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Pooran comes alive at the death to show what Sunrisers missed

Time and again, he has finished games from improbable situations that required him to go hell for leather from the outset

Shashank Kishore
Shashank Kishore
Last year, Sunrisers Hyderabad broke the bank to acquire Nicholas Pooran's services to finish games like these. From improbable situations that require you to just go hell for leather from the outset, when all other options have been exhausted.
Pooran returned a mixed bag - 306 runs in 13 innings at a strike rate of 144, but it wasn't enough to be retained. Sure, in an auction, teams sometimes look to buy back players they've possibly exhausted a lot of their budget on, and Pooran's tag of INR 10.75 crore was a significant chunk.
But there was an element of disbelief when Sunrisers didn't put in a single bid, even as four others went aggressively in the auction ahead of IPL 2023. When the paddle came down, he'd been signed for an even bigger sum - INR 16 crore.
It was no surprise then that Tom Moody, the former Sunrisers coach who was at the auction table when they signed him for IPL 2022, was among the first to voice out his disbelief soon after Pooran's unbeaten 13-ball 44 helped Lucknow Super Giants to a win that seemed distant when they needed 80 off 36 on Saturday afternoon.
An overhaul had meant Moody and Pooran were both out. In a sense, with the season on the line, this was perhaps an opportunity for Pooran to send out a quiet message. He walked in with Super Giants needing 56 off 27. Marcus Stoinis had briefly struggled against spin, before hitting Abhishek Sharma's part-time left-arm everything for two back-to-back sixes. In trying for a third, Stoinis fell.
Pooran walked out to join Prerak Mankad, playing in only his third IPL game. His promotion up the order hadn't yielded the kind of results Super Giants would've liked. There was a sense that Mankad had been stuck. It wasn't quite the Rahul Tewatia-like struggle from that famous game in 2020, but a struggle, nonetheless.
Pooran saw the ball in his arc, and went 6, 6, 6. Abhishek started the over thinking the match-up was set to test two right-handers against the longer boundary on the leg side, but ended it, much against his luck, against a marauding left-hander to the short leg-side boundary.
If you were to apply brevity to Pooran's carnage, here's what happened: full, slot-ball: walloped over deep midwicket. Full on off, muscled down the ground. Full on stumps, swung over wide long-on. Truth be told, the hits were monstrous and so clean that boundary sizes wouldn't have mattered.
ESPNcricinfo's forecaster pegged Super Giants' win percentage at 30.02 when Stoinis fell but skyrocketed to 85.26 after those three sixes that brought the equation down to 38 off 24. Between overs 13 and 16, Super Giants had made 70 off 24. It capped off a stunning turnaround.
"T20 is a batsman's game. I believe they're called part-timers for a reason, when they come on, you have to target them," Pooran told the broadcasters about his flying start. "T20 [batting] is about risks. No risk, no reward. When a match-up is in your favour, you have to make it count. It got my innings going, thank you to the Sunrisers for that."
Momentum was firmly on Super Giants' side. It helped Mankad shred all that pressure he seemed to have brought upon himself after an excellent start at No. 3, so much so that he barely even celebrated his maiden IPL half-century.
He was on 7 off 7 at the end of five overs but broke the shackles when he peppered the off-side boundary by holding his shape and hitting through the line against the left-arm quick Fazalhaq Farooqi. Then when Quinton de Kock fell, he found it hard to get going even as Stoinis found his way in. Until that Abhishek over turned it around.
"It was an important game. I wasn't happy because I couldn't connect balls I should've connected, but in the end, I was happy with the result," Mankad said. "I was trying to hit the spinners but couldn't connect before the 10th over, I knew Mayank would get me out, I have played against him in domestic matches, I wanted to counter him and see what best I could do."
Pooran stayed right till the end to see the game through, but spoke later, albeit in a lighter vein on how he'd like to spend more time at the crease. Only twice this season, he has faced more than 20 balls in an innings; he averages 14 balls per innings to be precise.
The team's decision to hold him back in the previous game in a chase of 228 had raised a few eyebrows, and his entry point here may have well been debated long and hard had they got close and lost. But Pooran hardly left anything to chance; his impact on the game was all but defined by those three sixes that swung momentum wildly in their favour.
"Definitely in T20 cricket, I'd like to bat for a longer time," he said with a laugh. "I know how to bat in different situations having played a lot of white-ball cricket. My role is to come in and bat in the last four-five overs and try to have an impact. For the last month or so, I've just been preparing to put myself in good positions. I know I will face a lot of yorkers and slower deliveries, I've just been working on executing my skills against whatever they put against me."

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo