“If I'm no longer playing for MI then I cannot see myself playing against MI either” - If one ever needed to know why teams like Mumbai Indians are so successful in the IPL, this one line would answer all of it in affirmative. It is a franchise that screams loyalty and like Harvey Specter would say, “If you are expecting loyalty from me, better goddamn earn it.” Kieron Pollard earned it more than any other player in the Mumbai Indians set-up, becoming a shining example of everything excellent about the five-time IPL champions.
From being their longest-serving player to becoming the core of multiple transformations and in the process, seeing them through five IPL and two Champions League titles, the Caribbean giant forged a separate chapter of his own in the IPL-verse, before hanging his boots on Tuesday, truly marking, as cliched as it may sound, the end of an era.
Just imagine this. Rohit Sharma led Mumbai with absolute clarity. Jasprit Bumrah has been a savior for nine years. Lasith Malinga’s contribution to the franchise in clutch moments has taken a page of its own. But Pollard was an indemnity to the psyche of Mumbai Indians - an ever-lasting presence in situations that sometimes seemed paradoxical. MS Dhoni, AB de Villiers, Andre Russell, and Kieron Pollard - the list wouldn’t accommodate any other player.
It was the base on which Pollard made a legendary IPL career. Only one of the two players to have scored more than 3000 runs and taken 50-plus wickets. Pollard is the second highest run-scorer in death overs after MS Dhoni, with more than 3000 runs and that too at a strike rate over 170. It was not a surprise why Mumbai never wanted to let go of him even when the chips were drastically down. For the Paltan, Pollard was family - and the feeling was mutual.
"Most sincerely, I express my deep appreciation to Mukesh, Nita and Akash Ambani for their tremendous love, support and respect I have always felt and for the confidence they placed in me. I recall our first encounter when they welcomed me with open arms saying. 'We are family'. Those were not just mere words, but demonstrated by their every action throughout my time with Mumbai Indians,” Pollard wrote in his retirement statement.
With Pollard, Mumbai were assured of one thing that many teams have lacked over the years. Like peak MS Dhoni, the presence of Pollard allowed every single player at the top order to play with a sense of freedom. The success of the likes of Quinton de Kock, Suryakumar Yadav, and Ishan Kishan are as much down to do with their own self as it is because of Pollard’s presence. The predicament of which was felt through the spines of their batting in the year he had a massive fall from grace - an average of 14.40 and strike rate of 107.46 in 2022 - and the franchise ended with the wooden spoon.
Further, boxing Pollard’s achievements into a montage of moments would be a disservice to his profound impact. Remember the 2013 final? When the entire top order succumbed under pressure, Pollard stood up and almost single-handedly guided them to a par total of 148 runs. A microcosm of things that had made Mumbai such an enforcer in the league and Pollard had been a regular cast in such situations.
Thus, it was not a surprise to see him take over the role of batting coach for the franchise. A shake up in the management structure after the induction of MI Emirates in the UAE ILT20 and MI Cape Town in SA20 means increased focus on the centralisation, and Pollard would be a handful, being very much acquainted with the culture of Mumbai Indians. The trust factor that both parties have for each other means Pollard will be a calming presence in the Mumbai dressing room who are going through a transition of their own.
Soon enough, Rohit Sharma, who has been the face of the franchise for a decade, will make way for a younger leader. Someday, Suryakumar Yadav will lose his form too. But it is the culture that talks. And Pollard’s contribution in that direction will forever be remembered as the beating heart of Mumbai Indians folklore.