Sheldon Cottrell is one of the smartest short-format bowlers going around at the moment, but when he started out, he was a mean left-arm tearaway, who harried batsmen with pace and bounce. Cottrell had bolted into West Indies' T20 World Cup squad in 2014 because of those skills. Playing for the now-defunct Antigua Hawksbills against Barbados Tridents in the 2013 CPL, Cottrell had bounced out Dwayne Smith, Jonathan Carter and Shakib Al Hasan, making the Caribbean cricket community sit up and take notice.
Injuries then interrupted his career and drained his pace, but Cottrell has now learned to make up for it with his guiles. It was on bright display in the ODI series opener against India at Chepauk on Sunday.
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The pitch had been relaid in Chennai, but it was still very sluggish. When Keemo Paul dug in a bouncer in the 16th over, Rohit Sharma was sitting on the back foot, waiting to switch on his pull playlist. However, the bouncer simply dawdled into Rohit's body off the pitch and he could only flap it away to the leg side.
Rohit - and India's top order - was caught by surprise, but Cottrell wasn't. He sussed out the conditions and the pitch so early that he bowled offcutters, legcutters and slower bouncers with the new ball.
In the T20I series opener in Hyderabad, Cottrell showed he could still crank up his speeds to the higher 135kph range. But it just wasn't needed on this Chepauk track.
After starting off with two successive maidens, Cottrell shortened his length and got one to cut away from KL Rahul. The in-form opener was cramped for room and beaten by the lack of pace, splicing a leading-edge to midwicket. Boom! Out came the trademark salute.
"I think he's been brilliant for the West Indies in both formats of white-ball cricket. He was brilliant with St Kitts [and Nevis Patriots], whom I was with three years ago. He knows his game, exactly what he can do" Phil Simmons on Sheldon Cottrell
Virat Kohli then got cracking with a drilled drive down the ground for four. Kieron Pollard moved his slip to short mid-off, daring Kohli to run the ball down to third man. However, Kohli didn't have enough room or pace to do that. Cottrell floated a 124.9kph cutter and had the India captain chopping on for 4 in the same over. The salute again.
After completing the double-wicket over, Cottrell was whisked away to the long-off boundary. And out came the salute again, this time from the Chennai crowd, along with chants of "Shellll-don Cottrell! Shellll-don Cottrell!" His first spell read: 5-3-12-2.
Rishabh Pant and Shreyas Iyer lifted India, but Cottrell came back and pinned the hosts down, again, with his cutters as well as yorkers. With the cutters, Cottrell has also created the illusion of swing and has made incisions with the ball going straight on, something that Zaheer Khan had mastered after injuries had cut down his pace.
The straight ball has accounted for three of his five wickets in the limited-overs series in India. And in the 2019 World Cup earlier this year in England and Wales, it had accounted for seven of his 12 wickets, with the other tricks in his bag setting up the breakthroughs.
"I think he's been brilliant for the West Indies in both formats of white-ball cricket," West Indies coach Phil Simmons said on the eve of the T20I series decider in Mumbai. "He was brilliant with St Kitts [and Nevis Patriots], whom I was with three years ago. He knows his game, exactly what he can do."
Eoin Morgan had said pretty much the same thing when England toured the Caribbean at the start of 2019. "[He poses] a different challenge - swinging the ball both ways, and he comes back with variations with the older ball." Cottrell even posted on his blog that he "really enjoyed" the praise from Morgan.
Mind you, Cottrell wasn't even supposed to be part of that ODI series against England. Paul was injured, as was Rovman Powell, so the West Indies selectors recalled the left-arm seamer.
Cottrell marked his return with 5 for 46 in Bridgetown, helping West Indies defend 289 against a power-packed England line-up. After that, Cottrell made a splash in the World Cup, emerging as West Indies' highest wicket-taker, with 12 wickets in nine games at an economy rate of 5.85.
Cottrell's international future was uncertain at the start of 2019, but he has turned it around, becoming the leader of the West Indies' white-ball pace pack. How about securing the ODI series against India and bagging a maiden IPL contract to close out a bumper year now?