The truth about Rahkeem Cornwall: record-breaking Test player, canny spinner, prolific six-hitter and Kieron Pollard nemesis.

 

Rahkeem Cornwall on Test debut

 

Last week I tuned into the Second Test at Kingston between the West Indies and India. The first look I got of Rahkeem Cornwall was when KL Rahul edged a peach of a delivery to him at first slip. Hands the size of a large frying pan, each of them, engulfed the ball and it didn’t come out until it was time to casually toss up the ball in an understated celebration.

A few overs later he came on to have a bowl and in his third over the extra bounce he generated had Chet Pujara guiding him to point where his cut show was snaffled by Brooks. Again, not much of a celebration from the off-spinner despite the fact that he had just dismissed one of the most prized wickets in Test cricket. Pujara is a man averaging 49.87 in Tests with 18 centuries to his name and the man who has been India’s most resilient and unmovable batsman since Rahul Dravid dragged that patient mind and contagious smile away from the cricket field one last time.

 

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A few overs later and Rahkeem Cornwall was in the game again, this time holding onto a chance at slip which had caught the edge of the bat of opener Mayank Agarwal. Cornwall had this point been involved in each of the first three Indian wickets to fall in the match.

 

Rahkeem Cornwall.

Fit as a fiddle meets…fat. When Rahkeem Cornwall bowled to Virat Kohli.

 

So far so what? (you might ask). Well, not only was Rahkeem Cornwall making his international debut, but weighing in at 140 kilos, Cornwall had just become the heaviest man ever to play Test match cricket.

By the time India had secured a second consecutive win in the Series, this one by 257 runs, Cornwall had taken three wickets, two catches and scored 15 runs batting at number nine in each innings. In other words, those first two hours of his debut were as good as it got for him in that Test; but that’s most certainly not the last time we’ll see him in whites in a Test match.

 

How Cornwall earns his corn

 

Plenty of Test players these days are brought into the side on the back of impressive performances in limited-overs cricket. Think Jason Roy, Jos Buttler, the aforementioned Rahul or New Zealand’s Mitchell Santner.

Not Cornwall. He’s done it the hard way, grinding away on the Caribbean Professional Cricket League Regional 4 Day Tournament bowling accurate over after over, taking wicket after wicket.  Since the start of the 2014-15 season he’s fourth on the list of highest wicket-takers (a total of 197) and on three occasions he has been among the Top 3 highest wicket-takers for the season.

 

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It’s all a refreshing reminder that a) hard work pays off eventually and b) Selectors still follow what’s going on in domestic cricket rather than just fielding the same internationals or fast-tracking talented youngsters.

But above all, it’s a reminder that if you’re good enough you’re fit enough, or slim enough. One of the great contrasts of that Test debut was that he bowled to arguably the fittest man in world cricket. Weighing in at just 69 kilos, Cornwall is more than twice the weight of Virat Kohli, although the Leewards Island spinner is admittedly also 20 cm taller.

In truth, Cornwall can only get away with being the weight he is because of the role he has. His spin bowling comes off just a few steps and he doesn’t bowl long spells. Much like fellow salad-dodgers Shane Warne or Inzamam Ul-Haq he fields in the slips whenever he can while his batting is of the big-hitting variety, much like Inzamam himself in his pomp. Leave the quick singles, well-judged twos and exhausting threes to those fit, lean, gym-frequenting lads like Kohli, they seem to say.

 

When Rahkeem Cornwall got under Kieron Pollard’s skin  

 

Having said all that, it would be foolish to argue his weight is a bonus rather than a hindrance.

Back in the 2017 season in the Caribbean Premier League he was playing for St Lucia against Kieron Pollard’s Barbados Tridents and was asked to open as his side tried to chase 196.

He got off to the best possible start, getting to 50 off just 24 balls with some brutal hitting before losing momentum and adding a relatively pedestrian 28 more runs off the next 24 balls.

St Lucia Zouks were still in the hunt to chase an unlikely total when a delivery from Pollard himself hit Cornwall in the stomach, who retired hurt nine balls later. Or did he?

 

 

For a few overs before leaving the field Cornwall simply couldn’t run and every shot seemed to sap more and more energy out of an already pretty empty tank. Yes, there were still some big hits coming from his bat but by that stage running anything was near-on impossible for the big man. In the 17th over bowled by Wahab Riaz, he and Marlon Samuels ran just two singles, Cornwall well aware that unless it was in a gap he was going to be run out.

When he eventually retired hurt, he walked off in a shower of abuse from…you guessed it… Pollard. The bowler who had hit him in the stomach and who was skippering the Tridents. What Pollard actually said will remain on the field but it doesn’t take much guesswork to think it was along the lines of him missing one too man Weightwatchers’ meetings or that it’s not the done thing to make a seventh visit to the buffet table at a wedding. The sort of waistline-themed verbals that Inzamam could relate to.

Why was Pollard so incensed? Well, for the last few overs he was well aware that Cornwall simply couldn’t run and that was damaging their run chase. By retiring hurt he was allowing a fresh batsman who could run properly to come on and inject some momentum to the innings. In other words, Pollard thought he was knackered rather than hurt and that it wasn’t in the spirit of the game to use the ‘retired hurt’ rule.

Rahkeem Cornwall, a mild-mannered man best described as a ‘gentle giant’ was in no mood to respond to Pollard’s abuse. That could be because he knew he was in the wrong, he was too exhausted to rise to the provocation, is too nice a guy or most likely… because it’s not a good idea to get into a fight with Pollard, whoever you are.

Pollard’s Tridents won the game by 29 runs anyway.

 

What next for Rahkeem Cornwall?

 

A call up for the Windies’ next Test or indeed one of their limited-overs teams could be on the horizon but right now he’s got more pressing matters to deal with.

Cornwall is currently playing for the St Lucia Zouks in the Caribbean Premier League. He started off the season with a tidy spell of two overs for just 12runs and went on to open the batting, showing his brute power much like he did that night against Pollard and his mates two years ago. An innings of just 14 balls was with a hugely valuable 36 runs courtesy of seven fours and a six. It was the team’s top score but ultimately the chase didn’t materialize.

That shouldn’t be of any great surprise. After all, as explained here, the Guyana Amazon Warriors, their opponents on the night, are our top tip to win the CPL 2019.

 

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