Why power hitters like Powell should bat higher
Rovman Powell (Photo: AFP)

In February, in Bridgetown, Barbados, Rovman Powell lit up the third Twenty20 International (T20I) of the West Indies/England five-match series by pummelling a raucous century. His eventual 107 was made off just 53 deliveries and contained 10 sixes and four fours. His onslaught led his side to 224 and largely killed whatever hope England had of winning the game.

Batting at four, the Jamaican right-hander joined the fray in the sixth over, struck his second delivery for six, and proceeded to play as brutal an innings as one could hope to witness. His century that day made him the third West Indies batter, after Chris Gayle and Evin Lewis, to reach triple figures in T20Is.

In and out of the side leading up to that game, that innings solidified his position on the side, provided evidence that Powell was in prime ball-striking form, and gave notice that he had a capacity for mayhem that only very few players could muster.

Powell’s earlier performance during the Abu Dhabi Ten10 (T10) League that preceded the England series was outstanding. As a result, he had great confidence in his form and ability. “I told the guys,” he said during a post-game interview, “that I’m sure I’m hitting the ball amongst the best in the world at the moment.”

Considering the high quality of the great ball-strikers in the game, this was a strong claim. But going by the evidence just unveiled, it was also true. Afforded the opportunity to bat higher in the order than usual, he made full use of it and showed the kind of match winner he could be, if given enough deliveries to face.

One would have thought then, that the authorities at the Delhi Capitals, the Indian Premier League (IPL) side that Powell represents, would have seen him as one of their trump cards. Instead, they seemed to view him as a “finisher”, one of those big-hitting batters whose role, in the main, is to strike sixes to close out an innings.

Luckily for the Capitals, their Captain Rishabh Pant had the good sense to recognise Powell’s potential and sought his opinion on how to best utilise his abilities. “I had a conversation with Rishabh,” Powell revealed. “He came to my room and asked me where I want to bat. I said, ‘Just trust me. I want to bat at number five.’ ”

Powell took a while to get going, but recently strung together a number of strong performances. In his most recent game against Sunrisers Hyderabad, he struck 67 off 35 deliveries, helping his team to a formidable 207/3, and, in the process, helped to shelve the box in which he and a number of other “power hitters” were placed.

Former West Indies fast bowler Ian Bishop is one of the games foremost thinkers. Not surprisingly, therefore, he is irked by the pigeonholing of certain players. He tweeted this after Powell’s innings: “I don’t know who wins this game. Rovman Powell preached the truth about some of these players pigeonholed as finishers. Give them the chance to bat higher. Trust them for a few games and they will advance an innings better than most. Miller, Pollard, Russell, Hetmyer, etc.”

This should not be seen as anything close to a radical idea. Logically, the better ball-strikers will score more runs the longer they stay in the middle. Allow them more time to find comfort at the crease and it should pay off in the end. In a game that lasts only 20 overs, it seems advisable to allow the quickest scorers to face the most deliveries.

That is not to say there is no role for the steady, adhesive batter. A team could be forced into rebuilding the inning after losing early wickets or the batting surface could require that players exercise care. But there is nothing that says the explosive player cannot also be one capable of summoning a solid defence.

Not that long ago there was some talk of the need for teams to field a so-called anchor in their line-up. Such a player, it was argued, would bat time and hold the inning together while the power hitter did his business at the other end. West Indies batsman Roston Chase was even expected to fill such a role at the last T20 World Cup: “I see myself playing a similar role [as Marlon Samuels did],” he offered during a press conference before the World Cup. “It’s the role I played for the St Lucia franchise [in the Caribbean Premier League] for the last two years — come in most likely just after the Powerplay, knock it around, pick up the ones and twos, and get the occasional boundary when the ball is in my area.”

“It’s an easier role for me; I like that role. With the power-hitting guys that we have in this team, my role should be just to really give them the strike and let them do their thing.”

The idea made little sense, and it’s a good thing that kind of talk has mostly died down.

Marlon Samuels did indeed hold the batting together in both finals. What isn’t mentioned, however, is that Samuels was also a talented and deceptively powerful striker of the ball who took apart the man who was likely the most difficult limited-overs bowler in the game during the 2012 finals, Sri Lankan fast bowler Lasith Malinga.

Additionally, why should there be an anchor in a game lasting 20 overs where the aim is to score as many runs as quickly as possible?

The rational idea should be to allow the best, most powerful hitters in the game to have as much of the strike as possible. Batters of the ilk of Powell, Miller, and Hetmyer are good, match-winning players who should be trusted to face the bulk of the bowling.

Garfield Robinson

Garfield Robinson is a Jamaican living in the US who writes on cricket for a few Indian and English publications. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or garfield.v.robinson@gmail.com.

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