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Pooran bursts on to the T20 World Cup, pedal to the metal

He started his innings in fifth gear, slipped back into second through the middle overs and then slammed his foot on the accelerator at the death

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
Nicholas Pooran showered fours and sixes across the park, West Indies vs Afghanistan, T20 World Cup, St Lucia, June 17, 2024

Nicholas Pooran showered fours and sixes across the park  •  Getty Images

Nicholas Pooran lay prone on the turf. His full-stretch dive onto his front might easily have been enough to take him to 99 not out with two balls left in West Indies' innings. Instead, Azmatullah Omarzai's direct hit from the deep extra boundary found him short of his ground as his body crumpled. The crowd went deathly quiet, and coach Daren Sammy put his hands on his head in the dugout.
But as Pooran eventually got to his feet, brushing the dry dirt off his shirt, the airhorns started to blare again. Even if he had fallen two runs short of his first T20I hundred, his innings of 98 off 53 balls marked Pooran's long-awaited arrival at the T20 World Cup. It was the highest score of the tournament to date, and an innings which showcased a batter who is entering his peak years.
This is Pooran's third T20 World Cup and his record before this cool, breezy night in St Lucia did not befit a player of his skill: 194 runs in 11 innings, with a quick 40 against Bangladesh in Sharjah his only innings of real note. In 2022, he captained West Indies' worst-ever campaign, which saw them eliminated from a first-round group that featured Ireland, Scotland and Zimbabwe.
He started this World Cup with two real grinds: a run-a-ball 27 against Papua New Guinea and 22 off 19 against Uganda. It was enough for a scathing editorial piece in the Trinidad and Tobago Guardian before they played New Zealand: "Too often though, Pooran becomes overconfident and a bit arrogant and gives away his wicket," it read. Perhaps his 12-ball 17 against New Zealand on home soil proved their point.
But West Indies' batters had long ear-marked their arrival in St Lucia as a moment to look forward to and Pooran showed why. This was a flat, hard pitch which offered something for the spinners and his assessment of conditions was spot on. He started his innings in fifth gear, slipped back into second through the middle overs and then slammed his foot on the accelerator at the death.
Pooran had faced two balls when he faced up to Omarzai and what followed was one of the most brutal assaults by a batter on a bowler in World Cup history. The first ball was outside-edged for six over the short third boundary; he violently pulled the second, a front-foot no-ball, through midwicket. When Omarzai's bouncer sailed over the keeper's head for five wides, he had bowled a single legal ball which had cost him 16.
The free hit was an inch-perfect yorker, which crashed into the base of Pooran's stumps, and he smiled wryly as square-leg umpire Allahuddien Paleker put the bails back on. The next four balls cost 20: four leg byes, a slice over point, another violent pull into the Johnson Charles Stand and a straight six into the sightscreen. The over cost 36, which somehow felt like a recovery.
Pooran hit Rashid Khan for two boundaries in his first over, one over long-off and then a wristy late cut, but after the powerplay he eased up completely. He quickly recognised that Noor Ahmad was Afghanistan's main threat: in the IPL, he has been dismissed by him twice in eight balls and clearly struggles to read his variations. He took his medicine, scoring nine off the 14 balls he faced from Noor.
"Noor Ahmad has bowled well to me in the past," Pooran explained. "Some people might criticise me for not putting him under some pressure but T20 is a game where you have to be smart as well: you can't bat for an entire innings at a 180 strike rate. It just doesn't work like that. I still feel like we have to play the game the right way: respect the game, and respect the opposition."
But Rashid was a different proposition. Pooran has played with him extensively for Reliance-owned franchises in the past 18 months and decided that his final over, the 18th, had to go. He tried to hit all six balls in the arc between midwicket and long-on, and connected with five of them. The over went dot, six, four, six, two, six.
West Indies' great T20 batting line-ups were characterised by their muscular six-hitter, glued together by the touch-play of the man who top-scored in both of their World Cup finals, Marlon Samuels. On nights like this, Pooran can marry the two together: immense power for a lean, lithe man combined with the maturity and intelligence to swallow his ego.
He surpassed Chris Gayle as West Indies' leading T20I run-scorer during his cameo against New Zealand, then went ahead of him as their leading six-hitter tonight. "It's a proud feeling," Pooran said. "What is happening now is only because of my hard work and my belief in myself. [Gayle] set the platform for us… I'm just really happy that I can continue to entertain people and take over where he has left."
Pooran added 18 off 26 balls in the middle overs, then smoked 44 off 14 at the death. By the time he had hit back-to-back sixes off Naveen-ul-Haq, he was batting with the confident self-assurance of a man realising just what he could achieve over the next two weeks. Aged 28, with a World Cup on home soil, Pooran has a chance to write his name into West Indies folklore.
"It feels really good," he said. "I think it's a really good opportunity for us: not only for myself, but everyone is in the prime of their career and everyone is doing well. Hopefully, in the next two or three weeks, we'll be smiling."

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98