TONY COZIER: Bravo must step up to the plate
A LOT has happened in Darren Bravo’s life in the four years since Steve Waugh proclaimed him as “world cricket’s next superstar, no doubt”.
His entry into that elusive galaxy has been delayed through injuries and undisclosed personal problems, a combination that caused him to miss two Test series and 19 ODIs following Waugh’s prediction.
The disruptions created doubt and inconsistency, a setback for the richly talented left-hander whose record in his first 12 Tests (941 runs, average 47.05) identically matched that of his cousin, physical double and exemplar, the unmatchable Brian Lara. It clearly informed Waugh’s bold opinion that gained credibility as his average jumped to over 50.
Suddenly, it went into decline as he grappled with his various difficulties, dipping to its present 41.5. the unreasonable tag of the “new Lara” soon vanished.
At this pivotal point in his career, he has been left a formidable responsibility by the retirement from international cricket of another, diametrically contrasting left-hander, the seemingly indestructible Shivnarine Chanderpaul. After 21 years, 164 Tests, 268 ODIs and a combined 41 hundreds shoring up the batting of a progressively weakening West Indies team, he has reluctantly taken his leave, aged 41.
A week away from his 27th birthday, with 42 Tests, 84 ODIs and unsettled times behind him, Bravo is the general who must now lead a batting platoon of raw recruits, all younger than him, none with more than opener Kraigg Brathwaite’s 27 Tests.
The only similarity between Bravo and Chanderpaul is their left-handedness. Bravo is a free-spirited stroke-maker, never afraid to curb his instincts; Chanderpaul’s instincts never extended to taking risks.
While the veteran kept faltering innings going, repeatedly for hour upon hour, from number 5 or 6 in the order, Bravo must direct in his own way from number 3 or 4.
The effect of Chanderpaul’s departure is accentuated by the likelihood that Chris Gayle’s dodgy back won’t allow him to return at the top of the order and by the probable end for Marlon Samuels following his recent sequence of Test flops.
General concern over Bravo’s future initially surfaced after he inexplicably returned home from New Zealand prior to the ODI series in January 2014. Just two weeks earlier, his top Test score, 218, steered the West Indies to safety in Dunedin. Later in the year, he withdrew from the South African tour of three Tests and five ODIs.
When he returned for the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand in February, a muscle torn scampering a single in his second match ended his participation. The possible emotional consequences were not difficult to imagine.
Since that latest mishap, there have been encouraging signs, small yet significant, that Bravo is at ease with the game once more.
The West Indies have had ten
Tests since, against England and Australia in the Caribbean and in Sri Lanka and Australia. He has been in all, gradually reasserting himself at No. 3.
In what was to be Chanderpaul’s final Test, his 82 and partnership of 108 with Jermaine Blackwood, one of the emerging young players, led the West Indies to a rare series-levelling victory over England at Kensington Oval in early May.
After meagre returns in two home Tests against Australia a month later, he headed the averages both in the subsequent losses in Sri Lanka and in the one-sided debacle in Australia. His 108 in the first Test in Hobart and 81 in Melbourne rekindled memories of his three hundreds and six scores between 50 and 80 in his first 13 Tests.
He returned from Australia in mid-January to join the Trinidad and Tobago Red Force for the closing stages of the 50-overs Nagico Super50 involving eight teams.
In a low-scoring tournament, his authority was complete. He reeled off scores of 82, 95 and 97 in successive innings as the Red Force prevailed as champions once again. In contrast, Chanderpaul’s last notation in West Indies cricket was for the Guyana Jaguars in the semi-final, bowled Narsingh Deonarine for six.
As the Red Force’s premier batsman Bravo led the way as he is now expected to do for the West Indies. The relevance of such domination in a tournament marked by sub-standard cricket will be tested in the triangular ODI series with Australia and South Africa in the Caribbean in June.
The Red Force’s 270 for seven in the final was the highest total in the 24 completed matches. Seven others passed 250, 14 were under 200. There were three individual hundreds. The Barbados Pride bowlers, five with international experience, sprayed 103 wides in their eight matches, 16 in the final.
Throughout, there was condemnation, from coaches, captains and commentators, of the slow, turning pitches at the Queen’s Park Oval, the main venue, and of the unreliable umpiring.
In the build-up to Trinidad’s carnival, turnouts were sparse except for the Red Force’s semi-final and matches against arch-rivals Barbados Pride who were thoroughly abject in the final in spite of the introduction of five players from the West Indies team in Australia.
Chief executive officer Michael Muirhead has reiterated the West Indies Cricket Board
policy that only players who participated would be eligible for ODI selection.
The stipulation is fair enough but it does limit the selectors’ options.
Tony Cozier is the most experienced cricket writer and broadcaster in the Caribbean.