“It’s the LA Dodgers on the line and they are interested in you.” Kieran Powell still remembers the surprise in his then girlfriend, now wife and long-standing agent Emma Everett’s tone. Just like he remembers his own astonishment. It was a period of his life where the West Indies opener, in his own confession, didn’t quite know what to do with himself. He’d abruptly turned his back on international cricket citing disillusionment with the cricket board a few months earlier. And then he completely shelved his cricket bat and gear following a brief stint for Tamil Union Cricket Club in Emma’s original hometown of Colombo.
And here he was receiving a shocking offer from a Major League Baseball (MLB) club for a try-out in a sport that he’d never tried his hand at. “There’s something in school that we play called Rounders but it’s just someone throwing a tennis-ball and you whacking it with one hand. So it’s similar and dissimilar,” Powell, who’s since returned to his original sport of choice and will open the innings against India in the Caribbean, tells The Indian Express.
“They told Emma that they’d seen a couple of innings of mine against New Zealand and had been impressed by the hand-eye coordination. It was about being able to swing through a cricket ball and something that they thought was transferable,” he recalls.
Powell, though, admits to having approached the first few sessions with a tinge of overconfidence. As a batsman he was used to hitting length balls for sixes, and that too of spinners where he was generating all the power. In baseball, as he puts it now, “someone’s throwing the ball at you” and a home-run is like hitting a full-toss over the ropes, big deal. Or so he thought.
“It’s said to be the single hardest thing in sport; to hit a round ball with a round bat. But these guys, I saw Yasser Puig of the Dodgers, do it so consistently, and I was struggling to hit it right. Also since I was so used to my bat-swing being down to up. It took me a while to get used to the technique and learn it from scratch,” the 27-year-old says.
Though it started with the Dodgers, soon there was a beeline of MLB clubs trying to get Powell on board with the New York Mets coming closest in succeeding. Overall Powell auditioned in front of 12 clubs, making striking first-impressions on most of them with his ball-striking and a bullet-arm—no wonder, Shikhar Dhawan was in agony after being struck by a Powell throw on Friday.
Powell grew up in a cricketing family in his home island of Nevis and was educated in England and has always among the more articulate of West Indian cricketers from his generation. In his early days, he was also among the hardest workers and it took that work ethic to his baseball training, capturing the attention of scouts and coaches with his dedication to better his skills at the new sport. But there remained few features of baseball that he was taking longer than others to get used to.
“The trousers are a lot tighter than the cricket pants for whatever reason. That took some getting used to. It was similar to going out and just playing in your tights,” he says. It also meant changing his training techniques and spending longer hours in the gym. With so much in baseball based on power, he realized that it was more a case of muscle bulking and being big and bulky rather than muscle toning, which is what cricketers are used to.
At the point he gave up international cricket just like that, Powell had in the company of Kraigg Brathwaite emerged as a very positive option to solve one of West Indian cricket’s biggest hurdles, a stable opening partnership across all formats.
The stroke-maker perfectly complemented Brathwaite’s steady and conservative approach and the two hit it off instantly at the crease. It eventually took a poignant intervention from Phil Simmons, when he took over as West Indies coach, to bring Powell back to cricket just when the Mets seemed to have added a new leadoff hitter to their ranks. In less than a year, the youngster was back in the West Indian team. And rekindling the bond with Brathwaite at the top, he reveals, was among the top priorities in his agenda.
“I feel we can still have a solid 10 years of building a formidable opening partnership and trying to build something in the mould of a Greenidge and Haynes, that’s what he and I have discussed in,” he says.
Powell doesn’t divulge much about his differences with the WICB except to say that they were “bad enough for me to leave” and that they were similar to what other West Indian players of that era were dealing with. He insists on there not having been a trigger or one dark day and instead puts his dramatic decision to the culmination of a series of misunderstandings. The two years he spent away from the game seem to have matured him and given a more rounded perspective about life, most of the credit for which he gives to his wife. Powell doesn’t recall the number of successful home-runs he struck but does insist on having returned from the base to the crease as a more convincing six-hitter.
“Whereas before I had to use every bit of energy I had to clear the ropes. But now I can hit sixes more freely and knowing that I can also makes me feel different as a batsman. It’s suddenly easier hitting a round thing with a flat, heavy bat,” he explains.
Even though getting used to facing a ball that bounces was a little awkward, he regained his batting form fast enough to score a 50 in his first competitive outing last year. It was tougher convincing everyone that he had indeed not picked up his bat for two years and that he hadn’t been practicing discreetly somewhere. The runs started to flow again, and Powell was to discover another bonus trait that his baseball foray had developed in his batting.
“It also made me a better player of spin bowling as well. I don’t understand how it necessarily correlates because baseball the pitching is always fast. You do a lot of visual tracking and picking up the ball exercises there and it’s made me watch the ball a lot closer,” he says. Powell might have tread a path that no other cricketer ever dared to and come within a single signature of being part of the MLB in what would have been one of the more revolutionary shifts in the sporting world.
“I gave interviews to American journalists there and even if they didn’t get most of what I spoke about cricket, it ensured that our sport was being discussed in new environments and given a more global appeal,” he says. But as far as West Indian cricket is concerned, Powell is back in the environment that he belongs and looking good to hit a home-run with his second innings in international cricket.
Spot the difference
Are cricket and baseball actually similar? It’s probably the oldest debate that’s existed in the world of bat-and-ball sport. Yes, there are batsmen or batters in both sports with the same objective of scoring runs. But that’s where the difference ends.
The Dimensions Of The Bat
The baseball bat is shaped like a baton, with the diameter of the thickest part, which is used to strike the ball, not more than 2.625 inches. That means, a batter gets to use not more than 1.3 inches of the curved surface of his bat to strike the ball being pitched at him at rapid speeds, the average being nearly 91 mph. The bat cannot weigh more than 1 kg.
A batsman on the other hand holds a flat bat, which is at least double the weight of that used in baseball, and he can utilize nearly 4.25 inches of thick wood to strike the ball coming at him on the bounce.
Areas Of Scoring
A batter has to not just somehow ensure that he strikes the ball from the meatiest part of his bat, his areas are restricted. The ball has to travel into the fair territory, a 90-degree wedge, avoiding the foul zone. And again, he has no option of not running if he’s hit it straight to the fielder, making placement all the more compulsory rather than mandatory.
The batsman in cricket has a 360 degree radius to play with in terms of his striking zone — on-side, off-side, straight down the ground and even behind the stumps — and he also can miss out on his placement and still avoid getting out.
Swing Of The Bat
In baseball, the motion is very uniform. It’s generated from a vertical back-lift, almost like you’re chopping wood, only with an exaggerated follow-through. Power is generated by the shoulders and momentum of hips.
In cricket, the bat is always going from down to up, and the batsman uses or ends up using many more parts of his anatomy to generate power and direction. It’s a more wholesome hitting motion.
Ways Of Getting Out
There are 24 ways for a batter to get out as compared to 12 in cricket.