Kieron Pollard walked in today wearing a floppy hat. He switched to a helmet as soon as he heard big Boyd Rankin would be ready for him first-up but really Pollard need not have bothered - the way he batted today, it was the opposition that needed protection as he played the innings that will probably define his career.
His initial blast helped set a momentum lacking in the first 35 overs, a period when the West Indies top order wandered aimlessly. Pollard took 14 deliveries before playing his first big shot - a six with a neat flick of the wrists off Kevin O'Brien, no stranger to big hitting and the owner of the fastest World Cup century. Four balls later O'Brien fed Pollard the delivery the West Indian has built his million-dollar image on - pitched on length, Pollard cleared his front foot and smacked it over the bowler's head high into the stands. Strangely, like moths to a flame, the Irish bowlers tried attracting Pollard's attention with short balls. He hammered them with all his might and in no time he had reached his fifty. Even after the field had spread he knew he could create more chances in the final ten overs. The variations did not hurt him; in fact he didn't always go hell for leather. O'Brien bowled a wide delivery outside off, which Pollard steered past the third-man ropes. Sweet.
"Going into bat I was under a bit of pressure after a bit of a slow start," he said. "It was just a matter of backing myself which I am accustomed to doing. I was taking my chances and it came good."
With Chris Gayle missing, Pollard's role today was even more important. This was only the fifth time he was batting at No. 5, where he has now scored two of his three half-centuries. Batting higher up gives him time to settle; he gets more time to understand the bowler, the field setting and the pitch. Once in he can then pick the moment, the bowler and the spot where he would like to hit. It's not that he curbs his attacking instincts; he just sharpens it further.
Dwayne Bravo's exit from the World Cup has put Pollard in a position of enforcer and finisher. Among the world's top Twenty20 players, he's been grooming himself for the twin roles for a few years now. In a Champions League match against New South Wales in 2009, on a flat deck in Hyderabad, Trinidad & Tobago needed 51 off the final four overs. In one over Pollard - who'd started off slowly - hit Moises Henriques for 27 to turn the tables.
There isn't much that has changed in the last two years in Pollard the batsman. If anything he has evolved in his mind. The context does not matter to Pollard, just as it doesn't to Virender Sehwag or never did to Adam Gilchrist. Bowl these men a ball in their areas and they will punish you. Pollard doesn't have the same array of shots but he is not entirely handicapped. He hates allowing the bowler to dictate terms, yet at the same time he challenges the bowler to come at him. At times the bowler tries hard and Pollard flattens him with his power batting.
It's not all physical power; Pollard has started excelling in the mindgames too. He sets up the duel, adding a bit of verbal to whatever he's doing with bat or ball, and generally has a lack of fear that intimidates the opponent and creates doubts in his mind. That's all the chink he needs.
Today Ireland suffered those doubts. "You scratch your head a few times in a team meeting. He is a pretty special talent," William Porterfield, the Ireland captain, said. "He played at a crucial stage as well where they had to score quick runs and he got them into a good position."
Though he missed a maiden century, Pollard acknowledged the significance of the innings. "It is a stepping stone for me. I hope I can use this to go on and play better innings, and more frequently, for West Indies because the press is saying, and everyone is saying, Pollard hasn't really done anything in international cricket," he said. "There is no better stage than a World Cup to go forward."
Deep down Pollard must know the conflict is internal - he earned his reputation in the Twenty20 fields. If he has to prosper in the longer formats, he needs to come up more often with such performances. He could do with support from his captain Darren Sammy, who sat next to Pollard during the media briefing, wearing a contemplative look as Pollard spoke on his willingness to bat at any position the team wants.
West Indies need to have a re-think. The light is fast dimming on Shivnarine Chanderpaul and to an extent, on Ramnaresh Sarwan. Pollard has the arsenal and the hunger to become a good middle-order batsman. He needs the breaks.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo