Few have promised a lot yet delivered so little for West Indies cricket as has Ricardo Powell. So much was expected from the hard-hitting batsman, useful off-spinner and brilliant outfielder after one match winning century against India in a triangular One-Day International series in Singapore in September 1999.
In just his fourth ODI innings at age 20, Powell slammed eight sixes and nine boundaries in a 93-ball knock of 124, prompting then India captain Sachin Tendulkar to state it was one of the best innings he had seen.
Former India skipper Sourav Ganguly went a step further, saying he didn’t think anyone else in the world could have played a better innings. Manager Clive Lloyd noted: “It is as good as you will ever see anywhere.” And ex-Australia captain-turned-TV analyst Ian Chappell remarked: “If it had been played by an established player, you would say it was brilliant, but to think it was played by a fellow who hasn’t really established himself in international cricket, it was fantastic…He set such a high standard with his first hundred it’s going to be damn hard to top that.”
Just seven months earlier, Powell made his first-class debut in the Caribbean four-day competition and was a last-minute replacement in the West Indies World Cup team after Carl Hooper’s sudden retirement a week before the side’s departure for London.
Prior to going to the World Cup, late West Indies cricketer Malcolm Marshall boldly predicted the young Jamaican could be one of the tournament’s stars.
Powell played in the West Indies’ first game against Pakistan and watched the rest of the competition from the sidelines before staying in England that season to play club cricket for Spencer in the Surrey league.
The praise did not stop there.
Right after the Singapore series, Powell and the West Indies headed to Toronto for the DMC Cup and DMC Trophy tournaments against India and Pakistan where he was greeted with comparisons to the late Jamaica all-rounder Collie Smith.
Back in Toronto earlier this month for the first time in 12 years, Powell said he felt uncomfortable with the lofty comparisons.
“After I was compared to Viv (Richards) after the Singapore century, I said then there was no way I was close to his category and the comparison was unfair,” said Powell who averaged 24.82 in 109 ODIs with a strike rate of 96.66. “My career was just starting while Viv was already a legend. I did not want to be compared to anyone.”
As a young player in the West Indies team, Powell said there was a lot of pressure on him to do well.
“I was up and down the batting order and I did not have the experience or presence to say that I thought I should be kept at one particular spot in the order,” said Powell who led Jamaica to the 1998 Caribbean youth cricket title and was the Most Valuable Player with 217 runs (av. 43.34) and eight wickets (av. 14). “I was young and I simply did as I was told. Looking back, I could have made a stand by saying if I am just going to play one-day cricket, perhaps I should be batting at number five and trying to establish myself there and score consistently…Also, I did not quite grasp an understanding of the one-day game and Test cricket. I was learning on the job and I made some key mistakes along the way.”
Powell said there were no support mechanisms in place at the time to help him and other young players.
“On tour, no one told you what you were doing wrong and what you needed to do to improve,” said Powell whose father, Justin, was a useful club cricketer. “Basically, you were on your own.”
While playing in more than a hundred ODI’s from 1999-2005, Powell’s participation in Test cricket was limited to just two matches nearly four years apart.
Dropped after top-scoring with 30 in the West Indies’ second innings total of 97 in a nine-wicket loss to New Zealand in Hamilton in his 1999 Test debut, Powell played his last Test in Antigua against England in a match remembered for Brian Lara’s record 400 not out.
He felt he was “pigeon holed” as a one-day player and should have been considered for more opportunities in the game’s longer version.
“I think the selectors saw me just as a one-day player which was a bit unfair especially after I was the leading run-getter for my side in the second innings of my first match and then having to wait nearly four years for a Test recall,” he said.
After moving to Trinidad & Tobago in 2003 to join his wife Alicia, Powell played two seasons for T & T before quitting the sport two years later at age 27.
While admitting he would have relished the Twenty/20 format which would have suited his power-hitting, he says he does not regret his decision to walk away from cricket five years ago.
“There was no stability or security for players at the time and as a husband and father, I had to ensure that my family’s future was secure,” said Powell who started playing cricket seriously at Holmwood Technical High School where he was on a soccer scholarship. “I wanted to focus on business and me and my wife ran a furniture business for a while bringing in products from India and South Africa.”
In 2003, the Powells formed their own company, Basia, of which Ricardo is the president and chief executive officer of Basia Sports Foundation that produces a Caribbean sports magazine and online sports news. It also offers free cricket clinics for young people between the ages of seven and 14.
While he may not have shone brightly in international cricket, Powell – who spent a semester in the Industrial Arts program at Mico College before pursuing a professional cricket career – is a star in the eyes of his family. He has supported his wife every step of the way after she was diagnosed with breast cancer while they and their two sons were on a family trip to Walt Disney theme park in August 2009.