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Powell shows his destructive hitting abilities yet again

"I tried to carry it over, but it won't go down as a special innings because we didn't win," he says

Shashank Kishore
Shashank Kishore
Rovman Powell nearly saw West Indies through  •  BCCI

Rovman Powell nearly saw West Indies through  •  BCCI

Three weeks ago, Rovman Powell found himself amid pickle he had nothing to do with. There were whispers of favouritism when the team management played him ahead of Odean Smith during the third T20I against England. As the whispers got louder, Phil Simmons, the West Indies coach, and Ricky Skeritt, the CWI president, had to step in and issue statements.
Smith had played the first two T20Is of the five-match series. He bowled one over in the first T20I and was not called on to bowl in the second. While batting, he wasn't needed in the first T20I in a nine-wicket win and made 7 in the second T20I. In the third, West Indies strengthened their batting by replacing Smith with Powell, who went on to smash 107 off 53 balls in a high-scoring win.
The win brought to the fore Powell's destructive hitting abilities, yet again. Powell has been around in international cricket for five years, and while such instances have become quite common in the CPL, he hasn't been able to replicate it at the highest level consistently. On Wednesday against India, Powell's clean ball-striking on the face of a high asking rate, and his clear thinking in lining up bowlers brought West Indies within two blows of victory.
With 23 needed off four balls, he launched two towering sixes to keep West Indies alive. From behind the stumps, Rishabh Pant, who will captain Powell at Delhi Capitals in the IPL, watched in awe. The second of those was a 102-metre straight hit. Powell was distraught when he couldn't connect the third off a dipping slower one. He finished 68 not out off 36 balls in the end. That West Indies came as close was because of his century stand with Nicholas Pooran.
"He (Powell) was phenomenal today, eh? I thought the partnership between him and Pooran almost got us over the line," captain Kieron Pollard said later. "Sometimes that is what is absent from the guys: trying to bat and bat deep as possible. I'm pleased, pleased not with the result but with the guys, how they continued their consistency. Nicholas getting another half-century, Powell - two half-centuries in four games. So we're a work in progress."
West Indies began slowly, managing just four fours in a powerplay score of 41 for 1. And when they finished, despite Powell's blistering knock, there was a sense that they had left themselves with a little too much to do in the end, without being able to properly utilise Pollard, Smith, Roston Chase and Romario Shepherd's batting abilities.
"We could look at different ways at how we could've got the eight runs, but when you look at it, they have quality opening bowlers," Pollard reasoned when asked about the slow start. "The ball is zipping around both sides. Even when we bowled, the ball was moving around. Sometimes you have to respect the bowlers where respect is due, and then try and take it from there. Forty-odd in the powerplay, nine wickets in the hunt, you try to go quicker in the middle. But we can look at many different ways how we could've got eight runs."
Powell, a man of few words, spoke of the disappointment of not carrying his team over the line. He touched upon the slow start, but backed himself to play his shots, both against pace and spin. Powell's clean striking comes from having a stable base. No premeditation, no attempts to be cheeky. He sees the ball and swings it to the T. Like a golfer. He prefers hitting straight. This is a reason why at one stage Rohit Sharma had positioned long-off straighter. Yet, the sheer muscle in a flat-batted hit beat Venkatesh Iyer there.
Powell knows he is unconventional but doesn't back down from his methods that have brought him much success. So what if they didn't have Andre Russell? Powell brought out similar strokes and intimidated the bowlers. At one point, India's spinners were involved in a huge debate over field placements. As the final overs approached, India needed to speed up their over rate or run the risk of having just four fielders outside the ring to defend. Powell wasn't thinking of any of this. He was thinking only sixes, like he showed in the final over against Harshal Patel. The disappointment of not finishing the job, he said, hurt.
"I think it was a pretty decent innings, I did the hard yards in the early parts to get myself in," Powell said. I tried to carry it over, but it won't go down as a special innings because we didn't win, it was important for us to be 1-1 going into Sunday. "The discussion between me and Pooran was very simple. We have to try our best to carry on till the end, we needed a partnership. We didn't have plans to target any specific bowlers. All of them are good bowlers. We just had to back ourselves to take down any bowler. It's unfortunate we couldn't cross the line tonight."

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo