Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo
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The slender young man standing in front of the mixed zone was looking his age and revealing his limited experience. He'd just scored his highest international score for West Indies, a century in the World Cup in his ninth ODI, but couldn't get out of his mind what had just transpired. He was asked to dissect his innings and his dismissal off the first ball from an ageing, creaking allrounder who hadn't bowled a single ball for eight months.
When Nicholas Pooran was out for 118, it signalled the end of West Indies' stirring chase of a World Cup record target of 338 against Sri Lanka at the Riverside Stadium in a match that was deemed a dead rubber but had turned into an afternoon of high-pitched high drama. Yet all that Pooran in response, over and over again, could say was, "this is cricket" with a wobble in his voice.
"It is unfortunate at the end of the day. I felt I had to capitalise in that over but it didn't happen for me." His eyes were faintly red but he was holding back a full-scale blubber, yet his words kept coming. "I'm just disappointed for us today. You know we were so close to win the game and … we just find ourselves some situation to lose our game… I was thinking of winning the game. The focus today was just on winning the game and it's just so disappointing for me today."
Ninety minutes earlier, the same batsman had the Riverside crowd on their feet, West Indians hollering and hopeful, Sri Lankans in a state of panic as Caribbean batsmen by names other than Christopher Henry or Carlos Ricardo or Andre Dwayne, had begun the charge. It was the 35th over and by the time Pooran and Fabian Allen had got to the 45th, they had carved out 83 runs in 58 balls.
"I knew once myself and Fabian was batting, we was in control," Pooran said of the partnership. "Actually the bowlers didn't know where to bowl and it got easy. Unfortunately then Fabian got run-out there and I felt a bit responsible for that, but we were in total control of the game and it just slipped."
As tough as Pooran was being on himself, West Indies couldn't have imagined being where he had taken them. Coming in at No. 5, Pooran took control of West Indian aspiration and strung together partnerships for the fifth, sixth and seventh wickets that had put West Indies within 30 runs of victory with three overs to go. When Pooran arrived, it was 71 for 3 in the 16th over, at the fall of Chris Gayle's wicket, and what looked like the end of any West Indian flamboyance in the pursuit.
WATCH on Hotstar (India only) - Nicholas Pooran's hundred
Pooran's scores at the World Cup so far had read, 34*, 43, 64, 25, 1, 28, his failure to convert being singled out for attention. He has always been a batsman of inventive strokeplay and a range of shots, easily fitted into white-ball cricket with quicksilver feet and eyes able to pounce early on opportunity or a wavering of length. At the Riverside, Pooran batted above the chaos that had preceded him and beyond the crisis that appeared to be around the corner.
He made his task simple, building partnerships with whoever was as the other end, "I had to control myself, build partnerships, which was the most important thing and try to go as deep as possible. I felt like I worked a lot harder for my runs [in] other games, I was getting good starts but just today I carried it on."
Pooran switched the tempo of a partnership to match his partner's scoring shots and ensured he cut out risk when Allen was carving up the field. It was his skittishness against Kusan Rajitha in the 90s that was to lead to the mix-up and Allen's run-out. Once Allen was gone it was clear, everything depended on Pooran before Mathews turned up.
When he was asked about the dismissal again, the young man crushed by the experience spoke. "One of them days," he said, "I felt like, it was his day. First ball I got out, it's cricket. Anything could have happened I could have hit that ball for six or four…" Matthews, all the wiser for his years, said: "Pooran was the man we needed. I was lucky to get him first ball before he clobbered me for a few sixes. He nearly got them through."
WATCH on Hotstar (US only) - SL v WI - Super knocks
Pooran has dealt with several nearlys in his life before this one. Four years ago he was close to nearly never playing cricket again, after a serious car accident that required two surgeries on his legs to have him up and walking again. He wasn't a certainty to play in the World Cup XI but became a late induction into the team following injury to Evin Lewis and played the first match against Pakistan.
What there has never been any reservation about, however, is his talent or what is expected of him. Pooran has already been given large boots to walk in. Captain Jason Holder said Pooran has, "the ability to change gears, he has every shot in the locker and the best we can do for him is to make sure we have things in place to help him develop." Last week, Chris Gayle was lavish and described him as a "savage youngster" a "mini universe boss" and a "world record beater". Pooran's response was phlegmatic: "I know a lot of people say a lot of things about me but at the end if I can't peform on the field then it makes no sense."
The world cup and the several crushing defeats he has been a part of could be the making of Nicholas Pooran. "It just wasn't a successful tournament for us but every good sportsman knows you, you fail more than you win… Each day I want to get better and better." He has spent a good number of his teenage years watching Brian Lara videos, "but I don't want to be like anyone else. I just want to be Nicholas Pooran."
After his experience on a bitter Monday, of all the compliments he's been paid there is a chance he would like one particular descriptor added onto his name. Nicholas Pooran, match-winner.