Nicholas Pooran doesn't like to complicate things. Before IPL 2020, when ESPNcricinfo had asked him which team he was looking forward to playing against the most, his answer was: "All." When asked which bowler he was most excited about facing, he said, "Everyone."
The same can be said about his batting too. In a 360-degree world, Pooran relies on drives and pulls to score a majority of his runs. While batsmen are busy slogging right, left and centre, he revels in playing proper cricketing shots. Tuesday was just another example of it.
Despite Shikhar Dhawan's second successive hundred, the Kings XI Punjab had restricted Delhi Capitals to 164 for 5. It wasn't a big target but the Kings XI lost KL Rahul early. While Chris Gayle changed the momentum with a 26-run over, it was Pooran who flattened the Capitals.
After Gayle's onslaught, the Capitals had managed to restore the momentum in the very next over, which saw the back of Gayle and Mayank Agarwal. R Ashwin had bowled Gayle with a slider as the batsman went for a slog across the line, but Pooran drove him to the cover boundary first ball. While it was a fuller delivery, Pooran's shot selection also made a big difference.
Cometh the middle overs, the phase in which Pooran has been the most destructive batsmen this IPL. In overs 7 to 15, his 230 runs are second only to Rahul's 241. But while Rahul's runs have come at a strike rate of 133.88, Pooran has smashed them at 182.53. Among those with at least 50 runs in that period, no has scored at a faster rate.
But before Pooran got going, there were some jitters, not in shot selection but in running between the wickets. One such mistake had already resulted in Agarwal getting run out. In the eighth over, it could have been curtains for Pooran as well when he tried to drop-and-run only to be sent back by Glenn Maxwell. Shreyas Iyer's off-balance throw was a bit wide of Pant who failed to flick it on to the stumps and Pooran was saved.
Had Pooran been run out, the Kings XI would have been 70 for 4 in the eighth over with not much batting to come. In that scenario, according to ESPNcricinfo's Luck Index, the Capitals would have gone on to win the game.
What followed instead was a period of such clean hitting that it resulted in Sachin Tendulkar tweeting in praise. After being 11 off 10 balls, Pooran tonked 42 off the next 19. Tushar Deshpande bowled short and got whacked over deep square leg. Marcus Stoinis tried length and was launched over long-on. In six balls, bookended by those two hits, Pooran struck two sixes and three fours to turn the game decisively in the Kings XI's favour.
At the halfway stage, the Kings XI required just 64 from 60 balls with seven wickets in hand. Pooran and Maxwell added 69 in 40 balls, the latter's contribution being only 16 off 15, and by the time Pooran got out, the equation had further come down to 40 from 45 balls, which the Kings XI achieved with one over to spare.
Pooran did all this while playing shots right from the MCC coaching manual. In his 28-ball 53, ESPNcricinfo recorded eight cover drives, which fetched him 14 runs. The only more productive shot was the pull, yielding 16 runs from three attempts. The innings, where he scored at a strike rate of almost 190, had no reverse sweeps, no scoops, no ramps and just one slog.
After the match, when Maxwell asked Pooran about his knock on iplt20.com, Pooran's reply was: "My innings was simple. If the ball was in my zone, I tried to strike it as clean as possible."
At the post-match presentation, he told host broadcaster Star, "I am a naturally aggressive player. I play on merit. If it's in my zone, I hit it. Simple as that. If it's a match-up, it's a match-up." When asked about confusion while running between the wickets, he replied, "One of those nights, one of those nights. It was tough. Poor communication. Simple."
Those responses may come across as simplistic, but Pooran is aware of what he has been doing right and what he needs to improve upon.
"I have been working really hard," he said at the post-match presentation. "I have been hitting the ball pretty good. I have been getting starts but haven't been able to convert those into big scores. Even tonight I got a start but couldn't finish the game for the team. That's disappointing for me."
Before Tuesday, Pooran had only threatened without actually inflicting much damage but if he can keep improving the way he has been, it won't be too long before oppositions start considering him a real threat.