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West Indies' Nicholas Pooran reacts after being run out during the ICC men's Twenty20 World Cup 2024 Group C match against Afghanistan. Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: Experience and confidence are two key ingredients for success. When combined with the precocious talent of Nicholas Pooran, they create a winning combination. Over the last year or so, Pooran has made a conscious effort to improve his mental game and he has started reaping the benefits of his efforts, guiding the West Indies to a 104-run win over Afghanistan in the final group match of the Twenty20 World Cup in Gros Islet.

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“I had to see the conditions early and take responsibility. In West Indies people want fours and sixes, but you can’t do that every time. But when conditions allow, you should capitalise. We wanted to be consistent as a team from 12-14 months ago,” the left-hander said after playing a match-winning knock of 98 that had eight sixes, taking the co-hosts to the top of the Group C table with four wins from four matches.

Discovering his game

Pooran has been on a path to discovering his game over the past two years. Since the beginning of 2024, the 28-year-old seemed to have identified what was lacking. He sometimes let the team down by moving into top gear too early in the innings or by going all-out only to lose his wicket. But that has changed and the first sign of Pooran 2.0 was visible when, as skipper of the MI Emirates, he showed he could soak up all the pressure and guide the franchise to their 10th world title.

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Pooran is happy that the hard work is getting him the rewards, especially the titles. Image Credit: AFP

“It’s all about belief and stepping up. If you want something in life, you have to go get it. For a few years, I wanted to convert starts into match-winning innings and stay not out. Those are big boxes for me to tick. I am really happy that all my hard work over the last couple of years is finally getting me the rewards, especially the titles. That’s big for me,” Pooran, who won the man of the final award for his unbeaten 57 that took MI Emirates past the 200-run mark against Dubai Capitals, had said after a convincing 45-run win in February.

New heights in the IPL

Pooran continued his new avatar in Indian Premier League 2024, finishing in the top 10 for leading run-scorers behind Virat Kohli. The 28-year-old Trinidadian scored 499 runs at a strike rate of 178.21 in IPL Season 17, averaging 62.38 in 14 innings. That’s consistency for you.

It’s not easy to be consistent while coming deep down the order, but the left-hander still pulled his weight for Lucknow Super Giants. For West Indies, he is coming in at the No. 3 spot, giving him the opportunity to assess the conditions apart from playing freely during the powerplay overs.

After walking to the crease in the second over, Pooran and Johnson Charles put on an 80-run partnership for the second wicket in just 37 balls, snatching the match away from Afghanistan’s grasp.

Pooran went on to score this World Cup’s highest individual score while leading West Indies to the highest team total in this edition and also surpassed the 2,000-run mark in Twenty20 Internationals. His knock included eight sixes for a career tally of 128, taking him past Chris Gayle’s record of 124 for most career sixes, but Pooran missed a deserving century after being run out, two runs short.

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Afghanistan pacer Naveen-ul-Haq congratulates his Lucknow Super Giants teammate Pooran after a stunning 98 that propelled West Indies to 218 for 5 in 20 overs. Image Credit: AFP

“I’m just really happy that I can continue what he left. He obviously set the platform for us,” said Pooran of Gayle.

“He’s the definition of batting in T20 cricket. And I’m just really happy that I can continue to entertain people and take over where he has left.”

After playing at the 2014 Under-19 World Cup, a serious car accident sidelined him for a lengthy period.

Reputation restored

Pooran then featured in a head-spinning array of franchise events before he made his international mark at the 2019 50-over World Cup, hitting a majestic 118 in a win over Sri Lanka. Later that year, he served a four-game ban for ball-tampering.

In 2022, and with his reputation restored, he was named captain of the T20 squad for the World Cup in Australia only to resign after the West Indies lost to Scotland and Ireland.

Two years on, Pooran will be crucial to the West Indies’ hopes of a third T20 World Cup title as the 2024 edition enters the second round Super Eights stage.

“It’s a proud feeling. I’ve worked hard throughout my career,” said Pooran. “I’ve sacrificed a lot, so I want to be the best version of myself. What has happened now is only because of my hard work and belief in myself.”

He added: “I’ve worked extremely hard on my craft, batting on different positions and at the end of the day I’m a complete team guy. Whatever they require from me, I want to do it.”

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West Indies skipper Rovman Powell (left), all-rounder Andre Russell and Shai Hope celebrate a wicket against Afghanistan. Image Credit: AFP

Anchoring the West Indies innings

Pooran has the skills and temperament to anchor the Caribbean innings, similar to what Kohli has been doing for India in the shorter formats. His average and stats don’t do justice to his talents, but now he has understood the importance of staying at the wicket.

“I think it is on the back of hard work that he has had a very good 12 months. Good to see him score runs not only in franchise cricket but also for WI,” West Indian skipper Rovman Powell told the official broadcasters during the presentation ceremony. “We are playing in the West Indies, and it is our responsibility to make full use of home conditions. When we started the journey, we were eighth or ninth in the world; now we are around third. When you do well, the fans start believing. Guyana was lovely, Trinidad was a packed house, and the support in St Lucia has been amazing. I extend my thanks to our head coach Darren Sammy and our management. I have started as a young captain, but they have given me what I want. It has been a driving force in my success as a captain and in them believing in me as a leader.”

West Indies players have shown their hunger to get back to the top of the world cricket and results like these will only underline their credentials. The co-hosts start their Super Eights campaign on Wednesday against defending champions England in Saint Lucia. They then tackle the United States in Barbados on Friday before facing South Africa in Antigua on Sunday with the final slated for June 29 in Barbados.

— With inputs from agencies