Elder statesman Kieron Pollard wants to create nurturing environment for West Indies’ young talents

Hyderabad. It’s where the Kieron Pollard story burst to life a decade ago, when he smashed an unbeaten 18-ball 54 for Trinidad & Tobago against New South Wales in the Champions League. That innings changed his life, and it changed T20 too, setting him on a trailblazing path towards becoming the format’s first globetrotting freelancer.

Hyderabad was also the scene, more recently, of Pollard’s fourth IPL title win with Mumbai Indians, in May earlier this year.

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Pollard is back at the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium now, as the captain of a West Indies team that is preparing to defend its T20 World Cup title next year. He has fond memories of the ground, and hopes his vast experience of playing in India will benefit a revamped West Indies team that includes some new faces as well as old ones like Lendl Simmons.

“It is common knowledge. We have played a lot of cricket around the world, we play a lot of cricket here in India,” Pollard said on the eve of the T20I series opener against India. “Fond memories of this ground, going all the way back to 2009, with Trinidad & Tobago. So, it’s just a matter of trying to use that experience and enlightening our group. Hopefully, that experience can hold us in good stead. We are here to play some good cricket and we are prepared well. Hopefully, come tomorrow, we will hit the ground running.”

Opening batsman Brandon King and legspinner Hayden Walsh are among the new faces in the T20I and ODI sides. King torched the CPL with his blistering strokeplay, but his form cooled off against Afghanistan in Lucknow, where he managed a mere 17 runs in three T20I innings at an average of 5.66 and strike rate of 73.91.

Walsh, who was the leading wicket-taker in the CPL despite playing only nine games for the champion team Barbados Tridents, hasn’t yet posed the same kind of threat in international cricket. Pollard has backed the newbies, urging the public to not be too critical of them after just one or two international series.

“We’re excited to be here [in India] and represent the West Indies and yes, again, scores and wickets haven’t shown their ability yet,” Pollard said. “But, you can’t judge people on a couple of games and I think that’s the problem we have as individuals. We try to judge people too quickly. We need to give people time in everything we do.

“In order for guys to invest in what they do, they need experience and we as the management team want to back these guys and see how far we can go because we have seen their talent and attitude and that’s some of the things we look at.”

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Shimron Hetmyer and Nicholas Pooran have been around the set-up a little longer than King and Walsh, but though they were both part of West Indies’ 50-overs World Cup side, they’re still easing their way into international cricket. Pollard said the team management is focused on protecting West Indies’ bright, young talents from “vultures”.

“There are a lot of young talents coming through,” he said. It’s just a matter of trying to reach them and ease them into the world of international cricket, which we know is a very, very tough place. Again, the most important thing for the management is to have patience and yes at the end of the day you want to have results but sometimes you need to be honest with yourself.

“And that’s something we’re trying to do in every aspect of our game as well – just try to be honest, assess and improve. So, look forward to these talents to show the world what they can do. Sometimes, you need to have that umbrella over them and try and protect them from the vultures that’re out to take down their careers pretty quickly.”

Pollard was also pleased with West Indies’ preparation in the lead-up to the limited-overs series against India. Pollard led West Indies to their first ODI series victory in five years, against Afghanistan, and although they lost the subsequent T20I series 2-1, they got a feel of Indian conditions.

The likes of Pollard and Pooran – who is not available for the series opener against India because of his ball-tampering ban – then jetted to the UAE for the T10 league. In addition to these stints, some of West Indies’ players were part of a camp in Mumbai before heading to Hyderabad.

“Couple of the guys had a couple of days off, couple of the guys went to T10, couple of the guys played in the Test matches against Afghanistan,” Pollard said. “We didn’t leave from this part of the world. Eleven of us were there in Mumbai for five-six days. We had good practice. Then we came here on the second [of December] and had three full days of good practice. So, for us it’s just a matter of getting acclimatised [to the conditions].

“We’ve been here for a while now, since November. It’s about putting the pieces of the puzzle together. There are instances where we know we faltered, in that last series. We’ve spoken about it and hopefully come this series, we can put these things right.”

Pollard’s aggression and in-your-face captaincy style has worked for him in the CPL, where he nearly carried Trinbago Knight Riders to the final in October. He hopes to lead by example for West Indies too, and set up victories for them. During the T10 league as well, Pollard had spoken of how his “will to win” drives his career.

“Things have been going pretty decently for me and I just want to continue doing that, continue scoring runs for the team, and hopefully my contribution to the team is going to hold it in good stead and put us in a winning position.”