Dubai: Nicholas Pooran, hailed as the next big thing in West Indies cricket, was in for a pleasant surprise while in quarantine in the beachfront hotel of Kings XI Punjab in Dubai. The wicketkeeper-batsman received a huge thumbs up from Gautam Gambhir, former Indian opener and a successful captain of Kolkata Knight Riders, who said in a chat show that he would keep the 24-year-old in the same bracket as AB de Villiers - the actual ‘Mr 360 degrees’ of cricket - in terms of his ability to play strokes on all sides of the wicket.
‘‘It gives your confidence a huge boost before the Indian Premier League,’’ said Pooran, who arrived earlier this week after turning out for Guyana Amazon Warriors in the recently concluded Caribbean Premier League. ‘‘I read about Gambhir’s comments only yesterday. AB is my favourite batsman and to be spoken in the same breath as him is a huge bonus. I have been trying to do things differently in batting and it feels good to see that hard work does not go unnoticed,’’ he said during an exclusive interview on a zoom call with Gulf News on Wednesday.
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The immensely gifted batsman from Trinidad, who made his international T20 debut back in 2016, is a perfect stereotype of Gen-X cricketer from the West Indies who has already carved a niche in the world of franchise cricket for himself. Now in his second year with Kings XI Punjab, he has already played in Pakistan Super League (PSL), Bangladesh Premier League (BPL) and had been a regular at the T10 League in the UAE.
Asked what would be his expectations from his franchise in the IPL this year, which has a new look about it with a more balanced batting line-up and an all-Indian captain and coach combination, Pooran struck a positive outlook. ‘‘Kings XI is a wonderful franchise to play for. The vibes seem to good, KL Rahul is a good leader and I have learnt a lot of good things about (Anil) Kumble...he had been a successful coach with Mumbai Indians and we should certainly have a good season,’’ said Pooran, who arrives here on the back of a good run with Guyana in the CPL with an aggregate of 245 runs, including a blazing hundred and one fifty to finish as the fifth-highest run scorer.
A major plus for young Pooran will be his prior knowledge of the wickets in the UAE as he has played here on Sharjah and Abu Dhabi wickets in T10 tournaments over the last couple of years. ‘‘Yes, I know about the conditions here. The Abu Dhabi wicket is a good one to bat on while the one in Sharjah is low and skiddy,’’ recalled the southpaw, who is expected to add variety and the experience of handling evolving situations in this format in the middle order.
The presence of Chris Gayle in the team, who had joined the team since early September, will also act as a big plus for Pooran - especially during life in a bio-bubble which would revolve around the regimen of hotel rooms, practice sessions and matches.
‘‘It’s a great boost for me to have Gayle as a part of the team. He is a wonderful person and one of the happiest guys I have ever met. It’s strange that for all the IPL records he has in the bag, he is yet to win the IPL but then, he is still playing,’’ he said.
Hailing from Trinidad, how would he sum up the influence of a certain Brian Charles Lara in his career? ‘‘To me, he is the best cricketer I have ever seen. He is to West Indies cricket what Sachin (Tendulkar) is to India and has been one of my heroes. I have never tried to consciously copy his style but if you are a left-hander growing up in the West Indies, then there will some inluence of Lara’s style in your batting,’’ said a candid Pooran.
Asked if he ever turned to Lara for advice, he revealed: ‘‘Yes, I have his number on my Whataspp and I go get in touch with him when I feel the need to.’’
The postponement of the T20 World Cup this year, where the West Indies would have played as defending champions, means Pooran will now have to wait for another year to make a bow at the World T20 arena. He regrets it but says very little could have been done about it. ‘‘It’s been because of the pandemic and nothing could have been done about it. However, there will be two back-to-back editions over the next two years. We have got a young and hugely talented team and will be ready for the next one,’’ he signed off.