His accuracy, calm head and ability to bowl long makes the offspinning allrounder invaluable to the side
When the moment came, the ball that took the outside edge of Mehidy Hasan Miraz‘s bat had only one destination. Rahkeem Cornwall pouched it at slip, having dived to his right, and remained on his haunches. It was Brett Lee/Andrew Flintoff in reverse. Mehidy the batsman stood quietly, the fielder who took the catch luxuriated on the ground.
The West Indies players, led by a storming Jomel Warrican, headed towards deep third-man to celebrate. The one or two who remained near the pitch jumped on top of Cornwall in joy.
It was the release of a lot of pent-up nerves from the last 30 minutes of play in the second Test. When Miraz struck two sixes and two fours during Bangladesh’s tenth-wicket partnership, West Indies were nervous like any fielding team in that situation would be. The result of the Test series was on the line, and the West Indies side, under-strength and living in their third bio-bubble, didn’t want to give away such a big advantage. They had Bangladesh on the mat, and only thing left was for them to tap out.
One of the involuntary gift of this pandemic have been empty grounds, which make emotions, body language and the team atmosphere that much more visible, audible and perceptible. It was so at the Shere Bangla National Stadium too.
Whether Cornwall intends to or not, he seems to have a calming influence on the West Indies team. It was evident even when he was getting hit for sixes. He didn’t let out his frustration. Regardless of how the game played out at the other end, Cornwall remained accurate and relentless with the ball in hand. The ball came down from his six and a half feet height in search of the outside edge for 30 straight overs, and the assurance that it would happen kept West Indies going.
He took three catches to go with his nine wickets in the match. Miraz was his third catch, after he had taken a simpler one at leg-slip off Mominul Haque. Cornwall’s catch of Soumya Sarkar a couple of hours before had set the tone of West Indies’ comeback on what turned out to be the final day. The left-hander’s edge struck Joshua Da Silva’s glove and before it could hit the ground, Cornwall grabbed it.
With the ball, Cornwall provided Kraigg Brathwaite with one incisive over after another. He had Najmul Hossain Shanto and Mohammad Mithun caught at short-leg; both batsmen lulled into one motion of playing his offspinner, particularly on a fourth-day pitch. Both dismissals saw the delivery turn sharply into the left-handed Shanto and the right-handed Mithun, respectively. Cornwall’s turn, from his accuracy, forced both batsmen into pressing at the ball.
Liton Das was his third wicket, caught behind trying to play the cut shot. Again, a batsman trying to force him away after being kept quiet. Cornwall’s fourth wicket was Taijul Islam who was trapped lbw. He kept offering more and more deliveries that were a hair’s breadth from the bat’s edge or the stumps, or teased a close-in fielder. It was that kind of a day, that kind of Test, and that kind of series for Cornwall. He deservedly took the man of the match award for his nine wickets and the catches. But for West Indies, Cornwall was much more than that.
Cornwall wasn’t talked up a whole lot pre-tour, which increased after he took a five-for in a three-day game before the Tests. Then, he was the only bowler everyone would talk about in Zoom press conferences. His performance in the Lucknow Test a couple of years ago played a part, but so did the novelty of Cornwall. It was hard to get excited about many of the West Indies players in this series, particularly after how they played in the ODIs.
He then bowled 42.4 overs in the first innings of the Chattogram Test. His two-wicket over in the second innings was a warning that if Bangladesh had to beat West Indies, Cornwall needed to be blunted.
Instead, Bangladesh believed hitting him out of the attack was the only option. And Cornwall kept on coming, bowling unchanged for 21 overs in the first innings, in which he took a five-wicket haul, and 30 overs in the second innings, to complete nine wickets for the match.
You perhaps don’t need to do too much to a batting line-up that buzzes at the first sight of flight, and swats at anything with width. But those subtle changes in line and the inches he varied in length made Cornwall a remarkable bowler in Chattogram and Dhaka. He might take a bit of time to get up from his haunches, he might only walk from one end of the stumps to the other, from slip to bowling mark. But he is mighty effective, and now gives West Indies a necessary weapon to do better in the subcontinent.
Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo’s Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84