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West Indies serve reminder of their depth of short-form talent

Pollard and Simmons have rejuvenated their T20 template in another World Cup year

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
Kieron Pollard leads a lap of honour, West Indies vs England, 5th T20I, Kensington Oval, Barbados, January 30, 2022

Kieron Pollard leaps a lap of honour around Kensington Oval  •  Randy Brooks/AFP via Getty Images

"I said they can't keep a good man down,
Always keep a smile when they want me to frown."
Kieron Pollard lent forward and sang the opening lines of Sizzla's Solid As A Rock at the post-match presentation, celebrating a series win that West Indies desperately needed. It felt like the start of a recovery.
Only two weeks ago, West Indies' limited-overs side were at a low ebb. With their disastrous defence of the T20 World Cup they had regained in 2016 fresh in the memory, Pollard stood in front of the cameras after a 2-1 defeat at home to an Ireland side depleted by Covid looking like a man at the end of his tether. "It's a sad day for us and sad day for West Indies cricket," he said.
On Sunday night, the contrast was stark. West Indies came together to celebrate a dramatic win in the T20I series decider against England, with Pollard leading a lap of honour around the Kensington Oval. Jason Holder, who had iced the win with four wickets in four balls, 24 hours after conceding four consecutive sixes, chatted to Sir Garfield Sobers on the outfield while Pollard addressed those who have criticised him and his team.
"Every single one in that dressing room there, we rallied together throughout everything," he said, pointing towards the stands with a stump as though speaking at a political rally. "Every time we won a game there was something negative against us but we came out together and we really, really rallied. So well done to every single one inside of there and every one of the supporters who supported us."
Pollard's falling-out with former CWI regimes - and his desirability on the franchise circuit - meant that he was only a sporadic member of the West Indies set-up for many years, and has been a magnet for criticism from certain parts of the regional media since he became full-time limited-overs captain in 2019.
He was furious this week when claims emerged that Odean Smith had been dropped for the third T20I due to a falling-out with the captain - claims which ignored the fact that Rovman Powell, who replaced him, had scored a spectacular hundred - and shot them down after Sunday's win, saying simply: "Empty vessels make the most noise."
Pollard's captaincy has been an easy target but Sunday's decider was a reminder that you do not play 577 matches across a T20 career without learning a thing or two. He went against the grain by choosing to bat when chasing is in vogue, reasoning that runs on the board would put pressure on England's inexperienced line-up in a must-win situation, and backed himself to overcome an uncharacteristically slow start and provide West Indies with a defendable total.
In the chase, Pollard held back his two left-arm spinners to starve Moeen Ali of his favourite match-up and instead tied him down with hard lengths and his own canny cutters. Then, he saw "the opportunity to pounce" as he put it, and the string of right-handers in England's middle and lower order failed to hit Akeal Hosein and Fabian Allen off their lengths. His gamble on Smith in the 18th over backfired, but Holder held his nerve at the death.
Perhaps the most pleasing aspect of this series from Pollard's perspective was the wide range of contributions made by different players. West Indies had a different top-scorer in each of the five games, and their bowlers kept attacking whenever England tried to put them to the sword: across the series, West Indies took 43 wickets to England's 23.
Players who came in from the sidelines took their chances, encapsulated by Powell's hundred and Kyle Mayers' swashbuckling top-order cameos, while those who were disappointed to have missed out on the initial squad for last year's World Cup - Hosein and Holder - proved their respective points.
There was evidence too of West Indies' evolution with the bat, away from the boom-or-bust approach which was found wanting in the UAE. Across the five games they scored more sixes than England (51 to 45), and much as they struggled against spin - and Adil Rashid in particular - through the middle overs, they were better than England at rotating the strike, facing significantly fewer dot balls (220 to 251). As Pollard and Phil Simmons, the head coach, had desired, they improved upon their biggest weakness without detracting from their great strength.
"The guys have worked tirelessly," Pollard said. "After coming from Jamaica, our heads were down but we had conversations in the dressing room about how we want to play cricket, and guys bounced back pretty well. The guys are putting their heads down, they're understanding what we want to do, what we want to achieve as a team and you saw the results tonight."
This win should be kept in perspective. West Indies won home series against Sri Lanka and Australia last year before bombing at the World Cup, and England's squad was at half-strength in the absence of their multi-format players. Their tour to India next month will be a tough challenge. At October's World Cup in Australia, where bouncy pitches and bigger boundaries are unlikely to suit them, they will need to avoid a slip-up in their first-round group in Hobart just to qualify for the Super 12s.
But if the last World Cup felt like the nadir for West Indies' T20I set-up, this series felt like the start of their comeback - and served a reminder of the depth of short-form talent in the Caribbean. Their side felt unbalanced at times but their surplus of allrounders is a luxury that many sides would covet. With Evin Lewis, Obed McCoy, Shimron Hetmyer, Andre Russell - and who knows, maybe even Sunil Narine - in contention to return at some stage this year, there is reason to believe that West Indies could come again as a major T20 force.
"Yes, it's one series, but we have been on the losing end of a lot of series and a lot of games," Pollard said. "It was a total team effort. Everyone rallied at some point in time. The guys really, really worked hard and, thank God, we came out victorious."

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98