Pollard must cut back on T20 for first-class - Bishop
With just 80 runs from four games in the series against India, at an average nearly on par with his career average, the pressure on West Indies' Kieron Pollard to live up to his billing as a power hitter capable of changing a game is ever increasing. When the opportunity arose in Indore to play a lengthy innings, he faltered yet again. This raised the question as to whether he is capable of shedding the tag of a Twenty20 specialist, and if he's capable of holding his place in an XI that has allrounders of similar pedigree, like the promising Andre Russell and Dwayne Bravo, who is likely to return after regaining fitness.
If West Indies are keen on handing Pollard a more responsible role as a batsman, then they could use the final one-dayer in Chennai, a dead rubber, to start a new experiment that could have long-term benefits.
Promotions aren't usually awarded to underachievers - at least in the corporate world - but sport allows exceptions. Though Pollard hasn't played Tests, he figures regularly in the one-day set-up, since debuting in April 2007. His numbers as a one-day international batsman, though, don't make for flattering reading - 50 matches, 947 runs at an average of 21.52 with a 0% conversion rate to go with his four half-centuries. His saving grace is his strike-rate of 101.50.
But is it really his fault that he can't come up with bigger numbers? The hidden fact is that Pollard has batted at Nos.6 and 7 a combined 35 times, representing an overwhelming majority of his one-day appearances. The highest he has ever batted is No.4, which was only on one occasion. He has been at his most productive at No.5 - in eight innings he averages 31.25, with a strike-rate of 152.43. His personal best of 94 off 55 balls, against Ireland in the World Cup earlier this year, came from this slot.
Statistical evidence should give voice to the need for Pollard to get a promotion. Ian Bishop, the former West Indies fast bowler, now a television commentator, believes it's time for Pollard's teams - Trinidad and Tobago, West Indies, Mumbai Indians to name a few - to reassess their plans for him, if they want to maximise his potential as a batsman.
"If his teams are seriously thinking of developing his game, they have to start thinking of pushing him up the order and allowing him to develop a more long term view of his batting," Bishop told ESPNcricinfo. "With his power, if he can build an innings and get set there will be more benefit in terms of maximising a Powerplay or finishing an innings, as opposed to coming in late and trying to go for it straightaway - over time this has proven to be more difficult for him."
Bishop feels Pollard still has a presence in the one-day setup. "I still think there is a place for him [in the ODI team]," Bishop said. "If you look at the last two ODIs, they [West Indies] played with a number of allrounders, expecting Pollard to deliver with the bat but he hasn't done that. He has to realise that if Bravo comes back and Russell continues to develop, his place might become a liability. So he needs to start delivering more."
Pollard has been pigeonholed as a finisher, a notion that automatically slots him into the lower middle-order. His IPL franchise, Mumbai Indians, mysteriously slotted him at No.8 in the 2010 final against Chennai Super Kings, where his 10-ball 27 wasn't enough to see them through in the chase.
It could be that teams only see him as a lower-order hitter who can bowl. If Pollard is to inspire confidence for a promotion, Bishop feels that the batsman should start playing more first-class cricket. "He has to start playing more first-class cricket," Bishop said. "He has played so little first-class cricket over the last two seasons, so I think he has forgotten the how to build an innings.
"I've seen a couple of attempts to start building an innings recently but he's still on auto-pilot - he's thinking of spending time at the crease but subconsciously he thinking about going for the big shots, as that is what he's known for in the last two years. He is limited in his strokeplay, where he tries to strike the ball hard down the ground or to midwicket. What other strokes does he have? Maybe a little tuck off the legs, but his offside play hasn't developed in the way that it should. Playing spin, good quality spin, is also an issue."
Bishop is confident that Pollard has the desire to redevelop his game to suit all formats, but the initiative has to come from within.
"A lot of the responsibility is going to fall on Kieron alone. He has been in huge demand in Twenty20s and will continue to be," Bishop said. "I believe he is hungry to lift his game to another level. You can tell a lot about a player's desire by the way they field. You don't have to put your body on the line all the time but Kieron does that, so he has the appetite and desire to improve. But he won't improve until he makes a sacrifice and plays more first-class cricket. It may mean that he will have to turn down more Twenty20 gigs, which generally clash with first-class cricket in the Caribbean or elsewhere, but he has to make that decision.
"West Indies will only pick him on form. He is an intelligent, articulate individual. From talking to him, I believe he has the desire to play the longer format of the game. He has to make a sacrifice and say 'I've made a lot of money over the last couple of years but I will have to play more first-class cricket to take my game to another level.'"
The question remains if Pollard can actually prioritise, putting West Indies above all else.
Kanishkaa Balachandran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo