Saturday, April 13, 2024

FAZEER MOHAMMED: Rally round the Leewards


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NO DISRESPECT intended to favourites Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago, but it would probably be best for West Indies cricket if the Leeward Islands were crowned Super50 champions next Saturday.

Amid the decline in standards in the Caribbean game over the past two decades, it was the apparent collapse of the Leewards to a virtual laughing stock in territorial competition that was the most distressing. So their strong showing in this year’s 50-overs-a-side event, with a place in the semi-finals already assured ahead of today’s final preliminary match against the Trinis, is to be welcomed.

Let’s not fool ourselves, though, into believing that on the basis of these performances all is well once again. As with everywhere else in the region, there is a long way to go before the overall standard of play returns to a level where it can be confidently expected for the West Indies to be a force to be reckoned with at both one-day and Test level once again.

Ironically, it has been the efforts of the man who appeared to personify the comedic standard to which the subregion had plummeted which have contributed significantly to the Leewards mounting a serious challenge for the Super50 title this time around.

When Rahkeem Cornwall first lumbered onto the senior regional scene six years ago as arguably the largest teenager anyone had ever seen on a cricket field, it just seemed to confirm that the part of the world which produced such lithe, athletic figures as Vivian Richards, Richie Richardson and Curtly Ambrose was now reduced to the level of a collective joke.

Yet since that debut appearance at the Caribbean Twenty20 event in his native Antigua, Cornwall’s value as an off-spinning all-rounder has grown with every passing season, even if his still considerable physical size and comparative lack of mobility would appear to be formidable obstacles to his further advancement in the game.

His match-winning unbeaten 74 in pursuit of a daunting target of 294 against the Windwards Volcanoes last Wednesday at the Coolidge Cricket Ground underscored his key role in the Hurricanes’ line-up. Throughout his innings in the decisive partnership with Akeal Hosein he displayed a determination to bat properly when ugly, ungainly heaves might have been anticipated from such a bulky individual. 

But the 24-year-old already has a century in one-day cricket to his name, and one at the first-class level as well, so that knock was no bolt out of the blue. Nor should his effectiveness with the ball come as any surprise, given a return of 125 wickets from just 25 first-class matches (average 24.19) and an economy rate of 3.14 in the one-day format.

Cornwall was also the leading wicket-taker for the West Indies “A” squad on the tour of Sri Lanka late last year, and even if it still appears to be a stretch to suggest that he can challenge for a spot in any upcoming West Indies One-Day International squad, he has already shown himself more than capable of confounding the critics and exceeding expectations.

For his Leewards captain, Kieran Powell, this 2017 Super50 hasn’t been so much of a revelation as a reaffirmation of the opening batsman’s commitment to the sport after he appeared to have abandoned cricket altogether.

There really never has been a proper explanation for the circumstances that led to the Nevisian left-hander essentially walking away from the game after being dropped from the Test side following the first match of the series against New Zealand in Kingston in 2014. Such was the level of his presumed disillusionment that he even tried his hand at breaking into America’s Major League Baseball.

It is to the benefit of Leewards cricket, though, that he has returned with an impressive run of scores – 31, 105, 135, 52, 106 and 80 – that will surely earn him the Most Valuable Player of the tournament award and place his name firmly back into contention for next month’s ODIs against England.

At 26, Powell may have considerable time on his side in the quest to be consistently successful for the Hurricanes and the West Indies, although a return to senior regional representation cannot be taken as a mere formality.

With averages in the 20s in both Tests and ODIs, he fits the bill as yet another talented batsman from the region who has some way to go in seeking to realise his fullest potential, notwithstanding centuries in both innings of the Dhaka Test against Bangladesh in 2012 and a maiden ton versus New Zealand in Antigua earlier that year.

All of that is yet to come, though. Of more immediate concern to both Powell and Cornwall is taking their Leewards team all the way to the Super50 title. National loyalties notwithstanding, all West Indians should raise a cheer
if they do.

Fazeer Mohammed is a regional cricket journalist and broadcaster who has been covering the game at all levels since 1987.


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