Men for all seasons: After two uninterrupted double appearances at the IPL, these regulars boast a cent-per-cent presence and the eternal promise of a brave 13th year of reinvention. With the iPL’s most prominent mainstays, an express countdown to India’s grand final on Saturday night.
Famous commentator Tony Cozier stopped him at an airport in St Lucia to tell him that the Indians from Mumbai had tried to reach him. “Me?” was the reaction of the young Dwayne Bravo. It was 2008, and Sachin Tendulkar was interested in adding him to the Mumbai Indians team in the IPL. It was the confidence Bravo needed in his career.
Australian opener Aaron Finch stopped him at the end of a training session at the Big Bash tournament in Australia to tell him the Chennai Super Kings had picked him at the auction. It was 2011, and Bravo was the only west Indies player selected at this auction. Even Chris Gayle had gone unsold. The day after landing after a 21-hour flight, he learned that MS Dhoni wanted him to play the game that night. “Me?” was Bravo’s reaction again. It was the shot of confidence he needed at this stage of his career.
Does the dancing, singing, expressive all-rounder need confidence? He has played for incredible 20 T20 franchises around the world. He has 500 wickets, no one else has even 400. He has nearly 6500 runs. He has the vigour, skill and temperament required for this intense format of the game. He has the crazy personality to commercialize his art. But without the IPL, it might not have really blossomed.
In recent years, Bravo Lakshmi Narayanan, CSK’s performance analyst, has often asked a specific question: Why does Dhoni trust me so much in in-game pressure situations? Lakky, as Lakshmi is called in the team, tells him that he is loved and respected by Dhoni for his attitude and skills. Tendulkar gave him confidence that his skills would be respected far from his own small island in the Caribbean, and Dhoni bottled the spirit of Bravo and sprayed it, even when the West Indies board decided to bury him.
As a boy, he lived in the fantasy world where cricket-mad children often find themselves. As soon as he finished his homework after coming out of school, he picked up a stick. It was his racket in this fictional world. He then selected two teams, usually England against the West Indies. In front of his mental eye, Darren Gough ran to bowl, and he was Desmond Haynes batting in his style. An audio commentary ran along. He would play a whole game. If it’s Lara’s turn, Bravo would beat like Lara.
It was one of his early mentors, Richard Smith, who used to play for Trinidad and Tobago, who created the cricket dream. “He was the one who told me that if you play these dream games at home, you should make sure you put your name in the West Indies squad. A dream was born. It helped that Lara came from the same village of Santa Cruz, that his house was only “7 minutes” walk away from Lara’s house, and that Bravo told several times how he idolized Lara as a child and how he was motivated to be the “next Lara” from his village to play international cricket.
Pretend play wasn’t limited to cricket. He also used to “drive” cars. “We called him Mahal (a madman who always pretended to drive),” his mother Joycelyn once told Trinidad Guardian. “He hit alone in the corridor and ran up and down. I saw this piece of stick and threw it outside because I really didn’t know it. He came after him and told me it was his racket.”
His parents had divorced when he was very young, he lived with his mother, but had a healthy relationship with his father. To this day, when Bravo is in town, his father comes to his house to cook chicken rice for him. It was the father who took a very young Bravo to play cricket with other children on Sunday. “When I went to register Dwayne, the person at the counter said he was too young and came back when he was six years old. I went to another snake and told the person responsible that he was six years old,” said father John. The “Mahal” would soon become really addicted to the game. “I never thought he would get this far,” his mother said. His punches can be so easy for the eye – he certainly has the greatest inside-out shot imaginable, and the pick-up shot on the leg side is pure skill – that his effectiveness and audacity is sometimes missed.
The moment that changed his career came in 2006, two years before the first IPL, when his idol Lara threw the ball at him to bowl the last with the job and prevent Yuvraj Singh from scoring 10 runs. He had two fours bleed before slipping into an evil, small, slow dip that completely messed up Yuvraj. He ran away in delirium, his arms outstretched like wings – the ball and the celebration have since seen encores.
This ball is worth a deep dive, because it captures everything about his art. For Lasith Malinga, it’s one thing to bowl him; not that it would be easier, but with this side-arm slingshot it is understandable. For Bravo to be able to cut the ball under the ball with his more conventional action, he must twist his wrists so that his fingers cut the ball, and then stretch out his arm so that the ball really floats full. Without both, it is not as effective. Malinga’s side-arm release allows him to cut and release the ball like a Frisbee in a naturally flowing, unobstructed action. He doesn’t have Malinga’s pace either. Still, his version is wonderfully evil.
Both Malinga and Bravo had no real role models. As in T20, bowling was new territory. The best players of their era didn’t necessarily have the best T20 style they could emulate. Of course, there were also Yorkers and slower ones, as there were deliveries before, but they had to bring them themselves in T20 form. There was no pre-existing model to immerse themselves in. They had to decide how many, where and when to bowl. More than most, Bravo has cracked the T20 bowling code.
One of the biggest annoyances Michael Holding has is the perception that people carry the great West Indian bowlers of his generation. “Even our bowling. It was as if they thought all we had to do was run up and bowl fast or short. That’s what annoys me the most. I tell them to look in the scorebook: how many were lbw, bowled, trapped in briefs. It’s like they don’t want to acknowledge our way of thinking.’ Even his bubbly start was almost unconsciously attributed to his race by some. That makes holding bristly.
In a sweet irony, it has been left to a middle pedometer from the Caribbean to get the younger generation to respect and acknowledge the brain and the thoughts he puts in his bowling. That will be Bravo’s legacy.