Written on the stars: Pollard's format of choice was clear as far back as at the Champions League match in 2009 where he made 27 off an over against New South Wales
Written on the stars: Pollard's format of choice was clear as far back as at the Champions League match in 2009 where he made 27 off an over against New South Wales
Kieron Pollard's choice to go franchise didn't just make him one of the first T20 millionaires, it also shaped how players approached the format
This is an extract from Cricket 2.0: Inside the T20 Revolution, a book that chronicles the rise of the T20 format from a gimmick to the modern face of cricket
As Kieron Pollard crouched in his stance his bat looked like a toothpick in his hands. This was not because the bat was small - in the hands of a normal man it would look like a railway sleeper - but because Pollard, clad from head to toe in Trinidad and Tobago red, was a giant. Standing six foot, four inches tall and weighing 98kg, he was built more like a heavyweight boxer than a cricketer. As the bowler ran in, Pollard tapped his bat delicately on the ground - perhaps he feared he might break it if he exerted any more force - and looked up.
Pollard had just arrived at the crease in Hyderabad in a group stage match of the 2009 Champions League T20. Pollard was playing for his native Trinidad and Tobago against New South Wales. It was the 14th over of the match and he was about to play an innings that would transform not only his life, but T20 cricket.
'That innings changed everything for me personally,' remembered Pollard. 'I played international cricket beforehand, but that innings changed the way everyone looked at me as a cricketer.'
With 24 balls remaining Trinidad and Tobago required an improbable 51 runs to win - New South Wales, one of the strongest T20 teams in the world, had never conceded that many in the final four overs of an innings. A victory for Trinidad and Tobago would virtually guarantee their progression to the semi-finals of the inaugural Champions League - the most expensive tournament in cricket history, sold to the Indian broadcaster ESPN Star Sports for $1 billion earlier that year and competed for by the world's strongest T20 clubs.
The trouble facing Pollard and his partner at the crease, Sherwin Ganga, was that 12 of the remaining 24 balls would be bowled by Brett Lee - one of the best and fastest bowlers in the world. Lee's first two overs that evening had cost just nine runs and had taken one wicket. Plausibly, Trinidad and Tobago could hope for 16 runs off Lee's 12 balls which would leave 35 to get off the remaining 12 deliveries.
The New South Wales captain, Simon Katich, could have given the ball to the off-spinner Nathan Hauritz or the leg-spinner Steve Smith - but bowling spin at the death was always considered risky. Katich's other frontline quick bowler, the left-armer Doug Bollinger, had already finished his four overs which left the medium-pacer Moises Henriques as his only option.
Henriques was exactly the kind of bowler that Pollard liked to face: not fast enough to push him back with a short ball nor accurate enough to consistently nail his yorker. But recognising the opportunity was the easy part; it was another thing actually taking it.
'Do you want to be remembered as a legend or do you want to be remembered as a mercenary?' A West Indies Cricket Board administrator to Kieron Pollard in 2010
Pollard was still only 22, yet already bigger and stronger than most players in the world. 'He was always a very big fellow,' recalled Daren Ganga, Pollard's captain at Trinidad and Tobago. 'Even as a teenager he carried the same sort of size so it was very easy to identify him.'
Three years previously Pollard announced himself to the Caribbean as a T20 player of great potential when, aged just 19, he bludgeoned 83 off just 38 balls against Nevis in the semi-final of the Stanford T20. 'That was a significant innings for me,' said Pollard. 'That brought me on the map as well in terms of my ability to hit long balls.'
Since then he had played a number of brutal cameos - the most recent of which came in Trinidad and Tobago's previous Champions League match against the IPL's Deccan Chargers. Pollard's 14-ball 31 included four sixes and was instrumental in toppling a heavily favoured IPL team.
'The moment that defined us is when we played that game against Deccan Chargers in Hyderabad and we won against an IPL team,' said Pollard. However, what he was about to do against New South Wales would leave an indelible mark on his own career.
The first ball of the 17th over was a wide and the fifth was a dot ball. But aside from those two deliveries the other five balls were all smashed to the boundary. In a remarkable assault Pollard plundered three sixes and two fours from Henriques' over. 'It was just a matter of trying to clear the boundary every delivery,' said Pollard. The bowling was poor - two full balls right in the slot, one short slower ball, and a full toss - but the power of Pollard's hitting was magnificent. Bad balls or not they still had to be dealt with. The sixes didn't just clear the ropes, they sailed far into the stands as if jet-powered. In the space of just six balls, Pollard had scored 27 runs and had turned the match on its head.
'I was focused and I was determined,' recalled Pollard. 'When it comes to these sorts of big games and you're playing against these big players there's some fire inside me that actually comes out even more in these sorts of situations.'
To Pollard and to many of the players that day there was more meaning to that match than simply the result. Two IPL seasons had already been played and the Champions League T20 - played in India and in front of a global television audience - represented a shop window for players to attract IPL interest.
'I remember clearly when we arrived in India to play the first edition of the Champions League there was a lot of fanfare behind the tournament,' said Ganga. 'The IPL had already taken off and the microscope and the focus and the buzz around T20 tournaments and this tournament in particular got a little bit to the heads of my players. You had all these different guys doing different funky hairstyles, trying to define themselves and to be recognised because they understood the opportunities which were before them in terms of getting an IPL contract and having good performances and how that will impact them and their careers.'
Pollard was at the forefront of this urge to be recognised and had '20-20' shaved on the side of his head and sported large diamond earrings. Brazenly, Pollard also asked Ganga if he could bat at number three - where he had scored his 83 against Nevis three years previously but had only batted twice in his career. He normally batted at five, six or seven.
Pollard let out a massive roar after taking his team home in the Hyderabad game with his 18-ball 54, an innings that changed his career and his life
© Global Cricket Ventures-BCCI
Pollard let out a massive roar after taking his team home in the Hyderabad game with his 18-ball 54, an innings that changed his career and his life © Global Cricket Ventures-BCCI
'I had a young guy like Pollard who was trying to upset the apple cart in terms of trying to bat higher on the premise of him really wanting to do well and progress his career,' said Ganga. 'Those were challenges that I faced as a captain - especially with the young players who were eager to do so well.'
Pollard batted at number seven that day, but the 27-run over had bent the game to his will, leaving Trinidad and Tobago only requiring 24 from the last three overs. Pollard's enormous strength allowed him to find the boundary even when he mistimed or edged the ball. Indeed, from the fourth ball of Lee's next over, Pollard's thick edge brought a boundary and took Trinidad and Tobago to the brink of victory with only 16 required from 12 balls.
Despite his mauling in the 16th over Henriques returned for the 18th. The first ball was a low full toss and Pollard hammered it back down the ground for four; the second was another low full toss and this time Pollard dispatched it back over the bowler's head for six. 'It was see ball, hit ball. I was in a zone where I didn't think I would mistime anything. And it worked.'
Henriques landed the third delivery but by now Pollard was into his groove: 'I was seeing the ball big and just wanted to finish it.' Pollard took a small stride forward and bludgeoned the ball hard, flat and over long off for six. The boundary, his eighth in nine balls against Henriques, brought up both his own 50 - off just 18 balls and the victory, with an absurd nine balls to spare. As the final six soared into the stands Pollard bent back with his bat in one hand and let out an almighty roar. His entire body shook as he released the nervous energy of the run chase and bellowed into the Hyderabad night sky.
Pollard's innings was momentous. It gave rise to a new T20 megastar, and redefined what people thought was possible in run chases. Teams had scored more runs in the last four overs of a match before but no team had ever scored so fast. Trinidad and Tobago had razed 51 runs in 15 balls - a run rate of 20.40 runs per over. Hitting of such brutal efficiency had rarely been seen in cricket and never on such a big occasion. It was a significant moment in the evolution of T20 batting. Quite suddenly - in less than half an hour of crazy hitting - no total was safe, no target was out of reach and no asking rate was too steep.
Three months and three days after the Hyderabad heist, Pollard found himself the subject of a fierce bidding war in the IPL auction between Chennai Super Kings, Kolkata Knight Riders, Royal Challengers Bangalore and the Mumbai Indians, to whom he was eventually sold for $750,000. This made him the joint most expensive player at the auction, despite only averaging 17.50 in T20 internationals and 13.50 in ODIs.
'I was overwhelmed, seeing that sort of price. Straight away the pressure got to you but then you realise it was an opportunity for you to go out and showcase your talent and show that you're really worth every penny of it.'
"Kieron Pollard, in my opinion, is not a cricketer" Michael Holding
As a young boy Pollard never dreamed of being a millionaire cricketer. T20 was not played at professional level until he was 16 years old and the IPL did not exist until he was 20. 'I never even thought you'd have another version of cricket,' he remembered. 'I always grew up watching Test cricket and 50-over cricket and aiming to represent Trinidad and Tobago and then the West Indies. That was the goal.'
Pollard grew up a long way from the riches of the IPL, and the global T20 circuit on a housing estate of 20 prefabricated flat called Maloney Gardens, located on the East-West corridor of Trinidad - a half-hour drive from the capital, Port of Spain. The area was marked by pastel-coloured flats with boarded windows and draped with drying washing. The flats were punctuated by overgrown fields. It was here that Pollard spent his formative years.
Pollard was raised alongside two younger sisters by his single mother in tough circumstances. They were not a wealthy family and Maloney Gardens was synonymous with drugs, gang violence and gun crime.
'Where I grew up it has a stigma for violence and drugs,' said Pollard, 'but there was also a lot of sport.' And it was sport that gave Pollard's life meaning and direction. 'It was all about 'play' as we would say.
'Cricket would be six months of the year and then football and then athletics. We would move with the tide. Say for instance if it was an Olympic year, everyone would come outside and go and run. And you'd be Maurice Greene. If there was a Football World Cup you'd be Ronaldinho, Ronaldo, whoever. Then cricket came back around. Brian Lara scores runs, today you're Lara. Curtly Ambrose takes wickets, you're Ambrose. Courtney Walsh takes wickets, you're Walsh. That's how it used to be.'
Sport offered Pollard a retreat from the toil of life in Maloney Gardens and as well as the tantalising prospect of an escape. 'In 2000 one of my friends who I used to play with made the Trinidad and Tobago Under-17 football team. And that was a big achievement for us. Him coming from there and playing for Trinidad and Tobago.'
Pollard was always big for his age which put him at an advantage playing sport. 'Growing up I was always a bit taller,' he said. 'I was a bit skinnier than I am now. But big enough.' In particular his size made him well suited to boundary hitting. 'I had a natural ability to hit sixes.'
At secondary school Pollard's power quickly attracted attention. In 2006, Pollard played for West Indies Under-19s. Later that year he would play the first professional T20 match of his career: for Trinidad and Tobago against the Cayman Islands in the Stanford T20. Pollard did not bat but he bowled and took a wicket. The match was also the debut for leg-spinner Samuel Badree, another player who would go on to have a hugely significant T20 career.
It didn't take long for Pollard to make the step up: in 2007 he made his ODI debut at the World Cup. But while Pollard was breaking through in the Caribbean, the sport's tectonic plates were shifting. In September 2007 India won the T20 World Cup; months later the first IPL auction was held, exposing players to untold wealth. Only England, who established their fateful relationship with Sir Allen Stanford in the Caribbean, blocked their players from participating. There had never been a better time to be a cricketer, and in particular a West Indian T20 cricketer: uniquely, they had the opportunity to play in both the IPL and Stanford's million-dollar match.
In 2009, after a fierce bidding war, Pollard was sold to the Mumbai Indians for $ 750,000 in the third IPL auction. He has been with them since
In 2009, after a fierce bidding war, Pollard was sold to the Mumbai Indians for $ 750,000 in the third IPL auction. He has been with them since © BCCI
These two events changed Pollard's life. First came the Stanford match in November 2008. Pollard took two wickets in the game, helping rout England for 99 before the Stanford Superstars razed the target with 7.2 overs to spare. 'The first pay cheque when I got huge amounts of money would have been the World Cup but the 2008 Stanford game was a different level.' Each player on the winning team took home one million dollars. 'So then life was comfortable and all I had to do was work hard.'
Less than a year later Pollard shot to global acclaim with his brutal 50 in Hyderabad; shortly after he landed an IPL contract with Mumbai Indians worth $750,000. Pollard's price tag had a profound impact on his attitude towards the game.
'Going into the IPL, where all the megastars were, as a big-priced player was very satisfying to me,' said Pollard. 'That sort of changed my mentality towards cricket - you have to go out there and be that ultimate professional. I think I've really, really done that especially in the IPL.'
Being in demand on the T20 circuit set Pollard on a collision course with the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB). The WICB found themselves vying for Pollard's attention with T20 leagues around the world who could pay him better money, for less time. Pollard wanted to play for the West Indies but he also wanted to play in T20 leagues; being contracted by the WICB meant he had to be available to play for the West Indies at all times and left his availability for domestic leagues controlled by the WICB.
In 2010 Pollard took the hugely significant decision to refuse the offer of a central contract from West Indies after they requested that he make himself available for an A tour of England rather than fulfil his contract with Somerset. 'It's a decision that I never took lightly,' he recalled. 'It's something that I sat and thought about.
'I was in and out of the West Indies team for a bit and I had a decision to make: am I going to back myself to play and go around the world, back my performances, take that chance? Or am I just going to sit back in the Caribbean, wait and see what they are going to do with me and when they are going to do it?'
Both options were lined with risk. The West Indies contract offered far more certainty - locking him in for 12 months, but at $80,000 per year it was worth a lot less. On the other hand, the freelance T20 route was far less secure, with contracts lasting only six weeks and determined at drafts and auctions where vagaries of form and fitness play a large role in selection. But the potential rewards were far greater.
The T20 circuit was still viewed with great scepticism by administrators and many former players, whereas the international circuit was regarded as the arena where reputations were forged. In 2010 the former West Indies fast bowler and commentator Michael Holding, a staunch critic of T20, attacked Pollard because he had not played Test cricket. 'Kieron Pollard, in my opinion, is not a cricketer,' he said.
Holding's view embodied that of many 'purists' who valued Test cricket above all else. 'All these people motivated me quietly without people knowing and understanding the situation,' said Pollard. 'You would never understand the situation until you are in the situation.'
One West Indies administrator pointedly asked Pollard: 'Do you want to be remembered as a legend or do you want to be remembered as someone who is a mercenary?' I said at this point in time I'll take my chances and I'll go around the world, I'll back myself and I'll back my ability.'
Pollard continued to play for the West Indies when selected and appeared in more than 100 ODIs and more than 50 T20Is over his career. But he refused his central contract and set himself on a path as a T20 freelancer.
"When it comes to these sorts of big games and you're playing against these big players there's some fire inside me that actually comes out even more in these sorts of situations" Pollard on that Champions League match in Hyderabad
Absent from the large majority of West Indies' international cricket, Pollard was a case study in what might drive cricketers of the T20 age without the motivation of representing their nation.
'I think the key for me is three things,' said Pollard. 'One is family. Cricket is a way to provide that comfortable life for your family. I had my first kid, Kaiden, when I was young. Everything happened at a young age. The responsibility was always there and the responsibility was on myself. So that in itself keeps me going knowing that there are other people depending on me to go well in order for them to have a comfortable life and see different things.
'Secondly is knowing that being a sportsman you can only play cricket for a certain amount of time. You wanna maximise every opportunity that you get. So knowing that now I am 31, 32, it is not going to be as long as when I was 21. So that keeps me in check and wanting to stay fit and wanting to learn and to improve.'
At the heart of Pollard's choice there was also a universal truth: professional sportsmen wanted to excel and they wanted to win, whichever team they were playing for.
'The third thing is you always want to do well and be at the top of your game,' he said. 'The game is changing. Everything is changing. And you want to change along with it and you want to challenge yourself alongside the younger guys as well. You want to maintain that sort of standard for yourself and have that personal pride in your performance. No matter what team you play for, what competition you play in, you have that willpower to win in anything you are doing. So for me it is about the team and it is about winning.'
By May 2019 Pollard had played for 14 different T20 teams in eight different countries. The boy from Maloney Gardens had become a pioneering, gallivanting T20 cricketer.
'I got a lot of backlash for it from the media all over the world. I took a lot of licks, I took a lot of punches, I took a lot of different things, but I have lived to see the day where cricketers are leaving international cricket to play T20 around the world when they still have a lot of international cricket left in them. But in order for it to happen someone needed to take the initiative and make the change.'
Across a career spanning more than 450 T20 matches, Pollard had plundered more than 8,000 runs, more than 600 sixes and more than 600 fours, and he had taken more than 250 wickets and 250 catches. Only one man - Chris Gayle - had scored more runs than Pollard and he was seven years his senior, and Pollard had scored his from the lower middle order, where he faced fewer balls and was asked to bat in more varied situations.
Although Pollard was too modest to admit it, T20 had not only made him very rich, but also a legend of the format. Pollard had once been presented with a choice between becoming a legend or a mercenary. He had done both.
'T20 cricket has given me a lot and that I appreciate daily. To the guys who have belittled T20 cricket and said what they said about T20, it is for them to look now and see what it has become.'
Extracted with permission from Cricket 2.0:Inside the T20 Revolution by Tim Wigmore and Freddie Wilde, published by Polaris on October 10, 2019
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