Five years ago, Nicholas Pooran was unsure whether he would ever walk again. Cut to Sunday, the 24-year-old Trinidadian literally flew while making an unbelievable save for Kings XI Punjab against Rajasthan Royals. Even the great Sachin Tendulkar termed it as the 'best save' he has ever seen.
It was in January, 2015 when Pooran met with a car accident while returning from training in Trinidad. It left him with a ruptured left patellar tendon (a ligament which connects the kneecap to the shinbone) and a fractured right ankle. It was not until six months that he could walk unassisted again. After two surgeries, a significant time spent in a wheelchair and a lengthy rehab later, Pooran slowly regained his composure to return to top-level cricket.
The supreme proof of Pooran's athleticism was perhaps on show in Sunday's match where 29 sixes were hit. And yet, the one six Pooran saved became the talk of the cricket world. It was in the eighth over of RR's innings chasing 224, when Sanju Samson pulled Murugan Ashwin's short of a length delivery. It was destined to clear the ropes and it did, only for an out-stretched Pooran to catch the ball mid-air and throw it back into the field of play. All of that in a blink of an eye.
"I kept thinking of catching the ball regardless of where it was. I had fair idea of where the boundary rope was and I even had the ball in my hands. But then I realised 'Hang on, I am too far away.' So, I threw the ball back in," Pooran said from Dubai.
Instinct played a big part in the magnificent save, but preparation was equally important. "Jonty Rhodes (KXIP fielding coach) has been making us practice such catches in training sessions for the past couple of weeks. It so happened that I got to save some runs in similar fashion. He always tells us to do spectacular things on the field, to save some crucial runs in the outfield," Pooran said.
"T20 cricket is changing every day. It's (saving runs in the outfield) difficult to execute at first but with practice it becomes easy. Awareness is the key. Anticipating, knowing where the boundary rope is, knowledge about the light affecting the vision, being in the right position to either catch or throw the ball back. It comes with a lot of practice. It is even more crucial for me to be aware as I am usually a wicketkeeper."
Injury of past
Pooran's save is a far cry from the days spent in a Trinidad hospital when he could not even bend his leg, following the car crash. "That was a tough year after the accident, the therapy, learning to bend my leg again, walking, running and fast. That made me realise the importance of fitness even more. With each passing year, I take it as a step towards getting fitter. Today I am fitter than I was last year and the year before that. I have lost weight and hope to continue this journey," Pooran said.
Pooran's rehab started with an attempt to move his toes again and then slowly begin walking. First there were 90-minutes sessions which progressed to two-hour drills. Pooran started jogging in August and had his first net session post injury break in September. Injury rehab went side by side. Ultimately, he played his first top-level match in July, 2016 at the Caribbean Premier League for Barbados Tridents against Trinbago Knight Riders. He scored a 12-ball 33 in that match.
"I always try to do something extra during the fielding drills. Put that extra effort. That is the reason I was able to return to cricket after that crash. I always believed in my dream. I never gave up, however hard the situation was."
Pooran made his ODI debut in 2019 and has been a regular in the West Indies squad. The top-order wicketkeeper-batsman made his T20I debut in 2016. So far, Pooran has played 25 ODIs and 21 T20Is.
"I have good starts in IPL but am yet to come up with a big score. I will keep pushing myself harder. The experience of playing in the Caribbean Premier League before the IPL has put me in good rhythm. And it is not only on-field preparation but also about living in a bubble. I knew what to expect coming to Dubai," he said.