Sunday, February 18, 2018

Your next knock starts at zero


‘BENCHMARK OF EXCELLENCE’: West Indies Under-19 batsman Nicolas Pooran hits down the ground during his innings of 143 against Australia in the ICC Under-19 World Cup quarter-finals, at Dubai International Cricket Stadium, United Arab Emirates, yesterday. Pooran’s knock was the highlight of the West Indies innings of 208. Australia won by five wickets with 20 balls remaining. —Photo: CRICINFO/ICC

Francois Nel - IDI

Does it make sense to feel sorry for Nicolas Pooran?

Yesterday’s stunning innings of 143 by the 18-year-old wicketkeeper-batsman out of a total of 208 all out was not enough to get the West Indies past Australia in their quarter-final duel at the Under-19 Cricket World Cup. Inevitably, it has once again raised the level of expectation that the Naparima College schoolboy has every chance of becoming something really special in the game.

But we’ve been here before, and while the intention is certainly not to downplay the excellence and sheer dominance of his innings (the Caribbean side were in ruins at 70 for eight before tailender Jerome Jones resisted the Australians while Pooran completely dominated a 136-run ninth-wicket partnership), it can only be hoped that someone somewhere with significant influence over his personal development will heed the advice of Ian Bishop.

In an immediate reaction on Twitter to the sensational innings by his fellow Trinidadian, the former fearsome fast bowler and now highly-respected international television commentator stated: “Excellent knock. That knock signifies your huge talent. You have set a benchmark of excellence so it doesn’t stop here.”

If only those wise words could be heeded. Of course, Bish has seen so many shooting stars in Caribbean cricket over his impressive career as a player at the highest level and an even longer period from the vantage point of the commentary box. It is that breadth of experience which tempers the sort of exuberance which would only seem natural after an innings like that—he contributed almost 70 per cent of his team’s total—from one so young.

Compare Bishop’s reaction to that of former England batsman Mark Butcher, who used the same social medium to go down the road that, even if well-intentioned, makes the sort of comparison that could only be more hindrance than help.

“Think we’ve seen the new BC Lara today—Pooran looks exceptional,” Butcher gushed, while another former England cricketer, Alex Tudor, suggested that the teenager “should play in the first team.”

Rest assured there are many here who will be repeating the sentiments of both Butcher and Tudor loudly and often. Remember, there has so far been only one truly great batsman to emerge from this twin-island state, and such is the yearning for another to rise above the ranks of the ordinary that when it is coupled with what is now almost two decades of the Caribbean side languishing in the doldrums, it becomes almost the verbal equivalent of a knee-jerk reaction to place the mantle of greatness on the first sign of sumptuous talent.

Young Pooran should however be the very first to acknowledge that he’s been down this road already, and the experience that followed his first innings for the Trinidad and Tobago Red Steel in the inaugural season of the Caribbean Premier League less than eight months ago presents a telling reminder of the pitfalls awaiting anyone who is distracted by the bright lights of fame and loses focus on the game itself.

Taking on a Guyana Amazon Warriors side with a bowling attack that included compatriot Sunil Narine, one of the most successful and sought-after bowlers in the T20 format of the game, the then 17-year-old virtual unknown smashed his way to 54 off 24 balls with a display of clean, powerful hitting that left many at Providence and so many more watching the “live” television coverage all over the world amazed at the sheer audacity of his strokeplay.

Yet even though he played every match of the tournament right up to the semi-final loss to the same Warriors, expectations of more fireworks from the new “rising star” of West Indies cricket fizzled like a cheap Old Year’s Night firecracker as he managed only another 48 runs from six innings. On almost every occasion, he went down swinging with the youthful naivete of someone who was either unaware that successive opponents had taken note of his one-dimensional batting style or (and this is the real danger) had himself fallen for all the hyperbole surrounding that one innings in Guyana and believed it to be a sure-fire recipe for more success.

One of the senior players with the Red Steel, concerned that a young cricketer with so much ability was in danger of leaving most of that potential unfulfilled, is said to have commented privately that Pooran may have been led to believe that he had reached the summit already. Led by whom it is not clear, although the remark does seem to point to either the role and influence of the media in going overboard with one or two notable performances or those close enough to a young cricketer as to influence his mindset into accepting only positivity while rejecting anything resembling critical analysis as poisonous negativity.

But facts are facts, and his subsequent CPL scores are there for all to see, as are his innings preceding yesterday’s phenomenal effort (4, 10, 7*, 5, 0, 12, 27 and 67*) going back to the home series against the Bangladesh Under-19’s last October.

After turning his maiden Test century into a monumental 277 at Sydney in the 1992/93 series in Australia, Brian Lara was reportedly reminded by then West Indies coach Rohan Kanhai—a batting supremo in his own right and his own time—that his next innings started at zero.

It will be a great pity if Pooran is deprived of such sensible advice amid the bigging-up following his own headline-grabbing knock against the Aussies in Dubai.