After years of toil in the West Indies domestic circuit, plenty of age-group cricket and several ‘A’ tours later, Rahkeem Cornwall has finally got a chance to grace the international arena.
Cornwall received his Test cap from former West Indies Pacer Corey Collymore as he was included in the starting eleven for the second Test against India.
Here’s all you need to know about the newest entrant into West Indies' Test team.
Cornwall is an Antiguan cricketer who has played for the Leeward Islands, having made his First-Class (FC) debut in Regional 4 Day Tournament against Jamaica in December 2014.
He had already made his debut in T20 Cricket (2011) and List A career (2013).
Cornwall is primarily an off-break bowler and possesses hard-hitting ability with the bat. He usually bats lower down the order.
He has been one of the most consistent wicket-takers in the Regional 4 Day Tournament. Since the introduction of double round-robin format in the Caribbean domestic set up in 2014, Cornwall has been one of the tournament's most consistent performers with the ball claiming 197 of his 260 FC wickets.
On three occasions, he has been among the top three bowlers in an edition, including the latest 2018-19 season, which saw him finish atop of the wicket-taking charts, having scalped 54 wickets in nine matches with an average of 17.68.
Fitness issues halt entry into the senior team
Despite the abundance of talent and consistent showings in regional cricket, Rahkeem's fitness stagnated his progress to the senior national team. In 2017, former West Indies chairman of selectors Courtney Browne had said the board had set up a programme to get the big-hitter in shape for international cricket.
“We’re actually putting a programme in place for Rahkeem where we are actually going to have someone to manage him overall. We are looking at the various components of him playing cricket where we are looking at coaches, dietitians, and just getting everybody to come together to help this young player because he’s a special talent,” Browne reportedly told local radio.
— Windies Cricket (@windiescricket) April 20, 2018
Cornwall was recently seen working on his overall fitness in a special programme overseen by Trinidadian trainer Ronald Rogers.
Cornwall’s strength as an off-spinner is his ability to generate sharp turn and purchase extra bounce.
“A lot of people underestimate me because of my size. I fool a lot of people — especially bowling from my height and getting a lot of spin. So losing weight would probably help my health more than anything else. But I’m fine as I am now,” he had told Antigua Observer in an interview last year.
Maiden call-up into the Test team
Eventually, the 26-year-old was named in West Indies’ 13-man squad for the two-match Test series against India starting 22 August.
Interim chairman of selectors Robert Haynes, who took over from Browne last April in a shake-up of the selection panel, said Cornwall's record was difficult to ignore.
“Rahkeem has been performing consistently over a long period of time and has proven to be a match-winner, so we believe his elevation to the Test squad is merited at this time,” Haynes said in a release.
“We believe he can provide an attacking option to our bowling attack with his sharp turn and extra bounce. He can also lend a bit of depth to the batting, so we are looking forward to him coming into the squad and making a valuable contribution.”
Cornwall has 260 wickets at 23.90 to his credit in FC cricket along with 2,224 runs lower down the order averaging 24.43 runs from 55 matches.
Notable performances with the ‘A’ team
Representing the West Indies Cricket Board President's XI against the touring Indian side in 2016, Cornwall top-scored in his team's first innings with 41, before grabbing a five-wicket haul while bowling with some good names like Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane in his wickets list.
Following these heroics, he was picked for West Indies A's tour of Sri Lanka, where Cornwall snatched 23 wickets at 19 apiece and was similarly outstanding with 14 wickets when Sri Lanka 'A' toured in 2017.
Cornwall was also at his best last year when West Indies ‘A’ thumped a strong England Lions side 3-0 at home. Cornwall played a starring role, bagging 19 wickets at an average of 18.42 as the hosts stunned the England Lions in a four-day Test series in the region.
In the recent series against the touring India A, Batting in the lower middle order, he scored a total of 123 runs to go with the four wickets in the two unofficial Tests including two half-centuries.
In the absence of Kieran Powell, Cornwall had the opportunity to lead the Leeward Islands in the domestic competition in the previous edition.
'Lara's 400 was early inspiration'
Growing up, Jacques Kallis was Cornwall’s cricketing idol while Brain Lara’s record innings of 400 not out formed his fondest memory.
“My cricket hero is definitely Jacques Kallis. The way he carried himself as an all-rounder on and off the field, I’ve tried to visualise and work to match certain things I saw Kallis to do my game.”
“The Test match I remember most watching was Brian Lara’s 400 in Antigua 2004. It was an early inspiration for sure to become a professional cricketer and to play for the West Indies,” Cornwall told Cricket West Indies website.
Cornwall was named the Championship Player of the Year on 19 August at the West Indies Players' Association/Cricket West Indies annual awards night.
It's a special moment for Cornwall and a reward for the hard yards he's put in all these years.