'Trust your skills and go for what you believe in' - Cornwall emerges as the perfect powerplayer

His powerplay strike rate of 148.31 is the highest among all batters (min 25 innings) in the CPL, and he looks good for more

Deivarayan Muthu
An ideal T20 opening batter is one who dashes out of the blocks, takes risks selflessly, and doesn't mind losing his wicket in the process. Rahkeem Cornwall is the perfect fit for this role. His powerplay strike rate of 148.31 is the highest among all batters who have batted in a minimum of 25 innings in the CPL; Faf du Plessis, Sunil Narine, Brendon McCullum and Evin Lewis round off the top five in this list.
That Cornwall is in such an elite company despite no exposure to the other big T20 leagues makes his record even more remarkable. Batting in T20 cricket has become increasingly specialised, but Cornwall's approach is a simple one: "I think I just stick to my game plan and once the ball is in my area, I tend to make sure I capitalise and put it away," Cornwall told ESPNcricinfo ahead of the CPL 2022 final.
In the first qualifier against Guyana Amazon Warriors on a Providence pitch that wasn't too conducive to run-scoring, Cornwall cracked 11 sixes during his 54-ball 91. Only Andre Russell has hit more sixes in a CPL innings. Cornwall is particularly strong down the ground but his stable base, still head and strong forearms allow him to even tug balls from well outside off into the leg side. He revealed that he doesn't spend much time on range-hitting, attributing his six-hitting to his natural skills.
"Not really - I haven't done any range-hitting and I think that [six-hitting] is natural," Cornwall said. "I think I'm strong enough down the ground or any area - [I'm] a 360[-degree] player. So, I just have to focus on shot selection and wait till the ball is in my area to put it away."
T20 is a fickle, chaotic game, but Cornwall has learnt to embrace failures and stay true to his role of maximising the powerplay.
"As a player, once you back yourself, failure is going to come and there's no doubt at it. It's just how you bounce back from that failure," Cornwall said. "Yes, I may hit 11 sixes one day, but on another day, I may get holed out off the first one. So you have to just back yourself as a player and trust your skills and go for what you believe in."
Cornwall had suffered an ankle injury midway through CPL 2022, but he hasn't let that disrupt his rhythm - with bat and ball. Cornwall was actually underutilised with the ball at St Lucia Kings last season - he bowled all of two overs in CPL 2021 - but at Barbados Royals, he seized his opportunity, enjoying his most productive season with seven wickets at an economy rate of 5.53.
Royals are quite big on pairing up a thrifty fingerspinner with a more aggressive wristspinner. At the IPL now, they have R Ashwin with Yuzvendra Chahal. At the SA20, Bjorn Fortuin will work with Tabraiz Shamsi. At this CPL, Cornwall complemented Mujeeb Ur Rahman (a mystery fingerspinner) and Hayden Walsh (a legspinner).
"The communication has been very good [with the wristspinners]," Cornwall said. "Me and Hayden grew up [together] from childhood and we always share information between us on how the pitch is playing, what sort of length you need to bowl. And [I am] just getting to know Mujeeb. The conversations are going good with him too, and just trying to pick his brain to see what I can take from his game into my game."
Cornwall's confidence is so high this season that he finally decided to flick out his carrom ball - a variation he has been working for a while - in the first qualifier against Guyana Amazon Warriors. The ball veered away from Romario Shepherd, who could only skew a catch to cover. Having done his job with both ball and bat this season, Cornwall believes that he is close to unlocking his full potential as an allrounder.
"I've been working on it [carrom ball] for a long period of time at the nets but didn't really have the confidence [earlier] to bowl in the match itself," Cornwall said. "I gave it a try this time around and it worked out well for me.
"Yeah, this year I've really shown what I can do with the ball and over the years I've been performing with the bat. So, I'm happy that my bowling is coming along this year and getting the opportunity to bowl. I grabbed it with both hands."
At 6'5" and 140kg, Cornwall is among the heaviest cricketers ever and that has often distracted people. Jason Holder was one among those people, but having now seen Cornwall from close quarters at Royals, he believes that Cornwall has the tools to succeed in international cricket.
"I look at somebody like Jimbo [Cornwall] and despite his size - yes, he has got his restrictions - I think there is a role for him in international cricket," Holder said. "I was probably one of those persons who were probably blindsided by his size and probably his mobility. But seeing year on year, what he does and seeing how dynamic this version of the game [T20 cricket] has become and how specific you got to be in terms of particular points of the game, I strongly believe that Jimbo can play international cricket at this level.
"People underrate his bowling and to me he has shone leaps and bounds over lot of different legspinners and lot of other spinners in the competition. And his power at the beginning of the innings speaks volumes. So, he is one I think I would love to see at the international level."
Cornwall has never played a white-ball international, but if he keeps firing like this, West Indies - and bigger T20 leagues - should come calling for him.

Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo