Wednesday, February 21, 2018

A sure thing

 One might say these are not the best of times for the Bravo brothers.

“Lil Bravo,” Darren, has been having a time of it on, and it appears off the field. 

A regional first-class season in which he did not dominate in the way either he or his many admirers would have expected, ended with another weak dismissal in a heavy, embarrassing loss for the national team. In the semi-finals. At home against the Windward Islands.

Coming after he had been left out of the West Indies World Twenty20 squad, and following his premature departure from New Zealand for “personal reasons,” the meek end to the regional season would have been acutely disappointing.

Those “personal reasons”--a stress related matter according to Trinidad and Tobago coach Kelvin Williams-- have seemed to dog the left-hander all season, like a persistent seamer, testing his resolve in the off-stump corridor.

Things have been a bit better for big brother Dwayne, until, trying for “one of my usual spectacular catches,” in an Indian Premier League game against King’s Punjab XI he missed, and damaged a shoulder instead. That injury has ended his IPL season. It is one of those setbacks that sportsmen dread, but that is one of the hazards of their trade. Bravo has had a fair share of injuries already in his career. But he is mentally well equipped to deal with them.

Dwayne Bravo could be the definition of self confidence, a cricketer who never seems to feel he has been beaten until the last ball is bowled. 

Darren, a less ebullient character needs some of his brother’s self belief right now. He has shown enough in his manner of play to suggest that he has the game to overcome this rough period. Patience and time might be the formula to see out this difficult spell.

The Bravos have been on my mind, especially after reading Dwayne’s comments on his four-year absence from the Test team. “For those who don’t know, the last Test match I played was in 2010 in Sri Lanka and to be honest I was very disappointed that I was not able to make the Test squad since,” he told the Line And Length programme on cable TV.

“I keep asking what it is I have to do again to be selected. Obviously, they can’t really give a proper answer so it always finishes off with a small laugh. Nothing really serious comes out of it.” 

No mincing of words there. It should be remembered however, that Bravo’s banishment into the Test wilderness coincided with his decision not to accept a retainer contract, thus allowing him to be unhindered in fulfilling his IPL commitments. In stepped all-round player Darren Sammy, who replaced Chris Gayle as West Indies captain after the latter had made a decision similar to Bravo. His Test dilemma, as he would well know, is linked to skipper Sammy’s presence in that role. For balance sake, they both can’t fit easily into the same side. Neither is prolific enough as either as batsman or bowler so as to fill the slot of a specialist of their description.

But Bravo’s frustration is understandable. As batsman alone, he should be secure in the middle order, averaging higher than his present 31.42. For from his teens, DJ Bravo caught the eye with his strokeplay and his confidence.

“I like Brian (Lara) in terms of his shot selection. He is a very classy batsman. And so am I. I like classy shots,” he told me at our first serious chat back in 2002 during his first season in the senior team.

The Lara connection is well documented, but Bravo did not have to copy self confidence from his hero. He is a natural in that regard. And those lofted shots he loves, especially the ones that clear the boundary at long-off, they speak to the entertainer in him, the stylist not a afraid to go big. That spirit, while a strength has also proved a weakness, especially in the longer game.

Early on, during that 2002 season, Ian Bishop, a former manager of Bravo’s at Under-19 level had noted that, “there are times when his aggression needs to be tempered. There is a fine line between confidence and over-confidence. With the right advice you hope that confidence will be tempered.”

To his credit, Bravo has matured since those early days. 

I remember especially, Providence Stadium, Guyana in 2008. It was the first Test of the series against Sri Lanka. The West Indies lost heavily, by 121 runs. But in that failed runs chase, Bravo went up the order to open instead of his captain, Chris Gayle, a regular victim of Sri Lanka’s ace swing bowler Chaminda Vaas. He made 83 in a pressure situation but combined his natural flair with the discipline and watchfulness the situation demanded until his concentration eventually failed him and Muttiah Muralitharan got him with a return catch. It was the kind of display one wishes Bravo had produced more often during his 40 Tests so far.

But there is still time. Still time for the first Bravo to make his name in international cricket to show the resilience that produced the first of his three Test centuries.

Hear what he said back at the Antigua Recreation Ground in 2005 after his 107 against South Africa:

“Coming into this game, a lot of negative things were being said about my batting. I kept telling her (his mother) don’t worry, one day it will come...Last night when I got the phone call from her when I was ten not out...I told her I’m going to do it for her.”

Bravo’s highest score in the series before that innings had been

33. Three times he had surrendered his wicket to a risk-filled back drive.

But diligent homework and discipline made the difference. He recalled how that combination had worked for him previously.

“It happened to me in England last summer with Ashley

Giles bowling me around my pads playing across the line and it took me two Test matches before I realised what I was doing wrong,” he explained.

“Then... after the second Test I went in the nets and worked on it with the coach and in the third match, I got my first Test 50, same thing here.

“Two  matches I got out three times playing the same shot. I worked hard over the last couple of days with the coach (Bennett King), Brian (Lara) and the senior players in the team...It was good for me to be disciplined enough to take out the shot.

“I wasn’t getting any runs out of it. On a wicket like this (ARG)...I saw players dig in and score hundreds. I knew

I had the ability to do it so I just made up my mind I was going to take out the shot completely and play straight, play to my strength.”

The Test side, vulnerable as it is, cannot afford to continue ignoring such a player for much longer.

So when he gets the chance to play Tests again – whether as captain or otherwise – Bravo will need to remember those good times; what worked in the past. Once that work is done, it will be hard to keep him down.

Good men – and players – always rebound.