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Match Analysis

Resilient Powell serves up lethal T20 cocktail to leave England feeling punch-drunk

Powell has struggled against wristspin in the past, but he overcame that during a "breakthrough international performance"

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
"I hit it very good today," Rovman Powell grinned, after becoming only the third man to hit a T20 international hundred for West Indies with a stunning 51-ball effort at Kensington Oval. "Everything came out in the middle."
International cricket has not been easy for Powell. This was his 60th innings for West Indies across both white-ball formats and only the sixth time he had gone past 50. With his batting averages hovering around the mid-20s and his strike rates hardly catching the eye, his role in their side was unclear. There was no great outcry when he was left out of the side for the first two T20Is against England, and he has not played an ODI for a year.
But Powell has spent his life thriving in spite of adversity. He has never met his father, who encouraged his mother Joan to get an abortion then left her to her own devices when she refused; she raised him and his sister in a run-down, two-room house in Bannister District near Old Harbour in Jamaica.
"Adjectives are inadequate in describing my mother," he told the Caribbean Premier League's 'Life Stories' series in 2020. "Whenever I'm down, whenever I'm faced with tough challenges, I just decide that 'listen, I'm not doing it for myself… I'm doing it for her, I'm doing it for my sister. I'm doing it for the ones I love, just so they can live a better life than I lived when I was a child."
In the same series, his mother recalls him coming home from primary school with his bat tucked under his arm and insisting he didn't need to eat that night so that his family could instead. "He told me, 'mum, I am going to take you out of poverty with cricket,'" she recalled.
Powell's life changed in 2016 when he was a surprise $40,000 pick by Jamaica Tallawahs in the CPL draft, with the franchise taking a punt on a player they thought could emulate his friend and mentor Andre Russell. Before long, he had built his mother a new house, made his international debut and spent a season at the IPL with Kolkata Knight Riders, albeit without making it onto the pitch.
In the years since, Powell has been a perennial fringe player in West Indies' T20I side without nailing down a place. He has shown occasional glimpses of his talent but has often found himself facing spin - and wristspin in particular - early on in his innings, a well-known weakness that teams have ruthlessly exploited. He played one of West Indies' 17 home T20Is in 2021, bowled by the left-arm wristspinner Lakshan Sandakan for 7 against Sri Lanka in his only innings, and was never in realistic contention for last year's World Cup squad after two poor CPL seasons.
It was in keeping with his strange international career that, having scored his maiden international hundred against Ireland in the qualifiers for the 2019 World Cup, Powell was omitted from West Indies' squad for the tournament itself. He had captained them in an ODI series against Bangladesh six months before, but his struggles against spin meant he was left out of the tournament itself.
"I know that I can strike the ball good, but I also have a little bit of a wristspin problem," Powell conceded after his hundred on Wednesday night. "Every time I start my innings they come and bowl wristspin. I went away and for the last six, seven months I've just been working on wristspin and trying to open up the offside."
It was no surprise that England followed suit on Wednesday night. Powell came in during the final over of the powerplay - promoted to No. 4 to break up the left-handers in their middle order - with Liam Livingstone bowling his all-sorts spin, and slog-swept his second ball for six. Adil Rashid immediately came into the attack, but Powell and Nicholas Pooran were happy to sit in.
"We know Rashid is the most threatening of all the bowlers," Powell explained, "so all we did is say we can get 24-30 off him - that's good, just to limit his wicket count, and then we'll chance our arm against the other bowlers, the other 16 overs. We wanted a left-hander and a right-hander and both batters communicate and share the workload."
"For me as a boy, I was a boy who dreamed to play for the West Indies. It's just unfortunate that I'm in and out."
Rovman Powell
Things went to plan. Powell scored 11 off 11 balls against Rashid without hitting a boundary in his spell of 1 for 25 but crunched 96 off 42 against the rest of a half-strength England attack; he was particularly brutal on Livingstone, whom he hit for 30 off 11 balls including four sixes.
He rotated strike cleverly with Pooran in a stand of 122 off 67, targeting the short boundary but some of his sixes - one was measured at 108 metres, another at 106 - would have cleared any in the world. When he flicked Reece Topley to square leg to bring up his hundred, he punched the air with his bat, looked to the sky, kissed the badge on his helmet and sank to his knees.
It was an innings that contained the best of West Indian T20 cricket: sharp-thinking, strategy and planning combined with skill, flair and raw power to create a lethal cocktail - one which left England's bowlers feeling punch-drunk.
Powell has worked hard on his game against spin, starting at the Abu Dhabi T10 in November where he finished the tournament as the fifth-highest run-scorer, moving into a walk-on role in the Lanka Premier League and then in domestic cricket for Jamaica; Ireland's backroom staff were surprised that he was not involved in the first two matches of this series after seeing how cleanly he struck the ball in an innings of 82 not out off 63 balls in a 50-over warm-up against them.
"[It was just about] doing some research," Powell explained. "All great players of spin do three things: either they advance down the wicket, they sweep, or they use the crease very well. I decided over the last few months that I would incorporate two of them into my game: I would start to sweep a little more and I would advance down the wicket a little bit more. I think that showed tonight.
"I hope it's a breakthrough international performance," he added. "When I was walking out to bat, I was confident because for the last five or so months I've been working hard, I've been stroking the ball good. I think I'm in very, very good form. I told the guys I'm sure that I'm hitting the ball one of the best in the world at the moment.
"For me as a boy, I was a boy who dreamed to play for the West Indies. It's just unfortunate that I'm in and out and that we haven't had a lot of victories. The guys are working hard in trying to change everything. That's the biggest motivation, just to put on the maroon and play for the West Indies."
If he can come close to repeating his performance on Wednesday night, he will do so increasingly often.

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98