Rahkeem Cornwall does not bowl mystery balls. He does not have an action that is automatically accompanied with a whirring sound in your head when you watch it. He does not bound into the crease, nor is he a bundle of energy. Rahkeem Cornwall does not look like a bowler, in fact. That is until you watch him bowl.
Yes, we will get to his imposing physique and presence in a bit, but once the cricket starts, that fades into irrelevance anyway. Because what you see is how the ball dangles as if telling gravity to hold off for a bit, and then plummets. You see how Cornwall manages to find a consistent area to land the ball in, which gives batsmen neither the freedom to extend hands or feet to drive, nor room to cut and flick with impunity. You see how he does it over after over, hour after hour.
All of Cornwall's skills as a bowler were on display on the first day of West Indies' one-off Test against Afghanistan in Lucknow. West Indies seemed to have given away the initiative, partly of their own making and partly due to the solidity of Afghanistan's top order. Jason Holder won the toss and became only the second visiting captain since Steve Waugh in February 2001 to choose to bowl first in India. The only other man who had done it since Waugh was Dinesh Chandimal on an unusually green Kolkata pitch in a rain-affected Test.
Holder's decision looked like it would haunt West Indies when Afghanistan were motoring at 84 for 1. However, they realised quickly that this wasn't a pitch on which they were going to blast Afghanistan out in a session, and adjusted their bowling plans accordingly. Holder bowled in miserly fashion, and Cornwall came on in the ninth over, finding immediate purchase.
He almost always had three men catching around the bat - slip, short leg and leg slip. The three formed a perfect suffocating collar for Cornwall's bowling. There was already sharp turn on offer, which meant short leg and leg slip were in play if the batsman didn't defend in line with the ball. Leg slip also worked to limit the back-and-across whip, and Cornwall in fact got his fourth wicket when debutant Nasir Jamal flicked the ball into Holder's hands.
Slip was in play through the day - not because of the number of outside edges Cornwall drew, but because he showed off a topspinner that went on straight, bringing to life the adage, "the most dangerous ball on a turning pitch is the one that goes on straight."
"Basically if the ball is spinning you just have to make sure you get your topspinner right and that's the one that goes on [straight]," Cornwall later said.
He had earlier told TV commentator Alistair Campbell that his game plan was to keep things simple. "It's all about being consistent and putting the ball in the right areas, and the result will come. My strength comes from my upper body. I try to stay as balanced as possible."
He ended with 7 for 75, the best figures by a West Indies spinner in the first innings since Jack Noreiga's 9 for 95 in Sunil Gavaskar's debut Test in 1971. Afghanistan were bowled out for 187, a total West Indies may have envisaged when sticking them in, but it came about in a way they may not have predicted.
Amir Hamza, the debutant who made Afghanistan's second highest score at No. 9, agreed with Cornwall's own assessment, though he added that the bowler's height gave him the advantage of additional bounce.
"He was putting the ball in good areas, and I think we also made some mistakes," Hamza said. "He was bowling the arm ball and the normal one, only these two. He has good height, which is why he got bounce and turn as well."
The strength in the upper body undoubtedly helped with Cornwall's long spell, his height naturally afforded extra bounce, lethally so to remove Asghar Afghan. But it was all possible only because of Cornwall's exemplary control and skill at giving the ball a gymnast's loop and hang-time, while disguising it enough that the one that went on straight wasn't picked.
Cornwall bowled 25.3 overs on the day, and the batsmen weren't in control of 35 balls, almost a quarter of his deliveries. But even when they were in control, they could score at only 2.94.
Another illustration of control: there were only 11 sweeps or reverse-sweeps played off Cornwall, only 10 balls were driven, and a mere two were cut. Cornwall just found a spot and kept the ball there. The natural assistance from the conditions and his own skill did the rest.
Cornwall bowled an uninterrupted spell of 21 overs either side of the lunch break, allying that skill and control with stamina.
We promised to speak about his size too, so here's a considered opinion on what it means for Cornwall to be how many ever stones heavy: it doesn't matter.