Sorry windows, here's Rovman: Powell points to some damage he inflicted during his first ODI hundred
Sorry windows, here's Rovman: Powell points to some damage he inflicted during his first ODI hundred
The story of a young boy who saw in the game a way to give his family a better life and pinned all his hopes on it
Rovman Powell might have excelled at track and field. He could have done well at studies. Or he might have joined the military - after all, he is certain he wants to be a soldier in his next life.
But thanks to what he calls his "natural power-hitting talent" and a crucial push from his PE teacher in school, he took up cricket and has made a more than handy fist of it.
Powell had a natural inclination towards sport since he was a child, when he spent nights watching and talking about West Indies cricket with his grandfather and great-grandfather, who played a big role in him gravitating towards cricket. Brian Lara was the face of West Indies cricket back then. "He was everything people talked about," Powell says. "I watched a lot of Brian Lara."
When in primary school, he identified sport and education as the two things he might use to take his family out of poverty. He had had enough of watching his mother work tirelessly to put food on the table for his younger sister and him. Their two-room house in the Bannister area of Old Harbour, about 25km south-west of Kingston in Jamaica, had a metal roof that required repairs all the time to keep the rain out. (In a CPL documentary released earlier this year, Powell spoke about how he would keep watch on rainy nights, while his mother and sister slept, to make sure the water didn't reach them.) He remembers his mother tried to build a better house but had to abandon the project for lack of money.
Powell promised her he would lift the family out of their hardship. "When I started playing professional cricket, I made that my job," he says. "First thing I did was get her a nice house." A few years on, he also bought her a car - a Hyundai Tucson. "She can drive around, go to the grocery store peacefully and come back," he says. Now well clear of the poverty that dogged his youth, he recently posted a picture of himself with his new Mercedes on Instagram: "Some of us are forced to create our own wealth, so bear with us if we celebrate the little things we achieve," he wrote in the caption.
Going airborne in this year's IPL. Powell made three thirties, a 43 and a 67 for Delhi Capitals, two of those innings unbeaten
Going airborne in this year's IPL. Powell made three thirties, a 43 and a 67 for Delhi Capitals, two of those innings unbeaten © PTI
Powell grew up taking care of his sister when his mother was out working. "I had to ensure that she goes to school and gets back home safely, that she eats, gets her homework done. You know, mum is out and I'm the oldest one. I would generally make sure things were in order before mum gets home." He is not sparing with praise for his mother, and his eyes light up when he talks about her. His father asked Powell's mother to get an abortion when she was pregnant with the boy, and then chose to leave.
Deciding to try to make a go of it at cricket was not easy. The sport was expensive and his family could ill afford the cost. "When she [my mother] bought me a bat or shoes, I had to take very good care of it and ensure it lasts for the longest possible time."
He told himself if it did not work out with the game, he would go back to his education. He had used a sports scholarship to study geography and social studies at the University of West Indies. "Growing up, people told me sports is a gamble, you should not put everything into it," he says. "After I laid a platform [in cricket], I put education just on a little break. I put the majority of my effort into cricket, and fortunately for me, that did work."
His childhood was not the typical one you might think of when you paint a picture of an upbringing in Jamaica, notorious for its crime and violence. Powell's West Indies team-mate Oshane Thomas has spoken about his brother being killed in a shooting, and being the victim of a hold-up himself. No such horrors for Powell, who grew up in one of the more peaceful neighbourhoods on the island, one where most people knew each other. "Sometimes people think Jamaicans experience a certain level of violence. That wasn't me. I always had persons around me - from teachers to family friends to family. They all guided me in the right direction." He says the community pushed him to achieve his dreams, and also to take his schooling seriously.
"Brian Lara and Chris Gayle and those guys, they worked hard and they got their respect. You get respect by winning games, by beating other teams"
Randy Brooks / © AFP/Getty Images
"Brian Lara and Chris Gayle and those guys, they worked hard and they got their respect. You get respect by winning games, by beating other teams" Randy Brooks / © AFP/Getty Images
Jamaica is also renowned for producing outstanding track-and-field athletes. Having trained as a runner for years, Powell seemed potentially destined to be one from that formidable production line. Then his PE teacher Carlton Solan, who was also his running coach, gave him some advice that would change the course of his life.
"He saw me play cricket - he watched me over a period of time," Powell says. "One time I turned up for track and field training and he said, 'May this be the last time you come for track and field training.' I had a shock. He said to me, "You can play cricket so good, track and field is not your calling.' He told me that if I ever come back to track and field, he would beat me!
"If you have your energy in two different places, you don't get to focus on one thing the way you want to focus on it," he says. "So maybe it was a blessing in disguise."
Among the various others who had a role in him taking up cricket was a family friend, Vincent Russell, who played at the Old Harbour Cricket Club. He gave Powell his first bat, and also his first taste of club cricket, roping the youngster in when the team needed an Under-18 player for a local competition. His encouragement was among the driving forces that kept Powell's passion going, he says, and Russell is still one of the people he loves talking cricket with.
Another Russell, much better known, was also an influence. Powell knew Andre Russell from the time they played schools cricket - Powell for Old Harbour High School and Russell for Clarendon College. Later they both played for Old Harbour CC. Powell realised that Russell's story was like his own.
The 107 against England earlier this year came off 53 balls. Powell also took two catches in the game, bagging the Player-of-the-Match award
Randy Brooks / © AFP/Getty Images
The 107 against England earlier this year came off 53 balls. Powell also took two catches in the game, bagging the Player-of-the-Match award Randy Brooks / © AFP/Getty Images
"Similarities do draw people closer," he says. "Andre Russell became a pivotal person [for me], in the sense that I saw some of the hard work he did and where he started from. When he achieved so much at that time, it gave me confidence to know that he basically started with nothing, just like myself, and he has done so well for himself."
Russell passed on tips in the gym and gave Powell a few important lessons on improving his power-hitting game. "On how to position, you need a solid base to hit those sixes," Powell says. "He tells me, 'You don't swing your head around - show that your head is at a steady spot when you're going to hit the ball.'"
In the CPL documentary Russell speaks of how, in 2015, a year before Powell got his CPL contract with Jamaica Tallawahs, Powell told him that he was his idol. "Russ, the things you do, I want to do that or even try to go close," Powell said. And Russell replied: "You have what it takes to go past what I have achieved."
January 26, 2022 was a turning point for Powell. That day, England's bowlers watched him clatter the ball around the ground as he brought up his T20 best of 107. It was a defining innings; he did not regularly make the West Indies XI prior to it, but since then has been part of all 19 matches they have played.
Powell's big break came when he was 23. In April 2016, he was snapped up by Tallawahs for US$40,000 after being identified as an emerging talent on the back of his big hitting in the middle order for Combined Campuses in the regional Super 50 tournament, where he averaged 47 in his five innings. "Powell is a very aggressive, strong and hungry player that is waiting to show and prove his talents to the world," Ron Parikh, a Tallawahs owner, said at the time. "He reminds us of a younger Andre Russell and can be very destructive in key situations."
Powell trains with a little help from Sunil Ambris
Munir Uz Zaman / © AFP/Getty Images
Powell trains with a little help from Sunil Ambris Munir Uz Zaman / © AFP/Getty Images
In the 2016 CPL, when he played all 13 games for the side, who won the title, Powell's power-hitting was on display for a larger audience.
Another good Super50 season followed (356 runs in ten games, averaging 44), where his ruthlessness with the bat was on display, this time for Jamaica, particularly in the semi-final and final, in which two games he hauled in 160 runs and seven wickets.
Around this time he also caught the eye of IPL scouts, landing a Rs 30 lakh ($42,000) deal with Kolkata Knight Riders and becoming one of only two uncapped overseas players picked up at that year's auction.
About a month after that, he made his international debut, against Pakistan in the UAE. He made the XI in T20Is against Afghanistan and India in June and July that year, though he didn't get to bat in three of four games.
His contributions in the CPL season that followed weren't significant. While he took on the fast bowlers with a certain amount of confidence, he evidently struggled against spin, especially wristspin, and teams seemed to know how to set him up.
In action against India in Fort Lauderhill earlier this year. Powell sought out opportunities to play in Asia after he realised playing spin was a weakness he needed to work on
Randy Brooks / © AFP/Getty Images
In action against India in Fort Lauderhill earlier this year. Powell sought out opportunities to play in Asia after he realised playing spin was a weakness he needed to work on Randy Brooks / © AFP/Getty Images
"I was just seeing a young man who is very raw," former West Indies fast bowler turned commentator Ian Bishop says. "Not knowing him at all, but I could see he was very powerful and a good athlete. I was seeing his potential but also seeing his struggles as a batsman technically.
"When he started playing CPL in 2016 and in international, as commentators we would have our little discussions and one of the things we'd say is, 'Rovman's coming - wristspin, whoever you've got, mystery spin, Sunil Narine, throw it at him', and often, like clockwork, it would hamper him or dismiss him."
From 2018 to 2021, 15 of the 21 T20Is Powell played were against teams from the subcontinent, which further exposed his deficiencies against spin. During the ODI series in 2018 in India, his struggles against spin were laid bare: he managed just 65 runs in five ODIs and one T20I.
The inconsistency and technical struggles meant Powell soon found himself on the fringes of the West Indies team. There was the odd good innings but no extended solid patch of form. In the first 11 months of 2021, he played just one T20I, and he did not find a place in the T20 World Cup squad that year.
During his time away from the national team, he found ways to improve his game, and looked to play in Asia more. He signed up for the PSL in 2021, and for the Abu Dhabi T10, where he finished fifth on the run-scorers' chart. He then headed to the Lanka Premier League, where he turned out for Kandy Warriors and scored a Rovman Powell-esque 19-ball 61 in a match against eventual champions Jaffna Kings. Around the same time, Kieron Pollard, the West Indies captain then, was ruled out of the Pakistan tour due to injury, and Powell was recalled into the T20I squad - though he didn't exactly impress again, with 33 runs from three innings.
This is for Jamaica: Powell after Tallawahs won the CPL title this year
Ashley Allen / © CPL T20/Getty Images
This is for Jamaica: Powell after Tallawahs won the CPL title this year Ashley Allen / © CPL T20/Getty Images
Cue the hundred against England, where Powell made the XI after having sat out of the first two T20Is.
"I was saying that any time I get my opportunity, I would try my best to take it with both hands and try to cement my spot in the team", he says. "Because the last few years I had been in and out. I got the chance to bat at four in that game. I was feeling good about myself in training. I started my innings and it went very well."
His stocks high going into the IPL 2022 auction, Powell landed a Rs 2.8 crore ($364,000) deal with Delhi Capitals. He did decently well in the tournament, with 250 runs in 12 innings at a strike rate of 150.
At that point, Bishop saw clear progress in Powell's ability to handle spin, and in how comfortable he was bringing out the sweep against the spinners, some of them the biggest names around. "I noticed [the improvement in facing spin] this year," Bishop says, "and it came to fruition during his hundred against England. It was the icing on the cake. It was proof that he's reached a certain level in his game."
Powell's troubles against slow bowling are not quite behind him, and his numbers against spin don't look drastically different than from five years ago, but he does see an improvement, he says. It's work in progress and it has involved not just training in the nets but a lot of talking about his game, thinking it through, and opening himself to learning. Among the conversations he has had are some with his cricket heroes: Brian Lara asked him to trust his technique; Ricky Ponting, who is his coach at Capitals, said all Powell had to do was to use his crease better.
With Ian Bishop (first from right) at a CPL toss earlier this year. Bishop has spoken of how Powell's on-field persona and deportment have marked him out as a leader
© CPL T20/ Getty Images
With Ian Bishop (first from right) at a CPL toss earlier this year. Bishop has spoken of how Powell's on-field persona and deportment have marked him out as a leader © CPL T20/ Getty Images
Among those he has worked with on brass tacks are Robert Samuels, the former West Indies player and brother of Marlon, who has been his personal batting coach since Powell was young. Samuels is the first person he goes to when he needs to fix an issue with his game. He also spent time with Floyd Reifer in Barbados, at the Academy of Sport.
One of the very first things Bishop says about Powell is that he is a "no-nonsense guy", not one to skirt tough conversations off the field, willing to call out senior players if he thinks they're not pulling their weight.
Powell smiles as he acknowledges the description. "In the dressing room when guys make mistakes and, like, it's a continuous part of making mistakes over and over, then there has to be someone in the team who has to bring it to the forefront and say, 'Listen, you making this mistake too much times now.' Sometimes in the team I'm that guy that will be handling those kinds of issues. That's where the no-nonsense aspect comes in."
For Bishop, it's Powell's on-field persona that makes him a good leader - the way he manages his players, or how he speaks about himself or his team at the toss or in post-match presentations. "Watching him on the field, the hand signals, they're not ostentatious," he says. "You can see the field and you can see who the leader is, and that's what leadership is partly about too. He seems to put himself in the field where there's high-traffic areas, where there's going to be more activity."
The once-feared West Indies T20 side have gone off the boil in the last few years. Defending champions in 2021, they endured a horrific World Cup. A number of senior players, Russell among them, are out of the side. Narine recently said there was a lot of "behind-the-scenes stuff" affecting West Indies cricket. Financial worries are ever-present; due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Cricket West Indies was forced to cut salaries and funding temporarily in 2022.
Reach for the sky: during his first ODI hundred, against Ireland in Harare in March 2018
© Getty Images
Reach for the sky: during his first ODI hundred, against Ireland in Harare in March 2018 © Getty Images
Powell, who was named vice-captain of West Indies in June this year, is clear about what the priorities should be. He wants to work with captain Nicholas Pooran to bring out the best of the young crop of West Indies cricketers. "We have to mix that aggression with a little bit of smarts, he says. "As a team, the guys are in a good place. It's time for us to start putting together the final pieces of a large puzzle.
"We just want respect. Brian Lara and Chris Gayle and those guys, they worked hard for that and they got their respect. You get respect by winning games, by beating other teams.
"We also want to bring some sponsors and fans to West Indies cricket. It's been difficult to get sponsors because we didn't win a lot of games in the past few years. Fans have become annoyed at the performances of the team. In the next five years, it is [down to] how we train our best as a group of players and bring back fans to the stadium when we're playing in the Caribbean."
Bishop believes Powell with his strength of vision can be instrumental in inspiring the next generation of West Indies cricket talent. "I want people to know we have people out there with morals, because a lot of people look at West Indians and West Indies cricketers and stereotype them," he says. "I think Rovman is slowly breaking that mould and I'm immensely proud that we in the region have a young man like that."
A young man from Old Harbour who dared to dream that he would take his family out of poverty, and now dreams about playing a part in West Indies earning back some of the love and respect they let go over the years.
Sruthi Ravindranath is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.