Pooran's innings a mark of maturity, skill
The Under-19 World Cup is not just about the untold stories of the journeys taken by the players getting there, but also of the time, money and emotion invested by their parents. Nicolas Pooran's father had flown to the UAE to watch his son play his first World Cup. Had he delayed his departure back to Couva in Trinidad by a day, he would have witnessed his son play one of the most memorable innings under pressure in the tournament's history.
At 70 for 8, West Indies looked in danger of imploding for a sub-100 total but Pooran, a left-hand middle-order batsman, salvaged whatever he could and trusted No.10 Jerome Jones' batting abilities enough to keep Australia on the field for almost the full 50 overs, making them earn the last two wickets. Pooran smashed 143 and contributed an incredible 69% of the team's total. When he was finally dismissed in the 50th over, he got handshakes and pats on the back from all the Australians for his stupendous effort. A warm embrace from his dad would have been the icing on the cake.
While Pooran said it was "unfortunate" his father had left before the game, he found moral support from a countryman in the commentary box. Daren Ganga, the former West Indies and Trinidad batsman, has been tracking Pooran's performances since his school-cricket days and spoke of Pooran's dad's dedication to his son's game. Pooran senior, who once studied law with Ganga before dropping out, has allowed his own job as a police inspector with the Protective Services in Trinidad to take a backseat for the sake of his son's cricket.
"I spoke to Nicolas today and he reminded me that his dad left yesterday," Ganga said on the sidelines of the match. "I told him that I will take over the role of supporting him."
When Pooran flicked a boundary down to fine leg to record his first hundred in U-19 one-dayers for West Indies, his thoughts went to his friend Christian, who had succumbed to dengue fever before the tournament.
"I was talking to a friend last night and I told him that I will get a hundred in this game," Pooran said. "It was a tribute to a friend, who passed away recently. He always supported me, every time."
Pooran's knock stood out not just for the power in his shots, that cleared the long boundaries, and the precise placement when the Australians attacked him but also his temperament. Batting with the tail demands you trust them to shed their aggressive instincts, defend the last couple of balls and also turn down easy singles. When the pair had added 50 of 47 balls, Jones had faced just eight of those. In their stand of 136, Jones contributed just 20. Jones was the understated hero, who allowed Pooran as much time as possible to size up the field and the bowlers.
"Farming the strike is never as easy as it looks as you don't know which ball will get you out," Pooran said. "I was basically trying to bat four balls every over, and fifth and sixth ball I was just trying to make him confident."
While the nature of his strokes can evoke mild comparisons with Darren Bravo and Chris Gayle, Pooran's biggest inspiration doesn't even hail from the islands. "I look up to MS Dhoni," Pooran said. "As you can see, whenever he goes out to bat, he will be under pressure. That's the lesson I took from his book."
That Pooran displayed so much maturity for an 18-year-old in a back-to-the-wall situation didn't come as a big surprise to Ganga.
"He has carried the weight and responsibility of his school and club to a lesser extent and he has been in situations like this," Ganga said. "Unfortunately in this game, he quite did not have the kind of support he would have wanted except for Jones. He has grown accustomed to taking control, and being the lead, so to speak, in the batting."
Ganga said Pooran had, from a young age, shown high caliber as a batsman, dominating cricket at the U-15 level in Trinidad and Tobago and touring with the secondary schools team to India in 2013. Soon after, he was playing in the Regional 50-over competition for his country at the top level. He was then picked up by Trinidad & Tobago Red Steele for the Caribbean Premier League and in his debut game, displayed his big-hitting ability with 54, which included six sixes. Attacking the likes of Sunil Narine was his claim to fame. Though he wasn't very successful in the Champions League T20 in India, Ganga said Pooran's talent was "never in doubt." In this tournament, an unbeaten 67 in the last match against Canada was the boost Pooran needed against tougher bowling.
Pooran is yet to play a first-class match and Ganga feels that while he will be defined by his limited-overs game at the moment, he might have to "unlearn a few things and tighten his game."
West Indies may have failed to make it past the quarter-finals, but Pooran's knock will be one of their biggest takeaways. According to Ganga, the innings has done justice to Pooran's talent. "He has left an indelible mark in the competition," Ganga said.
Kanishkaa Balachandran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo