The DNA of the quintessential West Indies cricketer is such that it naturally reminds one of destructive batting: a bit of flair, a bit of flamboyance. If batting was gentlemanly, through Calypso lens it looked terribly easy and was executed with a dash of style.
Perhaps West Indian history can be blamed for it.
Sir Viv. The great Garry Sobers. Great forces of nature: Rohan Kanhai and Clive Lloyd. And finally, as you flick through the pages of history to reach the more recent past, the grace and style of Brian Lara.
But that’s not all there is to West Indian batting.
Currently languishing in at 9 and 8 in the ODI and Test ranking respectively, the West Indies have been the tragicomedy in world cricket for a while. But as the modern game continues to accept the state of this once-great team, it would be harsh to say that the post-Brian Lara era has not produced a significant talent.
In Darren Michael Bravo, 28 years old on February 6th, the former greats are fortunate to have the quintessential symbol of a very West Indian batting culture.
What makes Bravo stand out from his team?
A game that often rests on the power and grit of the right-handers, the left-handed Darren Bravo, elegant and focused, has reminded the world of his famous cousin, Brian Lara, on whose batting style he based his game.
But ever since breaking out in 2009, in his brief 7.5 year run on 22 yards, as we see him make desperate attempts to broker peace with the WICB, the world has seen in Bravo the firepower of a Calypso batsman and the fighting abilities of a soldier with a purpose.
The fact that so much about Darren Bravo is about taking time to settle down as is about getting off in a flash, about striking with absurd ease those lusty blows down the ground as is about caressing the field with lordly elegance that he has unfortunately become a confusing enigma, of sorts. Both-powerful and lackluster! Both- supremely elegant and dazed and confused at times!
His numbers support his talent but reveal little of his abilities
Somewhere around Darren Bravo’s age, we find in Kohli- 28, Smith-26, Williamson- 26 and Root- 26- a bracket of elite modern cricketing talents. Their numbers; Kohli- 53 Tests, 179 ODIs, 12000 total runs, 42 tons, Root- 53 Tests, 80 ODIs, nearly 7800 runs, 19 hundreds, Williamson- 58 Tests, 106 ODIs, 9000 total runs, 23 tons; paint them as rising greats of the game.
One wonders then that why in Bravo’s case- despite nearly 6000 runs from 49 Tests, 94 ODIs and 11 hundreds, the man has been denied a place among the bests in business? His brilliance, stemming from a natural keenness to score runs has often been flayed by throwing his wicket away, quite like Lara who suddenly out of a bolt of aggression ended up playing the false shot.
Rarely finding support within the side, the awkward, moody talent of Samuels notwithstanding, so much of the task of saving a game rests within those implosive batting abilities of the Trinidadian. At the same time, the need to give Windies a good start and defying them from raging storms lies in Bravo’s ebb.
A glorious Test run
If you casually scroll past Bravo’s heroics, most of which have come in Tests, you’d find him both a flashy stylist of the game as well as a monk who regards batting a sagely practice.
This was keenly evident in his 166 at Mumbai in 2011, on his maiden tour to India. At a time when he could’ve focused on T20s, the prevailing cult then that took in its stride many a lofty Windies cricketer, Bravo preferred to stay back for national duties.
He styled his 108 in Australia’ Hobart in an innings defeat on merits of concentration and free hitting against Hazlewood, Pattinson, Lyon and, Siddle.
His marvelous 116 last year, by far the most pivotal knock and also a heart-breaking one (since Windies nearly chased down an improbable ask) against Pakistan in Dubai, that had the flair and bravado, pain and emotion- stood out against the clamor of a jaded Windies tour.
But the innings that truly marked him as a great in making came in 2013 at Dunedin. On the back-foot, the Windies found their backs against the wall fearing a humiliating innings defeat at the hands of Kiwis when following on with a 396 run deficit, the Caribbean side went on to carve 507. 218 of those runs were scored single-handedly by Bravo, in a marathon 572-minute knock.
The Darren Bravo conundrum
Not nearly a giant of the game but a princely talent who knows how to fashion a win, Bravo’s uniqueness can be attributed to a bit of a nostalgia that forms a Brian Lara shadow- fighting from the gallows of despair to save his side.
It also beckons fresh focus on the state of Windies cricket, miserably failing in augmenting talents like Bravo and instead of encouraging them, to guide youngsters- promising and capable- Brathwaite, Chase, Dowrich and Blackwood- show them the door due to frequent contractual fallouts.
If Darren Bravo isn’t brought back now in 2017, Windies stand a real chance on losing out on qualifying for 2019 ICC World Cup. So much of a reputation is at stake.
Just as it was during Lara’s glorious run. So much of Windies’ collapsible anatomy beckons a savior to guide the side to safety. While the board can’t really be depended on, Bravo, certainly can make breakthroughs with the bat.
But in cricket, as in life, it takes a mélange of an effort to save the day. At least in this case, Bravo seems ready. It’s just about returning to where he belongs!
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