In recent years, there have been quite a few players who have turned down central contracts and let go of their dreams of representing their respective nations to play franchise-based T20 leagues around the globe, but Kieron Pollard did it before it was cool. The Trinidadian was just 23 when he rejected a contract from the West Indies Cricket Board in 2010 to become a T20 freelancer. 10 years later, Pollard has not only just gone on to become a T20 legend, but has now also returned to West Indies as their ODI and T20I captain.
It wouldn't have been easier for a 23-year-old to give up on a contract that would not have just given him a sense of security but would have also pushed his international career further. Pollard however had none of it and opted to jump into the sea of the unknown. The future of T20 cricket was filled with uncertainty but the allrounder decided to take a shot in the dark and to say he hit the bullseye would be an understatement. He has made quite a name for himself in the shortest format of the game and is now one of the pioneers of T20 cricket.
Matches 501 | Runs 10,000 | Strike-Rate 150.6 | 50s 49 | 100s 1 | 4s 647 | 6s 652 - these are some crazy, and legendary, numbers! No other player has played more T20s than this man, who is only the second batsman after Chris Gayle to score 10,000 runs in this format. To add to that, unlike Gayle, Pollard has scored most of these runs batting in the lower middle-order. Not just that, Pollard has many T20 records to his name. He is the only player who has scored over 7000 runs and taken more than 250 wickets in T20s, and the list goes on.
Standing six foot, four inches tall, Pollard made his T20 debut way back in 2006 in the Stanford 20/20 tournament and it only took him two games to showcase his brute power. Playing for Trinidad & Tobago, the right-handed batsman smoked 83 off just 38 deliveries, studded with four fours and seven maximums, in the semi-final against Nevis. In the next two years, he made his ODI and T20I debut for West Indies but the big break came in 2009 in the first edition of the Champions League Twenty20 where Pollard took the world by storm.
Trinidad and Tobago were up against New South Wales featuring the likes of David Warner, Steve Smith, Brett Lee, Doug Bollinger and Stuart Clark. Chasing 171, Trinidad were reduced to 120/6 in 16 overs, needing 51 off 24. Then came that over from Moises Henriques that not just changed the course of the match but also changed Pollard's career. The big man tonked three sixes and two fours to accumulate 27 runs from that over before slamming the same bowler for 4, 6 and 6 in the penultimate over to complete the demolition.
"That innings changed everything for me personally. I played international cricket beforehand, but that innings changed the way everyone looked at me as a cricketer," Pollard told ESPNcricinfo about that knock - 18-ball 54* - that had five fours and as many sixes. And, 50 of those 54 runs came via fours and sixes!
A T20 FREELANCER
Pollard's raw power allows him to clear the boundary ropes even when he mistimes some of the shots. The theory is pretty simple: watch the ball, hit the ball. Anything full or in his arc, Pollard uses his enormous shoulders and long handle to great effect. Pollard had put the cricketing world on notice and everybody wanted a piece of him. He had hardly done anything substantial in international cricket but Pollard had enough achievements on his resume that forced a bidding war between franchises like Mumbai Indians, Chennai Super Kings, Royal Challengers Bangalore and Kolkata Knight Riders in the 2010 IPL auction and it was the Mumbai franchise who managed to acquire him for $750,000.
Pollard didn't share a great relationship with the WICB and after he turned down their central contract in 2010, the allrounder was a freeman and had the liberty of doing whatever he wanted and that's exactly what he did. He started playing T20 cricket in England, Australia and Bangladesh but it was in the IPL where he became a T20 enforcer. The Mumbai franchise welcomed him with open arms and has been loyal to the Trinidadian since then. Pollard is one of the very few players who have played for just one IPL franchise. He has played numerous match-winning knocks for Mumbai and played a key role in helping the franchise win a record four titles - 2013, 2015, 2017 and 2019.
Pollard has come a long way in these last 10 years. He has played T20s all around the world and is one of the biggest brand ambassadors of T20 cricket. IPL, PSL, BBL, BPL, CPL, Ram Slam T20 Challenge... Pollard has featured in almost every T20 league. Almost 60 percent of his total 501 T20s have come in the West Indies and India. If we want to talk about teams, he has played for a total of 16 franchises/clubs apart from playing 73 T20Is for West Indies.
A BRUTAL FINISHER AND MATCH-WINNER
There are not many players who can hit the ball as Pollard does. The middle-order batsman has a strike rate of almost 151 in T20s, which is the third highest amongst batsmen with over 5000 runs in this format. Andre Russell (171) and Glenn Maxwell (155) are the only two batsmen who operate at a better strike rate than Pollard. The allrounder however is at his absolute best in the final five overs (16-20). Pollard has scored over 50 percent of his total runs in these five overs. Out of 10000 T20 runs, 5087 have come in between overs 16 to 20.
If we compare Pollard with other batsmen who have scored at least 2000 runs in death overs, only Russell and AB de Villiers have better numbers than him. While 29 percent of his balls are dot deliveries, Pollard makes up for it by hitting a boundary every four deliveries. Only Russell and de Villiers do it at a better rate - every 3.5 balls. Pollard scores 69.3 percent of his runs via boundaries and has more sixes and fours than any other batsman in this time period.
What makes Pollard a true match winner is his ability to win you games out of nowhere. The right-hander has a strike rate of 168.5 in successful run-chases, which is the second best for any batsman after Russell (191.2), with minimum 1500 runs. Pollard has an average of 38.23 and a strike rate of 167.1 in matches his team ends up winning, compared to 23.93 and 131.2 respectively in games they lose.
Pollard doesn't bowl much these days but he is a very handy bowler, especially on surfaces that are slightly tricky. He has 279 wickets at an average of 24.36 and that tells you he is much more than a part-time bowler. As mentioned above, Pollard is the only player with 7000 runs and 250 wickets and even if we bring the criteria down to 5000 runs, only Dwayne Bravo and Russell make the list. Not to mention, he is a livewire on the field. No other player has taken more catches than Pollard (288) in this format. He mostly fields in the deep where he takes those unreal catches which ideally should have gone over the ropes.
MUMBAI'S MAN FOR THE BIG OCCASION
Pollard has been with Mumbai for 10 years now and has been an integral part of the most successful team in IPL history. He has formed a solid trio with the Pandya brothers in the middle order and that, apart from a few other reasons, make Mumbai the strongest IPL side on paper.
He has had few rough seasons but Mumbai always stuck with him. Sooner or later, Pollard has always returned the favour. He has won Mumbai many games batting down the order. He might not have those big scores but Pollard plays those cameos in the last four-five overs that change the course of a match. Only MS Dhoni has scored more runs than Pollard in the death overs.
The allrounder is an impact player. In matches that Mumbai end up winning, Pollard has scored at an average of 37.02 and a strike rate of 160.8, compared to 20.38 and 126.7 respectively in the encounters they have lost. He is at his best when the team is under pressure.
In the 2010 final, his fiery 10-ball 27 cameo almost took Mumbai over the line from an improbable situation against Chennai. It was only because of his 32-ball 60 in the 2013 final, Mumbai got to a respectable total and went on to lift their maiden title. The 2015 and 2019 editions were no different as Pollard kept making those match-winning contributions. Be it the 17-ball 41 and 18-ball 36 in the 2015 Qualifier 1 and final respectively or that 25-ball 41* in last year's final that Mumbai won by just one run.
In those four years where Mumbai have won the title, Pollard has scored 236 runs in nine innings in the knockouts. He has an average of close to 40 and a strike rate of over 176 which tells you the kind of impact he has had in these big encounters. Overall as well, Pollard (147) has the fourth best strike rate in the IPL history amongst batsmen who have scored at least 2500 runs.
POLLARD, THE CAPTAIN
"Pollard loves to win. That's the most important thing, and as a captain, he'll do anything to win, in the right way and the right spirit, and he's very determined to win, to make a difference. West Indies always needed a leader like that, a figurehead leader. One time we had Chris Gayle, we had Brian Lara, we had Vivian Richards, we had Clive Lloyd. We had Darren Sammy. Pollard is someone like that, you know, he demands and commands that respect worldwide, so the team will always give him that support and love," Bravo recently told ESPNCricinfo.
Bravo, who himself is a T20 legend, simply spoke the truth. Pollard didn't play a single T20I for West Indies for almost two years but made a return in 2012 and won the T20 World Cup the same year. Pollard is a born leader and having captained a few sides in franchise cricket, WICB appointed him as ODI and T20I captain last year. West Indies have looked a different unit under his leadership and even troubled Virat Kohli's men when they toured India.
He as a captain is always in your face and also has a very smart cricketing brain. His Mumbai Indians captain Rohit Sharma termed him as a "smart thinker of the game". Even if he is not the captain of Mumbai, Pollard has always been a part of the leadership group.
Pollard turns 33 on Tuesday (May 12), and the next three years are going to be huge for him as a captain and a player. Apart from IPL and a few other leagues, there are two T20 World Cups and a World Cup scheduled between 2020-2023. Pollard the player has already created his own legacy and now it's time for Pollard the captain to do the same.