
Having dismissed Mayers with a short-of-length delivery, Arshdeep Singh tried the same ploy against Pooran as well and, with his second ball to the batter, hit him on the ribs. Two deliveries later came the sucker ball: another short ball but bowled with just knuckles behind it. Pooran, though, made it look as if he was just waiting for it, and deposited it over deep midwicket for a six.
In the next over, Pooran had a slice of luck. He mistimed a pull against Hardik Pandya, but Mukesh Kumar, sprinting in from mid-off and diving forward with an outstretched right hand, failed to cling on to it. The batter added insult to injury by pulling the next two balls over the boundary line, his first three scoring shots all sixes as he moved to 18 off seven. His onslaught also took the pressure off King, who was on 2 off six at that point.
With Pooran looking dangerous once again, and India not having many runs in the bank, Hardik turned to his wicket-taking weapon, Kuldeep Yadav, in the fifth over of the chase. Now it was a face-off between two individuals. After all, T20s are often decided by such bouts, the match-ups.
Coming into this game, Kuldeep had dismissed Pooran four times in T20s while conceding just 41 runs in 43 balls. Two of those dismissals had come in the third and fourth match of this series. And when he rapped Pooran on the pads in his very first over on Sunday, and the umpire raised his finger, India thought they had got their man.
Pooran, though, knew he had gloved the ball. He straightaway reviewed the on-field decision and got it overturned. In Kuldeep's next over, he reverse-swept him for four. But that was the last time he took a risk against the spinner.
By then, West Indies were well ahead of the asking rate, as well as the DLS target with rain in the air. Pooran showed game awareness and put aside his ego. In all, he scored only 11 off 14 balls against Kuldeep but by not giving away his wicket, he had not only won the individual contest but effectively the match, and the series, for his team.
Later, Powell too lauded Pooran's efforts throughout the series. "I am very big on individual performances," he said. "If individuals can stand up for us, we will always do well as a team. Nicholas is a very important component of our team. We know it's difficult to perform all five games, so we asked him to try his best and stand up in three out of five games." Needless to say, Pooran didn't disappoint his captain.
To be fair to Kuldeep, he was bowling with a wet ball (two rain breaks during India's innings meant the outfield wasn't dry). That, combined with the defensive approach by Pooran and King, meant he didn't look as threatening as he had in the previous games. He conceded only 18 from his four overs but couldn't pick up a wicket.
With Pooran at the crease, Hardik didn't risk bowling Axar Patel, which left India with just five bowling options for the majority of the chase. It also saved King from facing Axar, who had kept him quiet in the past, allowing just 19 runs off 22 balls in T20s.
By the time, Tilak Varma got Pooran out, West Indies needed just 47 off 40 balls. They knocked those off with two overs to spare.
For his 176 runs in five T20Is, Pooran was named the Player of the Series. He also won an electric guitar for hitting the most sixes. However, he had a flight to catch immediately after the match and had left the ground a bit early. So he couldn't collect the series award or the guitar. But then he had already played his greatest hits.