Nicholas Pooran plays a shot
Ashley Allen / © Getty Images

Nicholas Pooran: 'The complete T20 batsman can bat at 135, 140 strike rate and then accelerate to 200'

The T20 globetrotter and West Indies mainstay talks about coming into his own as a batting destroyer

Interview by Nagraj Gollapudi  |  

Pigtail pulav, oxtail soup, curry chicken, channa, roti, mango, pineapple, and a whole lot more were on Nicholas Pooran's food wishlist as soon as he landed in his home in Port-of-Spain in Trinidad immediately after the 2024 IPL. And he did get to tuck into a lot of those, he said on a Zoom call from his home two days before he joined the West Indies World Cup squad.

The focus of our conversation was the evolution of Pooran the T20 batter. He refers here to himself as a "child of franchise cricket", which he is, having played in just about every T20 tournament of note across the globe. He is rated by his peers and pundits among the top batters in the format, one who can influence the game from any batting position and match situation.

How does he do it? Pooran talks vividly about his preparation, his mental make-up before and during a game, how he capitalises on favourable match-ups, and what stands out for him about the best power-hitters in the game.

So the engine is fuelled now and you are ready for the World Cup?
Yeah, I had quite a lot of home-cooked food. I had too much now I feel, so I'm ready to head back out.

You've just come from a training session. As you have progressed and grown into a senior role, what is your focus now as a T20 batter when you train?
When it comes to the batting and fielding aspect, I try to feel good. With batting it's all about clarity. I think a lot [about my game]. I always want to get better, so I try to use my net sessions to answer my questions.

No. 3: Pooran during his third T20 hundred (and second last year), against Barbados Royals in the CPL

No. 3: Pooran during his third T20 hundred (and second last year), against Barbados Royals in the CPL © CPL T20/Getty Images

I spend quite some time in the nets to figure out getting better at playing wide balls, short balls, [playing against] spin. Then it is about making sure my mind is ready to execute in the game. And same thing when it comes to gym work: just try to get stronger every day.

For me, it's all about consistency. During a tournament it's quite difficult to get in a lot of gym work, and it's all about doing some functional work, doing work that's covering movements that you are doing on the cricket field. Sometimes if we have a two-day break, then I try to get a proper session in. I just try to cover all my body parts - hamstrings, quads, glutes, shoulders, core, back - that I need to use in the games.

When do you get that feeling that things are falling into place? Is it during training or a few matches into a season or tournament? Or is it about executing the role given to you, especially in batting?
It depends how the season is going and where I am at as a cricketer. T20 cricket is improving, it's changing very fast. That means you need to move with the game and improve on different skills.

Just using the IPL, for example - I know I could smash the spinners, so I have spent a lot of years working on smashing spinners, rotating the strike, sweeping, all these things. So when it comes to my spin game, I'm clear on what I want to do and how to play different situations and how to take on different bowlers. I feel like I have an idea [on playing spin confidently].

"What's really important now is winning tournaments, winning games. That's No. 1 on my agenda" Ashley Allen / © Getty Images

When it comes to batting against pacers, my role keeps varying in different teams that I play with. In the IPL I was performing more of a finishing role. So guys were bowling more wide balls to me [in training]. [So it was about] learning how to target the bigger boundaries. I had to make sure that I was in the best position possible to access those balls. During the IPL I got the opportunity to do a lot of work with wide balls, balls coming at my ankles, slower bumpers - because the [bouncer] rule changed this season.

So to answer when do I get that feeling - sometimes it's two sessions in, sometimes it's two weeks in, three weeks in. Yes, we want to perfect them, but those things take time.

You are top of the heap when it comes to six-hitting in T20s in recent times. Over the years how have you adjusted to the demands of being a power-hitter?
To be honest, I have never really focused on being a power-hitter. I'm 28 now and I feel like I'm only now getting to understand how to actually be effective at the end. What I mean by effective is scoring at a 200-plus strike rate. There's different ways to do that. Everyone thinks it's all about power, it's about hitting sixes, but it's not. You can be effective at the death without even hitting sixes. Obviously I can hit the ball for sixes, but I can also cut, I can drive, I can play low-percentage shots.

And I can time a cricket ball. I just feel the longer I bat, I will understand what I have to do to get my strike rate up. So I wouldn't look to hit sixes, but I look at gaps and if I do time the ball well, with enough power, it goes for a six. Certain venues in the world are quite small as well, so that helps. I don't focus too much on power-hitting.

So now I need to concentrate more on how do I hit the gaps, how do I hit boundaries, and continue to work on my strength game as well, continue getting a lot of reps in. In saying that, I do practise hitting a lot of sixes. I do face a lot of throwdowns just to get in the right position, getting my hands faster, getting underneath the ball. So it's a lot of work, but I don't really focus too much specifically on power-hitting.

Pedal to the metal: in the MLC final last year, which Pooran calls his best T20 innings, he raced along at a strike rate of nearly 250 for his 137 runs

Pedal to the metal: in the MLC final last year, which Pooran calls his best T20 innings, he raced along at a strike rate of nearly 250 for his 137 runs © Sportzpics

Adhishwar TA, who worked as a strategy consultant with you at Barbados Tridents in the CPL and Sylhet Sixers in the BPL, remembers how in 2019 Sylhet were chasing 174 against Dhaka Dynamites and were on 29 for 4 when you walked in. At the timeout, you told Sylhet coach Waqar Younis you were optimistic about getting the remaining 75 runs from the final four overs. You said it was a matter of hitting about ten sixes. Though Sylhet lost by 32 runs, your mindset made an impact on the coaching bench. Do you remember that?
Yeah, I remember speaking to Waqar. I think I made 70-odd [72] in that game. But I was really young. I was probably 22-23 then. [I was] still understanding putting together a T20 innings. It's difficult to bat [at Nos.] five and six in T20 cricket if you don't have that power. I told him if we hit ten sixes, that's just ten balls [consumed]. I think I hit three sixes [in a row] and then got out.

It's all about staying calm at the death. It is about understanding how to stay calm because now 20 runs, 25 runs are getting chased in the last over. It is all about having that skill and being brave as well because sometimes you can take the game deeper and lose it as well. But you need to be able to live with your processes and the consequences that come with it.

In the 2023 MLC final you helped MI New York chase 184 against Seattle Orcas in just 16 overs. You made 137 from just 55 balls. Was that one of your best T20 innings?
I just saw MLC got List A status. I wish it was there last year as well, so the century would've been counted in my stats (chuckles).

We felt like it was a really good track to bat on. Quinton [de Kock, who made 87] played well and Seattle made 180-odd. I'd just started [batting at] No. 3 in my T20 career around then. I had one T20 century before that innings, but never before at No. 3, I think. I remember going to the bathroom, coming back out, and I was saying, "Just one more innings." When I went to bat, I just told myself: "I just need to bat like Nicholas Pooran regardless of the consequences. You are no longer the captain, you just need to be you."

Steven Taylor [MI NY opener] had got out the first or second ball [third]. I blocked the first ball from Imad Wasim. I was like: that didn't spin much, I'm ready to put my feet down here. And then I got two sixes [off the last two balls of the first over].

Slow bowlers welcome:

Slow bowlers welcome: "I have spent a lot of years working on smashing spinners, rotating the strike, sweeping," Pooran says Ashley Allen / © Getty Images

I was batting pretty decently in the tournament since I started to bat at No. 3. I felt like I was doing the hard work and trying to play the situation, but I wasn't getting that big score. I had two half-centuries in the tournament, but in the semi-final [Qualifier 2] I scored like 20-odd.

Everything worked out perfectly in the powerplay [in the final]: we got something close to 90 [80 runs] and I scored about 60 [69]. And the beauty about that innings for me is that I did not premeditate anything. I did not premeditate hitting the ball over the top. I felt like it was one of those innings where your body just took over.

I remember asking [Heinrich] Klaasen this question after he scored a century against us in Morrisville: "Did you plan to take on Rashid [Khan]?" And he said, "Not really. It was just one of the days where your body just took over." I was wondering what he was saying. In that final I finally understood what he said - I felt like my body just took over: if I saw the ball anywhere close to me, I was just reacting to it and the ball was travelling.

The moment we got out of the powerplay, I told myself the game is not finished, though we were in a good position. I felt I had to make it my duty to be there to the end, regardless of if it ends in 20 overs or 15 overs I just need to be there. [Dewald] Brevis came in [at four] and played the role perfectly fine, giving me the strike, and when the left-arm spinner [Harmeet Singh] came on, we played the match-up well.

It was just one of those things where you try to relive that moment over and over, but you wouldn't get the same feeling. I remember telling Polly [Kieron Pollard, MI NY captain] that I tried to relive that innings, trying to understand what I was doing [right], and he said, "You can't. You can't relive it. It's gone. It's just a feeling."

Yeah, it's one of those innings I'll sit and keep watching over and over and wanting it to happen much more in my career. That's my best T20 innings. Especially representing Mumbai Indians, inaugural tournament, in the final as well. You can't ask for much more. It was also the first tournament my daughter was present at. She was a newborn, barely ten months old back then. It was a special moment.

Bowlers beware:

Bowlers beware: "Whatever the best version of myself is, it's yet to come, but I know I'm on the verge," Pooran says Daniel Pockett / © Getty Images

You should tell all your teams to bat you at number No. 3.
(Laughs) Sometimes they think I can bat at every position, so they kind of hold me to that.

Is that a good thing? You have to play the role that is given to you, obviously, but you must have thought about what position works for you?
Because I'm a child of T20 cricket, I started batting at different positions: seven, six, five, four, three, sometimes opening. So I was trying to figure it out. I wouldn't have it any other way. I know there's not many players in the world who can bat from No. 1 to 7. I know I can. And that's one of the beauties of my batting. When I was younger, I wanted to [come in to] bat earlier, I wanted to get more balls to bat, I wanted to score more runs. I wanted to score high scores. But as I got older, that's not really important to me anymore. What's really important now is being the best version of myself and winning tournaments, winning games. That's No. 1 on my agenda.

As for choosing my batting position, it depends on who my team-mates are. If I know there's team-mates that can open, can bat No. 3, I'm happy to bat down the order. But if I have finishers like in TKR, where there's Pollard, there's [Andre] Russell, then I'm happy to bat on top of the order. Like even in West Indies we have a lot of finishers, so I'm happy to play at the top of the order.

I don't think I'm limited, I just need to be smarter with my decision-making regardless of whether I'm batting on top of the order or in the middle order or at the end - I just need to try to make the best decisions there at that time.

After the 2021 T20 World Cup, which was a disappointing one for West Indies, Ian Bishop singled out two West indies players he wanted personally to grow and become champion cricketers: Nicholas Pooran and Shimron Hetmeyer. Would you say you are on the verge of taking the next step towards achieving that?
I have always wanted to, as I said, be the best version of myself. Whatever the best version of myself is, it's yet to come, but I know I'm on the verge. I am someone always thinking, "How do I get better?" As I get older, the more I understand that I want to win. And winning to me is not only what I do on a cricket field, it's also what my team-mates do - how do I impact, how do I influence my team-mates to get the best out of them and to always do what the team wants you to do? I know sometimes as athletes we tend to ask a lot of questions, but Polly kept it really simple. He used to say, every time you are in trouble, just ask yourself: what does the team need you to do?

For the last two years that has just stuck with me. Whenever I'm batting and I'm not sure, I ask myself: what does the team want me to do? That's my answer. And I have been able to win now, and that's something I have wanted to do for a long time. For the first five to six years of my T20 career, I didn't win much. And since I have asked myself that question, I realised I have started to win more games and I have started to win tournaments. This is just the start for me. I always put the team first, no matter what. And try my best to create memories, create moments that I will always cherish for a lifetime. And for me, that's winning tournaments.

Since January 2023 you have hit the most sixes by any batter in T20. Your balls-per-six ratio is second best. I'm guessing you are aware of those numbers?
I know in general it's somewhere there, but that's something I don't really focus on. I just try to get myself in and react. What is a bad ball to me may be a good ball to someone, or what's a bad ball for someone else might be a good ball to me. It's just about being calculative and being brave, being ready for your opportunity. That only comes with a lot of hard work and getting better at your skills.

Identifying when to accelerate in a match situation is perhaps one of the biggest challenges for a batter. Do you agree?
Understanding when you have to [accelerate] is very important, but what I think is more important than that is actually accelerating, having the ability to accelerate. A lot of guys bat at about 130-135 strike rate and they are very consistent. But in order to win games, you need to have the ability to go from 135 or 140 to probably 200. That's more important for me.

But if you are in a team where there's a lot of guys who can strike at 180, 200, then you may not need to be striking at that. For me the complete T20 batsman is the person who can bat at 135, 140 strike rate and then when you need to accelerate or change momentum, go to 200, 200-plus.

And that's the beauty of T20 batting. There's three different phases: one, where you are batting in the powerplay, when the ball is swinging, or if the ball is not swinging, you have to capitalise. And then there's the middle phase. You can't bat outside of the powerplay like you bat inside of the powerplay. It's two different things. You have to work a bit harder [after the powerplay]. That's where you need to be better at playing spinners, who normally come in from overs six to probably 15. And that's where you need to be able to maybe sweep, reverse-sweep, chip-hit sixes, slog-sweep.

Pooran bats against Delhi Capitals in the IPL game where he pummelled Axar Patel (at slip here) for 20 runs off four balls in the first over he faced

Pooran bats against Delhi Capitals in the IPL game where he pummelled Axar Patel (at slip here) for 20 runs off four balls in the first over he faced Money Sharma / © AFP/Getty Images

And then the last phase is the death, where you confront yorkers on stumps, leg-stump yorkers, wide [outside off-stump] yorkers, slower bumpers, slower wide [outside off-stump] balls. And you need to have that ability to react to those different situations and different tactics and bowlers. And that's why I feel the most important thing is to have the ability to play different situations.

One such situation recently for you came during the penultimate match for Lucknow Super Giants this IPL in Delhi, in the away match against Delhi Capitals. You walked in at 24 for 3 and blasted 20 runs in your first five balls from Axar Patel. It was a favourable match-up, against a left-arm spinner. Were you looking to exploit that, and through that, transferring the pressure onto Capitals straightaway?
We were under pressure. We were chasing 200-plus. I know who are my match-ups. I know who I plan to take down. The situation changes sometimes, but again that over there when I walked in, [Marcus] Stoinis had just got stumped [off the first ball of the over]. The leg side [boundary] was quite short for me. I was like, you know what, I have five deliveries here. I know if I bat these five balls, Axar is not going to come back to bowl because no one bowls left-arm spin to me anymore. So I told myself I need to take a risk. If it works, brilliant. But if it doesn't, then I have to live with that decision. It worked out for me. We scored 50 in the powerplay [59 for 4] though we kept losing wickets.

But for me, having that confidence and that ability to attack my match-up, even when I have just come in to bat, that's where I feel like it separates me from other batsmen as well. Just being brave to do it. A lot of batsmen wouldn't want to walk in or hit the first couple of balls for sixes. For me, I'm not doing that by guesswork or I'm not doing that because of luck. I'm doing that because I have practised over the years to do that. Maybe if Axar had two balls or one ball [left in the over], I may not have taken the risk. But because he had five balls, I said it is worth taking that calculated risk.

Klaasen, when we spoke, talked about going from the start. He said, look at Nicky P, who went from ball one [against Axar] because he thought he had that match-up. Klaasen said he sometimes can be in two minds, but you seem to have clarity and confidence.
I have played 300-plus T20 games, but I'm only 28. I have been really inconsistent as well. And the reasons that I have been inconsistent: one, I didn't understand how to put an innings together. Two, I didn't understand what the situation required. I have been through that phase where I had moments thinking I'm not sure what to do, whether to hit a six or not to hit a six. And that's where now the discipline comes in and the ego has to be put away. I have to leave the ego home sometimes.

I'm every batter:

I'm every batter: "I know there's not many players in the world who can bat from No. 1 to 7. I know I can. And that's one of the beauties of my batting" Randy Brooks / © AFP/Getty Images

For example, if Sunil Narine is bowling to me and I think he has a chance of getting me out. Do I go after him? Do I still say, you know what, let me show everyone or show him that I can hit a six off him? But most times, if the situation doesn't demand me to [hit a six], then I have to put the ego aside and say, "Today's your day, Sunil, I'll try to get you another day." Hopefully the other bowlers can bowl me some bad balls and I can capitalise as well. It's a game of cat and mouse.

I've learned this because I have batted at five and six. If you've lost three or four wickets, it's basically down to you alone. So whatever decisions you make, they need to be the right ones. I have learned that over the years. In order for me to become better, I had to keep the ego away and understand the game much more.

You spoke earlier about how bowlers are bowling outside off - wide cutters and slower balls. Since January 2023, the only line against which your strike rate is low are the outside-off and wide-outside-off ball. How are you trying to counter that?
It's about the situation of the game. If I'm batting at No. 3, I'm batting more spin, but if I'm batting at five and six, I'm facing less spin. So, at five, six, it's difficult to get better in terms of numbers, but if I'm at three and four and I have time, then I can bat properly, bat the situation, hit more gaps.

A lot of guys bowl offspin to me. I can take on the offspinners, but most of the time I don't want the offspinner to get me out, because a right-hander is batting at the other end and it is a good match-up for a right-hander.

In such a scenario it is about me being able to live with myself and saying I'm happy with a 100 or 120 strike rate, and if it's required then I know for a fact that I can up the ante. So it's all about me being calculated and just continuing to leave that ego at home as much as possible.

Pooran tops the list of T20 run-scorers among batters who play between Nos. 3 and 7. He has 4645 runs since the start of 2020 at a strike rate of just under 150. Suryakumar Yadav, Tim David and Shoaib Malik follow him on the list

Pooran tops the list of T20 run-scorers among batters who play between Nos. 3 and 7. He has 4645 runs since the start of 2020 at a strike rate of just under 150. Suryakumar Yadav, Tim David and Shoaib Malik follow him on the list Randy Brooks / © AFP/Getty Images

I don't need to destroy every single bowler in the world. That's not my goal. My goal is to win games. And in order for me to win games, win tournaments, I need my team-mates as well to be effective.

Weighing up risk is always part of the challenge. You spoke earlier about exploiting the short boundary against Axar. In the next match, at Wankhede against Mumbai, you got out caught by Suryakumar Yadav at long-on. You moved to pick up an outside-off delivery around about sixth stump. Was it the shorter leg-side boundary you were trying to exploit?
So I got two boundaries that over [third and fourth balls of the 17th , delivered by Nuwan Thushara]. One through extra cover and one was an inside edge through backward square. And then Nuwan put the extra guy on the off side, so there were four guys out on that boundary and I realised there's not much gaps on off side. I knew he was going to bowl full and wide with that field. I didn't intend to hit the ball to long-on though. But this has been a shot I have been practising in the nets where I step across wide off the off stump, on the wide tramline, and just try to hit the ball towards deep midwicket or even backward square. Maybe I shouldn't have played it that ball because I didn't need to as I was hitting sixes. I actually hit it really good and I felt like if I had hit it left or right [of long-on], I could have got six. The boundary was short on the leg side, but I hit too flat.

But that shot is definitely something I want to keep adding to my game. It didn't work out then. Maybe I won't play it again, maybe I will. I don't know. I just want to always have the bowler thinking as well because I know it becomes difficult for them at times.

There was that great reverse-hit six, too, against Delhi.
That was against Kuldeep [Yadav] in the Delhi game. And again that [boundary] was on the short side.

Can a batter get obsessed by the shorter boundary?
Of course, you have to (smiles). The game has changed so much where it makes more sense targeting the short boundary than a big boundary. It's difficult for bowlers now and they obviously try to protect the bigger boundary, so when you get the opportunity to hit the shorter boundary, you have to take it. If you have that skill set where you can hit wide balls to the short boundaries, that's even better.

My scary friend: Pooran watches six-meister Andre Russell shadow-bat

My scary friend: Pooran watches six-meister Andre Russell shadow-bat Adrian Dennis / © AFP/Getty Images

Let's talk about three power-hitters, and if you can pick one quality about their batting or their mindset. Let's start with Glenn Maxwell.
Maxi is completely different from everyone else - where he wants to strike at 250-plus. The way he strikes the ball is to different areas than the rest of the guys in the world. His front leg is so wide, he just uses hands and head. When it's his day, it's really hard to stop him. In January this year, I saw him score a century in Adelaide against us. That was a masterclass. His wrists are really strong, but one thing you notice is, his head is always still, which is really important. There's so many different ways to hit sixes. He has a completely different technique from everyone but his head position is great.

Klaasy is brilliant. Again, he's so still at the crease. His head is so still. One thing I love about him is that regardless of the situation, you can't bowl in his zone. He's going smash it all over the park. And his skill set is very high, where he's one of those players that you can't really make many errors against him because he's that good.

Suryakumar Yadav.
Sky knows his zones. He bats higher (at three or four) than most of the other [power-hitters] and probably he gets [to play] more spin than other guys. His skill sets are so good that whenever he plays one of those funky shots, it's not a risk to him, it's a risk for [the opposition]. He scores at 180 strike rate effortlessly - whenever he's batting, it doesn't look like he's taking risks. There's risks for every other batsman but not for him. Again, he would have put in a lot of work in the nets. The results can be seen in every tournament he plays: in IPL, in international cricket, the amount of runs he scores at that strike rate is brilliant and he's really consistent as well.

And your good mate, Andre Russell.
He was born to hit sixes. I have never really seen him play cuts, drives, pulls. Since I have known Russell, he has been practising sixes. I was just watching yesterday, I was looking at [the stats for] the number of sixes batsmen hit per season and Russell hit something like 51 [52] when he got MVP [2019 IPL]. The scary thing is, when he's on and he's smashing it, he hits the ball very, very far. and that is very intimidating to his team-mates and the opposition. Team-mates because at some point our bowlers will have to bowl at him. He is phenomenal.

You are 28. What is the next step you want to take as part of your evolution as a cricketer?
I just want to enjoy what is happening now. I just want to ride that wave. Enjoy the moment. Enjoy whatever success I'm getting now. Enjoy scoring runs, enjoy scoring more runs as well. I just want to continue to win. The next step for me will happen when it's ready. Whatever that may be, it'll happen in the right time. That's what I believe. I just want to live in the present for as long as possible. Continue to entertain and make people happy. And just be the best version of myself.

Nagraj Gollapudi is news editor at ESPNcricinfo