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A breath of fresh heir

Tony Cozier

A breath of fresh heir

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Every so often, a massive innings carries appreciably more significance than the simple numbers. So it was last week in the tranquil New Zealand south island city of Dunedin.
Spanning three days and occupying nearly ten hours and 136 overs, Darren Bravo’s maiden double-century in the first Test against New Zealand lifted the gloom that had descended ever more darkly over West Indies cricket in the previous month, primarily through the alarming indifference of the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB).
The seeming certainty of a third successive thrashing by an innings to opponents ranked below them in the lower reaches of the International Cricket Council (ICC) Test rankings, loomed after three days.
So closely following the three-day embarrassments on the preceding, ill-advised trip to India for the benefit of Sachin Tendulkar’s emotional retirement, such a result would have been disastrous; a subsequent 3-0 whitewash was a reasonable prediction.
Instead, it was decisively checked as Bravo stirred others to follow his lead, even without so much as token contributions from the perennial saviour, the steadfast Shivnarine Chanderpaul, and 2012’s batsman of the year, Marlon Samuels. 
If the one performance didn’t belatedly confirm former Australian captain Steve Waugh’s assertion two years ago that the gifted left-hander would be “the next superstar in world cricket”, it restored a self-belief that had been shaken by too many single-figure scores.
Now, with Chanderpaul and Chris Gayle nearing the end of their lengthy careers, there is a 24-year-old who has validated his status as the leader of a vulnerable batting side.
If such an interpretation seems optimistically simplistic, consider the scenario had Bravo fallen in double, or single, digits, as he had done in 20 of his previous 21 Test innings, frequently to catches between keeper and point from loose drives, including the first innings of this match.
It would surely have meant another two-to-one thumping, further shattering confidence already undermined by the Indians and the ridiculous scheduling by the WICB that followed the two Tests with three meaningless, Tendulkar-less One-day matches.
As a consequence, Bravo and the rest of the Test squad did not arrive in Dunedin from India until three days before the match.
They were a bedraggled bunch, thoroughly exhausted and jet lagged after a journey that involved a two-hour coach drive from one Indian city to another and a round-about, 30-hour air route that transited four capital cities on their way to their final destination.
To compound the issue, they were kept in the field for the better part of two days as New Zealand, sent in on the evidence of a well-grassed pitch, rattled up 609 for nine declared; next day they collapsed to 213 all out and were made to follow on. The situation couldn’t have been more dire.
It was then that the spirit and courage of the team, so often doubted by the long-suffering supporters, was truly tested. The response was stirring.  
Bravo and stand-in opener Kirk Edwards started the fight. In their turns Narsingh Deonarine, Denesh Ramdin and captain Darren Sammy, all three among the most frequently derided of the lot, stood by Bravo’s side throughout the fourth day.
It took a virtual shooter to remove Bravo in the second over yesterday. Yet, on the strength of Sammy’s 80 (itself a personally fulfilling input), New Zealand still had to get 112 for the result that seemed a foregone conclusion two days earlier.
They never got there. Dunedin’s rain arrived after lunch to end four unusually glorious, sunny days, denying them 33 short of their goal; on their way, they had been thrown into brief panic as Shane Shillingford, disregarding the cloud hanging over the legality of his action, reduced them to 44 for four.
The West Indies carry such momentum into the remaining two Tests.
It was Bravo’s unwavering resolve that inspired the revival, just as a brilliant left-hander from the same Santa Clara village in north Trinidad and similar lineage had done in like circumstances in 1999.
His name was Brian Lara; even then, young Bravo had his images and records plastered all over his walls; his dream was to follow the same path.         
Back then, the West Indies had plumbed depths they had never known, even in those early years of decline.
Prior to the team’s historic, initial tour of South Africa, not long freed of the oppressive policy of white domination known as “apartheid”, the players chose to strike to press their grievances, mainly financial. They only agreed to proceed after the WICB bowed to pressure, mainly from South Africa,  send the original squad.
The outcome was a disaster. They were beaten in all five Tests, the first such trouncing for West Indies since their entry into Test cricket in 1928.
The board, emboldened by the turn of events, castigated Lara, the captain, for his “weaknesses in leadership that contributed to the poor performances”; he was placed on probation for the first two Tests of the home series against Australia that followed.
In the first, before his dumfounded home crowd at the Queen’s Park Oval, his West Indies were routed for 167 and 51, leading to a crushing loss by 312 runs. The situation was even worse than that in Dunedin, if not that much.
Less than a week later, in the second Test at Sabina Park, Lara, his very future as captain in doubt, energised himself as his young cousin did in Dunedin. His 213, just five short of Bravo’s 218, initiated a series-levelling victory.
His unbeaten, second innings 153 in the third Test at Kensington Oval, finished with the flourish of that unforgettable cover-driven boundary off Jason Gillespie, all but single-handedly sent them ahead.
A third hundred followed but the team could not maintain the thrust; Australia won at the ARG and the rubber was shared. Without Lara’s resurgence it might well have been 5-0.
For a host of complex reasons, it turned out to be a short-lived spike in the downturn of West Indies fortunes.
For a palpably weaker team, so it might be with young Bravo’s epic innings and the Dunedin defiance; at least it has demonstrated what commitment and determination can achieve, even in the face of adversity.
In their meeting in St Kitts yesterday, the WICB’s directors should have had a raft of searching questions to put to their chief executive, Michael Muirhead.
How was it so planned that the majority of players for the New Zealand tour were still in India for the final ODI while, on the very day, the minority, with the aid of six solicited New Zealanders, were engaged in a practice match against a New Zealand XI?
Why did the journey from India to New Zealand first head east to Dubai before turning back on itself in the right direction?
More pressing of all, how come the required visas for the replacement for the injured Chris Gayle, the young opener Kraigg Brathwaite, took two weeks from his selection on November 22 to Friday, December 6, to process?
And was Brathwaite kept up to date on the situation by the WICB at any time during that period, as both him and his father stated that he wasn’t? Indeed, his first notification that his New Zealand visa was finally processed came by e-mail from the New Zealand High Commission on Wednesday.
The public, as much as the directors, awaits the answers.
• Tony Cozier is the most experienced cricket writer and commentator in the Caribbean.