The famous commentator Tony Cozier stopped him at an airport in St. Lucia to let him know that Mumbai Indians had been trying to reach him. “Me?” was the young Dwayne Bravo’s reaction. It was 2008 and Sachin Tendulkar was interested in drafting him into the Mumbai Indians team in IPL. It was the stab of confidence that Bravo needed then in his career.
The Australian opener Aaron Finch stopped him at the end of a training session in the Big Bash tournament in Australia to tell him Chennai Super Kings have picked him at the auction. It was 2011 and Bravo was the lone player from West Indies to be picked in that auction. Even Chris Gayle had gone unsold. The day after he landed after a 21-hour flight, he found out that MS Dhoni wanted him to play the game that night. “Me?” was Bravo’s reaction again. It was the shot of trust that he needed at that stage of his career.
Does the dancing, singing, expressive allrounder need confidence? He has played for a mind-boggling 20 T20 franchises around the world. He has 500 wickets; no one else has even 400. He has nearly 6500 runs. He has the panache, the skill, and the temperament needed for this intense format of the game. He has the zany persona for his art to be commercialised. Yet, without IPL, he might not have really blossomed.
Over the last few years, Bravo has often asked Lakshmi Narayanan, the performance analyst of CSK, one particular question: Why does Dhoni trust me so much in pressure situations in the game? 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 the confidence that his skill is respected far away from his own small island in the Caribbean and Dhoni bottled the spirit of Bravo and sprayed it around even when the West Indies board chose to bury him.
As a boy, he inhabited the imaginary world that cricket-mad kids often revel in. As soon as he finished his homework after coming from school, he would pick up a stick. It was his bat in this fictional world. He then picked two teams, usually England vs West Indies. In his mind’s eye, Darren Gough would run in to bowl and he was Desmond Haynes, batting in his style. An audio commentary ran along. He would play an entire match. If it’s Lara’s turn, then Bravo would bat the way Lara did.
It was one of his early mentors Richard Smith, who used to play for Trinidad & Tobago, who seeded the cricket dream. “He was the one who told me that when you play these dream games at home, make sure you put your name in the West Indies team.” A dream was born. It helped that Lara was from the same village of Santa Cruz, his house was just “7 minutes” walk from Lara’s and Bravo has repeated many times about how he idolised Lara as a kid and was motivated to be the “next Lara” from his village to play international cricket.
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Pretend-play wasn’t just restricted to cricket. He also used to “drive” cars. “We used to call him Mahal (a. madman who used to pretend he was driving),” his mother Joycelyn once told Trinidad Guardian. “He used to bat by himself in the corridor, running up and down. I used to see this piece of stick and throw it outside because I really didn’t know. He would come after and tell me that was his bat.”
The parents had divorced when he was very young, he lived with his mother but had a healthy relationship with the 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 Sunday cricket with other kids. “When I went to register Dwayne, the person over the counter said he was too young, come back when he was six. I went and joined another line and told the person in charge that he was six,” the father John said. The “Mahal” would get well and truly hooked to the game soon after. “I never knew he would reach so far,” his mother has said. His batting can be so easy on the eye – surely, he has the most gorgeous inside-out lofted drive to pacers and the pick-up shot on the leg side is all artistry — that its effectiveness and ballsiness is sometimes missed.
The moment that turned his career came in 2006, two years before the first IPL, when his idol Lara threw him the ball to bowl the last over with the job to prevent Yuvraj Singh from getting 10 runs. He bled two fours before slipping in a wicked little dipping slower one that completely befuddled Yuvraj. He ran away in delirium, arms spread like wings – the ball and the celebration has seen encores ever since.
That ball is well worth a deep dive as it captures everything about his art. It’s one thing for Lasith Malinga to bowl it; not that it’s easier but with that side-arm slinging action, it’s understandable. For Bravo to under-cut the ball with his more conventional action, he has to contort his wrists to get the fingers to slice the ball and then extend the arm out to ensure the ball floats really full. Without either, it’s not as effective. Malinga’s side-arm release allows him to slice and release the ball like a frisbee in a naturally flowing unimpeded action. Neither does he have Malinga’s pace. Yet, his version is wonderfully wicked.
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Both Malinga and Bravo had no role models really. As in, T20 bowling was unchartered territory. The best pacers of their era didn’t necessarily have the best T20 style to emulate. Yorkers and slower ones as deliveries existed before, of course but they had to mould them into T20 shape on their own. There was no pre-existing model that they could dip into. They had to decide how many to bowl, where and when to bowl. More than most, Bravo has cracked the T20 bowling code.
One of the greatest gripes that Michael Holding has is the perception that people carry about the great West Indies bowlers of his generation. “Even our bowling. It was as if they thought, all we needed to do was run up and bowl fast or short. That’s what irks me the most. I tell them to check the scorebook: how many were lbw, bowled, caught in slips. It’s as if they don’t want to credit our thinking.” Even his jazzy run-up was attributed, by some, almost subconsciously to his race. It makes Holding bristle.
In a sweet irony, it has been left to a medium pacer from the Caribbean to make younger generation respect and acknowledge the brain and the thought he puts into his bowling. That will be Bravo’s legacy.
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