September 22, 2010: Kieron Pollard makes the eyebrow-raising decision to turn down a West Indies central contract in order to become a T20 freelancer. He's just 23. It positively offends some people; Michael Holding, for one, lays into Pollard, saying he is "not a cricketer".
In a way, Holding is right. Pollard is unlike anything the world had seen before. And he has been more than just a cricketer. He has been a true pioneer, a T20 trailblazer. When T20 was still in its infancy and the future seemed unclear, he dared to give up the security of a central contract, instead choosing to back his incredible all-round skills and fitness to lead the way.
If a growing number of people feel they can forego a national contract and make a living off of T20 leagues, they have Pollard to thank. To name just a couple: One of Pollard's team-mates at Mumbai Indians, Mitchell McClenaghan, did just that in 2017. And more recently, 20-year old Afghanistan fast bowler Naveen-ul-Haq, who went toe to toe against Pollard in Lucknow last year, expressed a desire to evolve into a T20 specialist.
Pollard himself, having been there and done that at (nearly) every T20 - and T10 - competition in the world, is now set to become the first player to get to 500 T20s, against Sri Lanka in Pallekele. Half a thousand games. And oh, he's a mere 34 runs away from joining Chris Gayle in reaching 10,000 runs in T20 cricket.
So where did it all begin?
Pollard made his maiden T20 appearance in the Stanford tournament, all the way back in 2006. He hadn't played first-class or even List A cricket at the time. And the likes of Ricardo Powell and Mervyn Dillon were playing alongside him - that's how long ago it was.
That tournament was a bit of hit-and-giggle, as was so much T20 cricket then, but there was something about Pollard. He launched mighty sixes, tricked batsmen with his pace variations, and was a fantastic fielder. In short, the perfect T20 package.
His 38-ball 83 in the semi-final was a template for the kind of innings he could play, the kind of innings the format would increasingly see more of. Three years later, on a much bigger platform, at the Champions League T20 in Hyderabad, he unleashed an assault for the ages. With Trinidad & Tobago needing 51 off 24 balls, Pollard went cray-cray and put his team in the semi-finals and his name firmly on the T20 map.
In 2010, just before he opted to become a gun for hire, Mumbai Indians shelled out US$750,000 (plus an undisclosed additional amount) to break a tie with three other franchises to get him on board in the IPL.
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Plenty have questioned Pollard's sense of loyalty over the years because of his difficult relationship with the West Indies board. But it's worth noting that when he has been in an environment that has looked after him, that loyalty has been unquestionable. Mumbai Indians have nurtured him into a T20 world beater and have got behind him even when his form tapered off; they have never ever let go of him. Pollard, in turn, has rewarded them by producing game-changing moments under pressure. Pollard is among a small handful of players to have turned out for only one franchise in the IPL.
He has helped the team win IPL titles in 2013, 2015, 2017 and 2019. When Mumbai sealed their first crown, in 2013, it was Pollard who stepped up in the final, his 32-ball 60 leading the side to 148 from 52 for 4 against Chennai Super Kings.
Pollard closed out that innings like only he can. He forced MS Dhoni out of his comfort zone, making him install fielders at straight mid-off and straight long-on. Dwayne Bravo bowled a near yorker on the stumps, but Pollard backed away slightly and manufactured enough power to put the ball over that long-on fielder, into the Super Kings dugout. The next ball was a slower cutter on middle, and Pollard anticipated the variation, backing away further and launching it into oblivion.
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On his day, Pollard could smash sixes off any length at any point of time against the fast bowlers. In 2014, during a BBL warm-up for the Adelaide Strikers, he cracked six of them in an over. Brad Hodge, who would coach him later at the St Lucia Stars, gushed at the other end. "It's pretty scary stuff," Hodge said then. "It was cool fun watching - the ease he does it with is unbelievable."
Just as unbelievable was how Pollard pushed the boundaries for what fielders could do - on the boundary. Perhaps he was the first true specialist outfielder, his big frame not preventing him from sliding, diving, or pulling off spectacular relay catches.
Although he doesn't bowl much these days, Pollard was handy back in the day, often handcuffing the opposition with a variety of slower balls. He has been enough of a bowler to be the only player in T20 cricket with at least 7000 runs and 250 wickets. If the criteria are relaxed to 6000 runs and 200 wickets, only three other players - Bravo, Ravi Bopara and Shane Watson - feature on the list.
Lately Pollard has also brought his intrinsic grasp of the format's strategic and tactical rhythms to bear on his leadership. At home in the CPL, he made his biggest impact as captain when he roused the Barbados Tridents to their maiden title in 2014. At the start of the season, there were reports of protests in Barbados when Trinidadian Pollard was named captain ahead of locals such as Dwayne Smith and Kirk Edwards. However, by the end of the season, Pollard had the Barbadians cheering for him when he marshalled the team to the title.
In the tournament the following year, Pollard trumped Mahela Jayawardene (who Pollard last year said was one of the "smartest cricketing brains" he has come across) with his out-of-the-box field placements. Jayawardene had the tendency to push at the ball in front of his body in the early exchanges, so Pollard brought himself in at silly point and pulled off a stunning low catch to his right, off left-arm fingerspinner Robin Peterson. More recently, in the 2019 CPL, his aggressive, in-your-face leadership nearly carried Trinbago Knight Riders to the final.
And now, almost a decade after the momentous decision to not contract himself to West Indies, he's back leading West Indies. It is some circle he has completed, and as much as it says something about the T20 format and how it has grown, it says something about Pollard too. A cricketer for sure, a pioneer, and now a leader. With Bravo and Andre Russell back in the T20I mix, West Indies could be the team to beat, again, in Australia later this year. Can Pollard lead them to T20 glory and add another chapter to his legend?
For now, he is ready for his 500th T20 on Wednesday. Drink it in.