Being trained to put the hard yards in and be match aware at all times from a young age has helped the young Guyanese bowler excel under crunch moments

Like the rest of his West Indies Under-19 teammates, Keemo Paul listens to Hall of Fame for motivation before a game. They will all do so, again, on Sunday morning, ahead of their Under-19 World Cup final against India in Mirpur.

“One particular video that we see as a team is a song called Hall of Fame by It is just a motivational song. It teaches you that if you train and work hard, you will be sitting in the hall of fame,” he said.

While the song is their heartbeat, Shimron Hetmyer, the captain, said Paul, his deputy, was the last person to need external motivation at crunch moments. While the pressure of the occasion could get to a few players, Hetmyer is sure his deputy’s confidence and tactfulness will be vital.

“Keemo Paul is probably one of the smartest bowlers we have here,” Hetmyer said. “He could probably bowl at any time for me – open if possible, in the middle or in the end. He is not really the death bowler for me but I think he handles pressure better than most of the players in this team, if not all. Pressure doesn’t get to him that much. He can play his natural game, as you saw against England. He stood out in that pressure game for us. He handles pressure as good as anyone I know.”

Against England in their first group stage match, Paul took the key wicket of Sam Curran, who was batting on 39. West Indies later slipped to 103 for 5 in the 23rd over when his counter-attacking 58-ball 65 nearly won West Indies the game. Against Zimbabwe, he kept things tight before he effected the Mankad that took West Indies to the quarter-final. In the first of their knockout clash, he dismissed the dangerous Hasan Mohsin. Then when the chase was getting tight, his unbeaten 16-ball 24 hastened the victory.

In the semi-final against Bangladesh, he got injured while trying to save a boundary at third man, but returned to bowl in the last five overs. He first bounced out Mehedi Hasan Miraz before bursting through Mohammad Saifuddin next ball. “I think it was very big over in the game. I think I had a clear mind and executing the basics,” Paul explained. “He [Miraz] was batting really well. I think he was settled. My plan was to bowl good length balls. He was going deep in his crease so I just decided to pop a short one. I caught him half yard. It was a very important wicket,” he said.

Both set batsmen were removed and he added a third wicket of big-hitter Saeed Sarkar in his next over. Bangladesh could have scored 240 but they were cut down to 226. The difference was huge in the context of the game.

So how does Paul, at the age of 17, handle pressure moments?

“I think it is just knowing the game from an early age, and being around a lot of experienced people. You just gain as much intelligence from them and use it in the game,” he said. “You just have to know how to manage the pressure, just know how to be confident. Learn from it. You have to take in some things. Just stay focused and do what you are doing. In pressure situation, I just clear my mind. It motivates me. I always want to win and do well in the game. Pressure situation motivates me.”

West Indies manager Dwain Gill believes Paul is the “brain” in the team and has a way to get everyone together in the dressing-room and in the middle. “He is our vice-captain, and it is because he is our most intelligent cricketer,” Gill said. “Off the field he is the one who brings the players together. He is the brain in the team, and everyone relates to him.”

Paul is from Guyana where he “looks up to Shiv Chanderpaul”. He comes from the Essequibo Islands where he belongs to a logging community called Saxacalli. Paul said that Chanderpaul guides him, and owes much of his cricketing acumen to the West Indies legend.

“I played with Shiv. I get a lot of advice and intelligence and guidance from him,” he gused. “I am very good friends with his son too, we are both Under-19 cricketers.”

Paul didn’t show signs of pressure even if he was feeling it. Sunday is another chance for him to execute his plans in his ice-cool manner.