Growing up in a family that had produced two Black Caps who played Tests,Doug Bracewell was never far from tales of yore from the cricket field.
More so,since he was born a few years after both father Brendon and uncle John had hung up their boots.
But the one narrative that the 22-year-old Kiwi all-rounder had to listen to most often did not involve any heroic feats by his kin. In fact,it dated back to the time his predecessors were still in the budding stages of their respective careers.
“My father and uncle were brought up the tough way. My grandfather was a hard man and sent them to the nets where they had to remain till 6pm. And if my father couldn’t get John out,he wasn’t allowed dinner. And John had to go hungry and stay out if he didn’t score a 100,” Bracewell tells The Indian Express.
The youngster though reveals that the reason behind the constant rendition of this particular incident wasn’t solely to inspire him. Instead,it was Brendon’s way of telling his ward that the hard yards that he was putting him through paled in comparison to the near-dictatorial atmosphere in which the previous generation of Bracewells had grown as cricketers.
Not that it always provided young Doug with much solace as he endured the gruelling challenges at the Bracewell Academy in Te Puna,near his hometown of Tauranga. An establishment,which took great pride in turning kids into men and where only the physically and mentally tough survived,forget prospered.
Over the last couple of years,the young Bracewell might have established a reputation of being a tireless workhorse in the New Zealand setup,the go-to man for the captain. But it was back in Te Puna that he along with a few other 10 to 13 year olds learned his trade under the strict guardianship of his father and another former Test cricketer Chris Kuggeleijn. For Doug,it was a case of tough love to an extreme level.
“We would be sleeping in bunks,setting up a barbecue at nights and during the day be undergoing game-specific sessions,running multiple laps and 22-yard shuttle runs. As a kid I found it very hard but now I see its benefits,” he says.
And then there was the Get Hard Park. “There was this park with hills,and dad would make us train really hard with hill sprints,and laps up and down for hours on end. I didn’t get any special treatment and wanted me to set an example and be a leader,” adds Bracewell.
There were times,he admits,where things got too tough to handle and the boy just wanted to stop. But there was no option of stopping when at the Bracewell Academy or complaining.
“I knew dad wouldn’t let me do that so I just would tough it out. That’s what it’s all about. Even now you have days when you just want to stop but thanks to my upbringing I will never,” he adds.
Brendon and Kuggleijn were hard taskmasters,who cracked the disciplinary whip,and the erroneous ones were not just frowned upon in Te Puna,they were taken to task. The punishment depending on how calamitous the crime. While bowling too many balls down the leg-side meant no milk with their cereal the next day,far stringent measures awaited the likes of Bracewell. And a kick up the backside was taken a bit too literally.
“Scott (the junior Kuggeleijn) used to come over for the camp. We were the trouble-makers and I think dad offered to give Scott the plastic wicket around the arse as Scott’s dad wouldn’t do it,” If he was looking for some empathy,it wasn’t coming from his old man,who wouldn’t suffer fools too gladly. Despite the highly disciplined upbringing,or probably as a result,Bracewell admits to have gone off-track during his brief time in school,where he got mixed in bad company and was a rabble-rouser. And he ended up facing his father’s wrath repeatedly. But those close to him always found the youngster to be mature beyond his years.
“I would get smacked on the backside for being naughty at school,which was often. So he had to keep me in check for a month or two and I would slip up again and get it again. I was looking at fun things to do rather than get serious. Dropping out of school meant doing odd jobs and that’s where I really matured,” he says.
Then serious cricket came calling again. Like his father who debuted at 18,Bracewell too started making waves in his teens and was singled out as a potential Kiwi superstar. And he lived up to the hype but first taking a five-wicket haul on debut before leading his country to their first Test win in Australia in two decades with nine wickets in the match at Hobart. Later he admitted to have received some crucial advice from the senior Bracewell about bowling against the Aussies.
I wouldn’t say it went to my head. But I thought I had cemented my place and became more bothered about my place in the side rather than improving my performances,” he says. Father Brendon though is still very much the biggest influence in the youngster’s career. Their relationship has only strengthened over time and Bracewell is confident of establishing his own legacy in Kiwi colours over time. The off-seasons are still spent in the Bracewell Academy and a lackadaisical attitude is still dealt with a few extra laps though the plastic stump is now history.
And visits to the Get Hard Park,though not as frequent as earlier,aren’t looked forward to just like they were all those years back.