England’s new T20 coach Kieron Pollard: ‘Cricket is a business’

It will be a curious sight to many: Kieron Pollard, the West Indies T20 World Cup winner and captain in 2022, now wearing an England training jersey instead.

Pollard himself disagreed. “Cricket is a business,” he explains. “You have a job to do and you just try to do it the best you can.”

This mindset formed the basis for Pollard’s extraordinary – and ongoing, although he has retired from the Indian Premier League and international cricket – T20 career. Pollard has played more T20 games than anyone in history – 660, including 101 for the West Indies. He hit the second most sixes and scored the third most runs. He has won five IPL titles, the T20 World Cup and a whopping 18 absurd titles in total.

Almost as importantly, Pollard was one of the first major cricketers to turn down a national central contract. In 2010, he realized that his talent had more to offer as a freelance T20 player. The T20 world is one that Pollard has helped shape.

This is how the game is played. In this season’s Indian Premier League, teams are scoring faster than ever before. Batsmen continue to recalibrate what is considered possible, especially in the closing stages of an innings.

Here Pollard is one of the most important figures of T20. Fifteen years ago, at the age of 22, Pollard played an innings that changed both his life and the format. While Trinidad & Tobago needed 51 off 24 balls against New South Wales in the Champions League in Hyderabad, Pollard hit 47 off his next 11 deliveries. Trinidad waltzed to victory; Pollard soon won his first IPL contract, worth $750,000. He had created the template for the finisher, with the power he generates from his 6-foot-4 frame.

While Pollard bowled at medium pace and was one of the pioneers of boundary catching, his career was built on his thunderous strokes. In T20, he faces an average of just 13 balls per match; what he does with it makes him one of T20’s best ever players.

Jos Buttler was one of the first to be influenced by Pollard. In 2010, Pollard joined Somerset as an overseas player; Buttler was 19 and playing his first season of the T20 Blast. During Pollard’s two seasons at Somerset the two forged spectacular alliances: in the 2010 semi-final they added 75 in 6.1 overs; in the 2011 quarter-final, 66 in 4.2 overs.

Kieron Pollard of Mumbai Indians jumps to catch the ball in spectacular fashionKieron Pollard of Mumbai Indians jumps to catch the ball in spectacular fashion

Pollard was one of the great boundary getters, his athleticism and innovative nature transformed the art of T20 cricket – AP Photo/Rajanish Kakade

“He was always special,” Pollard recalls of playing alongside the young Buttler. Sometimes “he even surpassed me with his firsts and strength.”

Pollard was struck by Buttler’s athleticism. “Jos has always been a talented individual – I’m talking about all sports. Obviously we saw his potential with the bat and with wicketkeeping. And don’t forget how good he is at football, physically on the pitch and then on the PlayStation. From an all-round perspective and from a sportsman’s perspective, he is a versatile man. He is calm, he is modest.”

Buttler later shared a dressing room with Pollard at Mumbai Indians. The West Indies approach has shaped its own method.

“I heard a few guys talking about it like, ‘There’s eight overs left, if we hit five sixes in that time we’ll win the match,’” Buttler said in 2022. “It’s definitely something I’ve been thinking about more .: those big overs, and trusting my ability to hit six shots; looking at the West Indian players and, in general, how they hit more sixes than other teams, I saw that as a huge positive a way to take the pressure off myself: to know that I have the ability to hit sixes.”

Pollard was an architect of this approach, accepting more dot balls than some batsmen prefer, but with the knowledge that his penchant for clearing the ropes allows him to target opponents ruthlessly.

Josh ButlerJosh Butler

Jos Buttler learned a lot from Pollard during their time together at Somerset – Ashley Allen/Getty Images

‘You have to use your strength or natural genetics to get ahead’

“That’s part of simplifying the way you break down the goal,” Pollard explains. “Saying it and actually understanding how to do it are different things. You can just say yes, you can hit five sixes, but how do you hit the five sixes? Who will you hit the five sixes against? In the Caribbean, different theories and factors will determine how you approach it.”

“The wickets are turning and sometimes they are slow,” Pollard reflected on the pitches of the tournament. “You have to use your strength or your natural genetics to move forward.”

In December in Trinidad & Tobago, Pollard and Buttler discussed how to take their partnership in a new direction. For the first time, Pollard will coach Buttler after being appointed as a consultant for the T20 World Cup.

His appointment corrects what Rob Key identified as one of the glaring mistakes of last year’s dismal ODI World Cup campaign: the lack of a coach with local knowledge. With his knowledge of pitches in the Caribbean, Pollard will replicate Mike Hussey’s role in England’s T20 World Cup victory in Australia two years ago. Pollard, 36 years old, also brings experience of playing with and against most of the tournament’s best players.

‘The computer and the brain are still ticking and working’

With Buttler, “the conversation was about what was best for England at a World Cup,” Pollard explains. “And having the expertise and knowledge in Caribbean conditions for the World Cup.

“At a transitional stage in my career – still playing and doing a bit of coaching and consulting here and there – it also bodes well for me in the future. It just came up and it was something that made sense. I look forward.”

Watching England’s 3-2 defeat in the T20 series in the Caribbean before Christmas gave Pollard some ideas on how they could improve. “The knowledge, the computer and the brain are still active and still store some things that may need to be worked on when the time comes.”

One of the biggest challenges for England will be the adjustment between wickets in different countries; the variety of Caribbean conditions is one of the biggest problems for visiting teams. After starting their campaign in Barbados, which suits taller and faster bowlers, England will, if all goes well, have to navigate a semi-final in Guyana or Trinidad, where spin rules.

“That’s what the world often doesn’t see and understand about us Caribbean cricketers and what we endure in terms of pitches and conditions. It’s completely different.”

Pollard sees his role for England as ‘understanding the nature of the Caribbean and how cricket plays here. We will find out more as we get together and discuss what is needed. As it stands now, it is a broad role. Hopefully it will be narrowed down to more tactics and other things as that time gets closer.”

Pollard is already developing the contours of his coaching style. He believes players take ownership and sees a coach’s role as adding some choice comments.

“Making sure they’re in the right frame of mind is something that’s going to be really important,” he explains. “The most important thing is people management: making them realize the potential and talent they have, and also some things they haven’t tapped into yet.

“Everything is time and place. And now that’s from an emotional standpoint, mental standpoint. Win or lose a game – what should be said next? I think that is very important in how you get the best out of people and a team.”

Although Pollard’s contractual involvement is exclusive to the T20 World Cup – depending on IPL commitments, he could be part of the squad for the Pakistan Series from May 22 – he hopes to work with England again. “If it goes well, that will be a feather in the cap. Hopefully they will see the need for someone with my experience for the England team.

“My job, as I have always played cricket, is to focus on what I have to do in the present. Whatever happens in the future, good or bad, you take it on the chin. You enjoy it and you move on.”

On June 28, Pollard hopes his journey will take him to Kensington Oval for the T20 World Cup final – the second of his career, following on from the 2012 triumph he won with the West Indies. He remains a “supporter” of the West Indies and passionate about the game in the region.

But when asked whether England against the West Indies would be his ideal final, Pollard laughs. Then the businessman in him speaks. “The dream final would be England against anyone.”

Kieron Pollard is an investor and global ambassador for Me + U The new cricket shoe store for cricketers

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