In the IPL opener in 2018, defending champions Mumbai Indians were reduced to 113 for 4 with 32 deliveries remaining. Usually Kieron Pollard, padded up, would have walked in at that stage. But it was Krunal Pandya who came out to join his brother Hardik. It was a hard omission for Pollard to swallow, he admits. It would turn out to be a difficult season for him, and he would end up being dropped eventually, as he lost his form and did not bowl at all. The five matches he missed in the last IPL was the most he had sat out in a single season, since he was first picked for Mumbai a decade ago; he had missed only two matches for Mumbai in the previous five seasons. In this interview, conducted the day after the Pakistan Super League finished (where Pollard played for runner-up Peshawar Zalmi), he talks about how he did a lot of "soul searching" immediately after the IPL, and how he decided it was time to enjoy the game the way he did when he had started to play it.
You are coming into the IPL on the back of some solid form. This PSL, playing for Peshawar Zalmi, you had the second highest strike rate (173.17) for all batsmen, the second-highest number of sixes (23) and you were one of only two batsmen in the top 20 run-makers with more sixes than fours.
It is due to some soul-searching I did, and being able to perform my role freely. Having [Darren] Sammy as the captain [at Peshawar Zalmi], the rapport that we possess, he knowing what I can do, gave me the freedom to express myself once again.
But the way in which I bat, yes, I will be responsible at times, but there are times where you go out and have a swing. The scores wouldn't dictate what your impact really was. A lot of people would have been carried away by the scores rather than looking at situations of the game.
So [in the PSL] I was able to get my old self back and go out, and if the first ball needed to be hit for six, I did that. If there was a situation where I needed to change the momentum - didn't matter if it was the start of the innings - I was allowed to do that. My mind was a lot more clear.
I was bowling as well. That is an aspect of my game that has been taken away from me, I have to say.
It was a combination of things. Thank god it worked before the IPL. But that doesn't guarantee runs will come in the IPL. It is a good confidence-booster, but I know what I can do and what I am still capable of doing.
You hit more sixes this PSL than in the previous two editions combined. So are you getting back to being that dangerous T20 batsman, something that attracted franchises when you came into the reckoning a decade ago?
I want to be always expressive, but for some reason I went into a shell. A lot of different things would have played a part in that, but I've realised that a more dangerous Pollard or a more aggressive Pollard is the way to go. That has made me who I am today. Why not go back to that and back myself in that aspect?
Your strike rate this PSL was your best in any tournament since 2010, when facing 100-plus deliveries. How does that help your confidence coming into the IPL?
It helps you to keep at the back of your mind that nothing is impossible. You still have it. Once you do anything with a clear mind and you have a plan behind it, and you put in the work, the rewards are going to be there.
You have to be realistic as well. I don't really like numbers, but sometimes they play an important role. A consistent strike rate of over 150 across 400-and-something games - I would think that's phenomenal.
Do you remind yourself of that whenever you are in a slump?
Yeah, of course. You remind yourself of the good times, what you did, your mindset, in those times. I relish that opportunity that was given in terms of that role of freedom. I batted at No. 3 [and lower] whenever the team was in a tough situation. There was this one innings where I went in and hit two sixes in two balls and got out. That changed the momentum because that is what T20 cricket is about. We tend to get carried away by the amount of runs that you score, but T20 cricket is about the impact a guy can have with the bat or the ball or even in the field. You can take two magnificent catches or you have the run-out that changes the course of the entire game - that would be the deciding factor. Those are things we tend to bypass when we do the analysis.
This will be your tenth season with Mumbai Indians. Do you think you have managed to consistently be the impact player you were when you were hired?
I would want to believe so. When I look back, I would say yes more often than not. In ten years, [despite] three bad years, I would have repaid the faith on many different occasions to the franchise. And the franchise has reciprocated as well. They have shown faith in me even when I had a bad year. It goes to show the owners and the sort of people that Mumbai Indians have. I am always grateful and thankful for the opportunity. When you don't do well, you wonder who is going to have your back. I can safely say they have had my back and I have had theirs.
I had a good working relationship with Mumbai. Again, they have shown faith in me this season. I am looking forward to my tenth year. It is a special one. Looking for it to be a memorable one.
When you were first hired by Mumbai, you were this young allrounder who could create an impact in a matter of minutes and balls. As you have evolved, that role has somewhat changed.
The last three to four seasons, my role has been different. I wasn't specifically told it is a different role, but when you find yourself in situations, you realise it is a different role.
In the very first match of the last season, we batted first and we lost a wicket in the 15th over [113 for 4]. When I play against Chennai [Super Kings], I am always switched on. But I did not bat in that game. It was a different feeling. Why things really did not go well [last IPL] may be because I wasn't mentally switched on in accepting: this is what [it is] at this point in time. I wasn't too clear.
I learned from that. I did well in the CPL, which followed the IPL. It is about mentality switch. At that point in time a lot of things were going through my mind and we [Mumbai] were not winning as a team. That doesn't help. So I was able to refresh my mind and come back with a different kind of thinking. Hopefully pieces of the puzzle fall into place and whatever role I am given this year, I am able to deliver.
You seemed to be affected by not being sent to bat in that first match last IPL. Did you have a chat with Mahela Jayawardene or Rohit Sharma about that?
Not about that. The only chat we had was when I was going to be left out [later in the season]. It was a very honest chat. Once it is straight and it is honest, I am fine. I was good around the group [despite being dropped]. I am a positive person in anything I do. Once that chat was done, then it was about what the team needed at that point in time. Then we started to win. And when I came back in with a fresh mind, I scored a fifty. I was part of the resurgence. That whole 2018 season for us was a bit up and down, a bit clouded.
Was this chat between you and Jayawardene?
Yeah, Mahela delivered the bad news. But it was a very, very good chat. Being able to have a guy who has played a lot of cricket, knows the up and down of form, was even better. The plan was to sit out a few games, but Evin [Lewis] got injured and I was filling in [for one match]. I was then out for a while because they wanted to try a different combination. That was fine with me. I still had an important role to play as a senior guy at Mumbai Indians and I think I did that even without that.
You had a poor season, scoring 133 runs in eight innings. How difficult was it for you to accept what was happening, being the senior pro, the vice-captain?
It wasn't really difficult. You try to look at things from different angles: as a player, as a member of a squad, as somebody who has to make a decision for the benefit of the team. Once you are honest in certain aspects, as to where you might not agree with everything, but as a team player you realise certain things might have to change, then it becomes easier for you accept. It would have been the first time I would have been dropped in the IPL ever. It was a matter of staying positive.
Imagine, guys are writing, "Is this his last IPL?", "Is he finished?" It is amazing how many of these guys would have even picked up bat or ball, and they are writing off people's careers. Come on. Let's be real.
Do you reckon you perform better in the final ten overs than when you come in earlier?
I am not too sure where I am most comfortable. I look to evolve. Sometimes you need more time, sometimes less. It depends on the position you are batting. In Mumbai, I started off batting in the last five overs, then eventually after 12 overs on. Honestly, I just want, at times, to play roles where I have an impact, change the game for the team to win. But you can tell me the stats. I am not sure.
First ten overs, 175 runs, 206 balls, four sixes. Last ten overs, 2301 runs, strike rate of 154.12, 150 sixes.
The last ten it is for me then! (laughs loudly)
Where are you comfortable batting mentally?
Mentally, any time after eight to ten overs, I am fine. But then there are times you walk in after the third or fourth over because the team has lost early wickets. You practise against the new ball for that reason. For the stats you gave me there, it might be a case of the team in trouble, you have come in early and you have no choice but to settle first, you have to consolidate.
There was a perception in the PSL that you have a weakness against legspin. But you hit Shadab Khan for two sixes and a four in three balls in one of the earlier matches. Did that give you the confidence to express yourself against spin with more freedom?
Yes and no. Again, conditions dictate your tempo a lot. A legspinner to a right-hander is always a dangerous match-up. I dare you to tell me how many right-handers actually dominate legspin. Legspinners are one of the strongest wicket-taking options. When a guy comes in against a spinner who has both the legbreak and the googly, it is very difficult to hit him for sixes because initially he is going away from you and then you are thinking it is going to come back in. So in my mind I would be a little more conservative against that type of a bowler and accelerate later. You have to be a bit more cautious.
I have worked on ways either to get off the strike or put the pressure on the spinner. Or just show that sort of different intent.
No one is invincible. There is an interesting stat I am aware of as well: I don't think MS Dhoni has hit [Sunil] Narine for a six [or a four] ever in the IPL. Why is that?
But do you accept legspin is something you are vulnerable against?
Definitely. But you try and work on it day in, day out. It makes no sense to hide from it and be macho. It is there. It is there to see.
Another perception is that you are vulnerable against the short ball from the really quick bowlers. How do you respond to that?
That, to me, is laughable. Why would you try to dominate something that maybe has the risk of getting you out when you can leave it and there are five other deliveries to face and capitalise on? You see people have these sorts of perceptions and they don't think about risk and reward. They only speak about it because they are not in that position. Say, you've just come in to bat, and the bowler is bombarding you with short balls - what's the risk, what's the reward? The numbers do not show I am actually weak against the short ball.
Yes, your numbers against the short ball are good: 180 runs, 91 balls, dismissed only three times, average 60. Do you remember your response against Shaun Tait in the 2010 Champions League T20 in South Africa?
[Hit him] straight out of Durban!
Even then there was that perception. But who hits the short ball for six consistently? No one. And why try to go after a short delivery, high up over your head, to hit a six when you are strong enough to capitalise against the length balls, half-volleys? Sometimes, it is not a weakness, it is just a smart decision.
Has the impact player changed in T20 cricket at all?
No, I don't think the impact player's role has changed. You have young guys like Nicholas Pooran. He is going to change the way of things. Hardik Pandya - he walks in and hits spinners for a six off the first three balls. It is a matter for franchises to understand players who perform different roles while creating impact.
There is also a role for conventional batsmen scoring at a strike rate of 120-130. There is a role for conventional cricket shots. There is a role for a finisher. There is a role for specialist death bowlers. There is a role for guys who run in and bowl fast and create an impact in middle overs. And there is a role for legspinners. So you can be an impact player in different areas, not only hitting sixes.
Even opening the batting, taking the bull by the horns and scoring that quick 30 off 12 balls, giving that rapid start - all that is impact. That is what we need to look at when franchises are building teams.
Do you still look at yourself as an allrounder? You did not bowl at all in the last IPL. In fact, you have bowled only 47 deliveries in the last three IPLs.
Yes, I have not been bowling, especially in the IPL. That may be because of the [Mumbai] think tank's lack of confidence in my bowling. It could be because of the line-up that we play, because we tend to play with five out-and-out bowlers, and then we have Hardik, who is our sixth bowler. And then I can bowl as well. So that has diminished my bowling a bit. But outside of IPL, I bowl in other tournaments - PSL, CPL.
That aspect of my game is still there. I always feel like I can come on and make a difference with skills like taking the pace off the ball, lines, lengths, different things. Sometimes you don't need to be express pace to make a difference. I am not blowing my own trumpet, but I have been successful for all teams I have played for in various competitions. I might have a little bit of knowledge about T20 cricket.
Mumbai have struggled to make a solid start and found themselves in precarious positions many times in the past few seasons. As one of the most senior players in the side, what do you reckon needs to change for the team to be dominant consistently?
It is a matter of decision-making at times, in terms of how we go about things. Sometimes, when you've lost a game in the last over, you can pinpoint all sorts of ways or means where you could have done better. But it is just about thinking on your feet and then having clearer plans. Last year, in a couple of games, we were really unfortunate. A couple of games we did not execute what we wanted to, and we were in winning positions but we lost. We just need to identify where we need to be a little more stronger, a bit more precise, and execute.
That can be in a batting scenario, where the opposition team brings on a bowler to get the wicket. Rather than giving him that wicket or continuing to be overly aggressive, you go harder [in subsequent overs]. Or if you are bowling a certain line and length and it is a plan you need to change midway, you need to have the courage to say, "Listen, this is not working, let's do it this way and it might make a difference."
Of course, guys have to play their roles. In T20 cricket and franchise cricket, you need everything to be working in sync. And you need, at certain times, individuals stepping up in crucial situations. We did not have that last year. The main players or senior heads not standing up when it matters the most, which is myself, the skipper [Rohit], is something we have accepted.
You said you did a lot of soul-searching in the last year. What was that about?
Some things you just have to keep within. I had an honest look at myself and different aspects I wanted to change. I had a very, very long discussion with myself and with persons close to me on certain aspects and a direction in which I wanted to go forward. How and what are some of the things I need to do and not do that would help me express myself better, make me a better player and also a better person. Basically everything.
Do you think you have a point to prove to yourself or do you look at it as having another opportunity to make yourself count?
I don't think of it as a point to prove. I have proven it before. There is no doubt I can do it again. It is about enjoyment now. We start to play this game, this lovely game, because we loved it. I always remember that. Not many people get paid to do the things that they love. When I look back, I used to enjoy, I used to smile. It used to be a lot different. At one point that intensity [of enjoyment] might have dropped. That is one of the things I have brought into my life, both on and off the field. I have no point to prove to anyone.
You are 31 now. Do you think a good IPL might help your chances of playing the World Cup?
Ha ha! For the World Cup, my selection for West Indies is out of my hands. It is not something I lose sleep over. We had individual meetings last June or July with Jimmy Adams [Cricket West Indies' director of cricket] and Johnny Grave [CWI chief executive], where our positions were stated. But since then nothing has changed. I am not being bitter. I am not losing sleep. I continue to play cricket. Whoever selects Pollard and he is fit, I would want to have a positive impact on that team.
Did you enjoy watching the resurgence of West Indies cricket during their successful home series against England?
I did, actually. The guys really showed their mettle in the Test and ODI series. It was just a shame we couldn't finish it off in the T20 leg. But you give praise where praise is due. And it was great to see another 30-plus guy, 35-year-old [Chris Gayle], who they would have been writing off on so many occasions prove again why he calls himself Universe Boss: 39-odd sixes in four ODIs. That in itself was fantastic.