Tim Wigmore appraises the 2020 of Kieron Pollard, named Wisden’s Leading T20 Cricketer in the World in the 2021 Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack, which is out now.
In 2010, after Kieron Pollard turned down a West Indies contract, a Caribbean administrator asked him: “Do you want to be remembered as a legend or a mercenary?” Pollard long ago rejected this as a false choice: he could both earn the sums his talents deserved, and be one of the most influential cricketers in the modern age. Last year, when he also became the first to 500 T20 appearances, he achieved a new level of mastery.
Pollard’s aura was exemplified in a Caribbean Premier League match in August. Trinbago Knight Riders required 53 from 21 balls with four wickets in hand. Yet when Pollard pulled Barbados Tridents leg-spinner Hayden Walsh to deep square leg, he refused a single, apparently intensifying the pressure on his team, and defying a basic dictum of T20: take every run.
But Pollard thinks in a different currency: not singles and twos, but fours and sixes. If you can clear the ropes with his regularity – in 2020, he hit 59 sixes, one every 5.5 balls – you can mock the notion that T20 matches are won by marginal gains. Most are won by the side who score the most fours and sixes. Hence the refused single: Pollard knew that Trinbago’s only chance lay in boundaries, and that he was best placed to hit them. He had already launched Walsh for two sixes in the 17th over. Now, he hit two more: a pull over square leg, and a trademark blow down the ground. He was eventually run out, immediately after his ninth six, for 72 from 28 deliveries, but Trinbago were on the brink of an astounding heist. They won with a ball to spare.
It was a snapshot of a year in which Pollard emerged from global lockdown as the best T20 batsman around, thriving in the CPL, the Indian Premier League and for West Indies. Just as he had rejected the administrator’s tradeoff, he now rejected the traditional T20 trade-off, between scoring at high speeds and scoring consistently.
In 2020, Pollard scored faster than everyone – a stratospheric strike-rate of 199 – and averaged 53. His finishing prowess was highlighted by 11 not-outs from 23 innings. He bowled cannily when required, while his boundary catching – another area in which he has been a T20 revolutionary – was as electric as ever.
In the year he turned 33, he was still evolving. He started innings more quickly, and continued to improve against leg-spin: during the IPL, Pollard razed Adam Zampa for 27 in an over, typical of a batsman who targeted bowlers, aiming not for a risk-free single after hitting a six, but for another six, and then another.
Perhaps the best measure of his worth remained the trophy cabinet. He led Trinbago to a uniquely perfect CPL campaign – 12 wins out of 12. Mumbai Indians, where he has played for 11 seasons and is vice-captain, were almost as imperious, winning a fifth IPL out of eight. It was Pollard’s 16th T20 title, yet another record for a player who has changed how the game is played. In the West Indies and beyond, his legacy is assured.