x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Kieron Pollard's catch of Dhoni in IPL game against Chennai one of many

That blend of balance, rhythm and flexibility: has someone so big as Pollard been so natural a fielder in cricket before?

Kieron Pollard has, in recent times, shown remarkable agility for his size and taken brilliant catches, including this off Glenn Maxwell. Rob Griffith / AP Photo
Kieron Pollard has, in recent times, shown remarkable agility for his size and taken brilliant catches, including this off Glenn Maxwell. Rob Griffith / AP Photo

"One of the best you'll ever see in a long, long time!"

These were the words of the commentator L Sivaramakrishnan in describing a catch Kieron Pollard took for the Mumbai Indians on the midwicket boundary to dismiss MS Dhoni last week. (In your head, imagine that sentence chirped rather than said or exclaimed.)

It was a fine catch but Sivaramakrishnan was a little over the top. It is not his fault, or even that of the IPL, for which he was commentating. Sivaramakrishnan could commentate an Under 14 chess game with as much squeaking gusto.

It was high pressure, certainly, in the last over of a live chase and to get rid of the key batsman. But in terms of athleticism and aesthetics, forget any other catch by anyone else, it was not even the best catch Pollard had taken in the past two months.

That would be the one he took to turn a Glenn Maxwell six over midwicket into a dismissal; the picture of him airborne, right arm stretched as high as can be, having just grabbed the ball should, ideally, like the timeless Air Jordan imprint, be selling cricket boots somewhere.

At the very least, cricket should be using it shamelessly as part of promos to show precisely how sporty the sport can be.

So more than likely the hype surrounding the Dhoni catch was because of the identity of the fielder, that it must have been amazing because it was Pollard and because Kieron Pollard has been doing crazy, path-breaking things as a fielder for a little while now.

Pollard generates the kind of reactions that Jonah Lomu once did and Usain Bolt continues to do. Both were freaky, in the sense that they did things in their sport you thought their bodies should not allow them to.

Pollard is not just tall, at 6ft 4ins, he is plenty broad.

There is a physical incongruity to him, because though he hits the ball as far and hard as a man of his build might be expected to, he bowls at the pace a child exactly half his size might.

But the catches he takes - diving low and forward; running along a boundary line, stretching, twisting; running back, flying and taking the ball over his shoulder; reaching behind well over his head - are for nimbler, smaller men.

That blend of balance, rhythm and flexibility: has someone so big been so natural a fielder in cricket before?

Think of other big men, similarly blessed; he is only an inch taller than Muhammad Ali, for example, and though I am no weighing scale, there probably is not too much in it between their weights. He has that kind of rare physicality.

Much of this is overlooked though, or at least not celebrated or appreciated as much as it should be because Pollard has not always gotten fair press.

Pretty early in his international career, he was the subject of a legendary Michael Holding put-down: "Kieron Pollard is not, in my opinion, a cricketer."

Even though that felt more like an attack on the format in which Pollard was making his name rather than on the player himself, the opinion was not unpopular. Pollard occasionally hit cartoonishly big sixes but who didn't? And what else did he do?

He earned huge amounts of money playing for Twenty20 clubs around the world and was not sure about whether he wanted to pin himself down to just a West Indies contract.

Cynically seen, he was a non-serious freelance chancer, not very good, but too much money for it.

All of which was tremendously unfair even before signs emerged in the past year that he was finally beginning to understand the gifts of his batting, or that he expressed a desire to play Tests and that he may not be too far from playing in whites.

It was unfair because it did not recognise that he is an exceptional and unique cricketing athlete, and because it reduces that genius to merely the functional requirement of any modern cricketer: that he should be a good fielder because all good cricketers are. He is not just a good fielder. He is ahead-of-his-time good.

Twenty20 is pushing batting and bowling into new places, and Pollard is the most vivid example that it is taking fielders there, as well.

Maybe Holding meant only that Pollard was not a cricketer of the kind that existed in his day.

He is not.

But he may be, as far as his fielding goes, the kind of cricketer that will exist tomorrow.


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