Rovman Powell was the only change in the West Indies XI today. But he made quite the impact at Kensington Oval with a sensational knock of 107 from 53 balls as West Indies beat England by 20 runs to take a 2-1 lead in the Betway T20 International (T20I) Series.
Powell is only the third West Indian cricketer to score a century after openers Chris Gayle and Evin Lewis, who each managed the feat twice. For which the obvious follow-up question might be: where did that come from?
The 28-year-old Jamaican has scored 50 or more just twice at this level and the last occasion was almost three years ago, when he had a career best 54 against India on 4 August 2019.
After being overlooked for the ICC 2021 T20 World Cup, Powell got a recall for last month’s tour to Pakistan—after a spate of withdrawals, snubbed or flunked fitness tests and Covid-19 cases—and returned scores of 23, 4 and 6 not out.
It was not enough for Powell to retain his spot for the first two T20Is against England on the weekend. But with captain Kieron Pollard hesitant to bowl allrounder Odean Smith or use him higher than eight in the batting order, a vacancy opened up.
Last night, Pollard told Powell that he was in the squad and would be used to split their left-handed pair of middle-order batsmen: Nicholas Pooran and Darren Bravo. He did that and then some.
In the end, Pollard did not have to call on Bravo at all.
“It’s a very proud moment,” said Powell. “For the last five or six months, I’ve been working hard—and when you work hard, it’s good to see payoff.”
In the other camp, England changed virtually half their team with captain Eoin Morgan injured, Sam Billings unwell, and Liam Dawson, Chris Jordan and Saqib Mahmood omitted. It meant T20I debuts for Harry Brook, George Garton and Phil Salt.
“When you have debutants, it’s huge,” said England stand-in captain Moeen Ali. “To get in this team, you have to be a good player.”
Suffice it to say the West Indies players were unwilling to take Ali’s word on that.
Twenty-four-year-old Garton, a left-arm pacer, might have thought that this international business is not too tricky after he bowled West Indies opener Brandon King with his fourth delivery in T20I cricket.
Pooran soon set the Sussex rookie right, though, as Garton’s next over went for 19 runs, the T&T batsman going to town on him with two sixes and three fours.
As Pooran streaked into the 30s, Shai Hope seemed to lose his momentum on the non-striker’s end and was caught by stand-in wicketkeeper Tom Banton off Liam Livingstone off the third ball of the sixth over for 5. But his dismissal was the necessary evil that brought Pooran and Powell together on the pitch.
And that’s when things really exploded.
Powell hit the second ball he faced, delivered by Livingstone, for six at deep square-leg. But it would be unfair to categorise the partnership or his innings as a ‘slugfest’ because he and Pooran ran well between the wickets, keeping the scoreboard ticking with the odd boundary—all the way up to the 14th over.
Then they reached for the belt, as Livingstone went for 26 runs with two sixes and a four from Powell and a four from Pooran. Tymal Mills was next, and he too was spanked for 16 runs with a six and four from Pooran and a four from Powell.
Pooran had already departed (70 off 43 balls in a 122-run fourth-wicket partnership) by the time Ali handed Garton the ball again. But Powell had not forgotten his fish. The Jamaican hit two 6s and one four to move to 97, with Garton again conceding 19 runs.
Powell’s century finally came in the 19th over against Reece Topley, who did have the consolation of claiming his wicket with his last ball. Powell’s 107 runs came off 53 deliveries with four fours and an astonishing ten sixes.
West Indies ended with 224 for 5 at a run rate of 11.2 per over. That would take some beating.
“Powell vindicated his selection,” said a beaming Pollard, who had been criticised for his sparing use of the man Powell replaced, Smith.
It was not the only thing that the West Indies skipper got right either. Now short of a bowler, Pollard twice took the ball into his own hands to take the key scalps of Tom Banton (79 off 39, 3 x 4, 6 x 6) and Ali for a duck.
Banton was especially fierce on Romario Shepherd as England milked 17 runs off West Indies’ 12th over, with Banton clobbering successive sixes off the pacer. But England debutant Phil Salt still threatened an unrequested rewrite of the evening’s script, with a quickfire 57 (24 balls, 3 x 4, 5 x 6).
Shepherd had the last word, though, as he bowled Salt with the third ball of the final over of the match after the 25-year-old Lancashire man sent West Indian blood pressure soaring with two successive sixes.
Four more maximums would have seen England better Akeal Hosein’s effort on Sunday. But today belonged to the West Indies and, especially, Powell.
England did not travel to the Caribbean with their best team and only a masochist would suggest that replacing Garton was an upgrade on Jordan rather than the second-best ODI nation in the world trying to widen its player pool.
All West Indies can do, though, is beat whoever appears in front of them and so far there has certainly been no shortage of entertainment as they have done so.
Bring on Game Four.
West Indies: 224 for 5 (20 overs) (Rovman Powell 107, Nicholas Pooran 70; Adil Rashid 1/25, Reece Topley 1/30)
England: 204 for 9 (20 overs) (Tom Banton 73, Phil Salt 57; Romario Shepherd 3/59, Kieron Pollard 2/31)
Man of the Match: Rovman Powell
Result: West Indies win by 20 runs
West Indies lead the five-match series 2-1