There is, in sport and in life, a tendency to place too much value on appearance. Performers who don’t quite look the part are often undervalued and under-appreciated. It is as if we don’t quite believe our eyes when what we’re seeing doesn’t quite seem to fit together.
Top-level basketballers, for example, are supposed to be tall. The not-so-tall guys are frequently overlooked and underrated. “Our biggest challenge,” said three-time slam dunk champion Nate Robinson, “is that teams and GMs take the little guy for granted. They don’t respect our game. There are players getting USD 60-70 million contracts that are nowhere near as good as guys like me.” Robinson, formerly a New York Knick, currently represents the Delaware 87ers of the NBA development league. He stands 5’9″.
Athlete is not what we think whenever we see someone who is significantly overweight. Even after witnessing them accomplish top-level athletic feats we still might not believe they belong at the highest level. It’s as if we have a hard time believing our own eyes because the performance is coming from someone who doesn’t quite look the part.
Fat athlete is thought to be something of an oxymoron. Often it is a source of hilarity. “The earth shook,” shouted David Lloyd in the Sky commentary box shortly when super-heavyweight Bermudan cricketer Dwayne Leverock thudded to the ground after sprightly leaping to his right at slip to snare a stunning catch against India during the 2007 World Cup. Sometime later, someone wrote that a certain batsman was bowled between bat and pad having left a gap through which Leverock could have easily passed. Leverock, a spinner good enough to capture the wickets of Kevin Pietersen and Paul Collingwood during the above-mentioned tournament, was reportedly around 270 pounds at the time.
Which brings us to Rahkeem Cornwall. The Antiguan all-rounder is 6’5″ and very hefty. If you saw him strolling down the street you most certainly would not have guessed that he’s a professional sportsman. And yet the towering 24-year-old is easily one of the most talented up-and-coming players in the Caribbean.
Like most bulky athletes engaged in a sport where huge size is not an asset as it is in American Footballers for instance, fans and experts regularly look at him with brows furrowed with suspicion. He just doesn’t look like someone who could possibly be involved in any sport that could demand high-intensity physical activity. Cricket is more forgiving of players who lack top conditioning than sports like football and basketball, but what happens when you have to run hard for three while batting or chase from slip to the third-man or fine-leg boundary while fielding? Fitness also facilitates the ability to concentrate for long periods, a vital quality to possess whatever your sporting discipline.
In spite of his bulk, however, Cornwall has been progressing well in the game. As his frame suggests he is a powerful striker of the ball, but he also times it decently and has a sturdy defence.
His bowling is considered his more impressive suit. He delivers his off-spin accurately, as an economy rate of 2.86 in First-class matches and 3.38 in List A matches indicate. He also manufactures drift and a fair bit of turn. He has captured an impressive 125 wickets, with 10 five-wicket hauls from 25 first-class games at a 24.19 average, and has 19 wickets from 21 List A matches.
Cornwall had also impressed in the practice game that India played against the West Indies Cricket Board President’s XI in July 2016. He picked up a five wicket haul and also came up with a couple of gritty knocks batting at No. 7.
As to Cornwall’s fielding, you won’t see him sprinting at the speed of light to stop balls going to the boundary in the manner of Jermaine Blackwood, say, but he is not an embarrassment in the field and is a useful catcher at slip.
On tour of Sri Lanka with the West Indies A team in October 2016, he did very little with the bat. His bowling, on the other hand was exemplary. Four “Tests” yielded 23 wickets, including two five-wicket hauls at 19.82. In the first innings of the first game at the R Premadasa Stadium, he took 8 for 108.
So is he ready for a maroon cap?
The West Indies selectors claim to have him in their sights. But in a sign that they’re concerned about his heft they recently announced that they are putting together a programme to facilitate the player fulfilling his talent. According to Chairman of Selectors, Courtney Browne, speaking on a local radio programme: “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, dieticians, and just getting everybody to come together to help this young player because he’s a special talent.”
He is indeed a special talent. It is possible he could be fitter, more mobile if he shed a few pounds and he should be encouraged to be in the best shape possible. But he has already shown that his cricketing ability is considerable and so deserves serious consideration for elevation to the international level. His size ought not to prevent him from attaining higher honours.