Carlos Brathwaite rewards fans on drab day
Day two in Sydney was one to stretch the patience of the most ardent cricket follower. Five times play was started and then stopped due to rain, before the showers intensified and blotted out the remainder of play completely. A hardy 14,266 souls turned up, including 501 Richie Benaud impersonators, whose trio of trumpeters gave rousing renditions of the old Channel Nine cricket fanfare.
It was fitting then, that the day's dominant figure - in the 11.2 overs play that were possible - was a cricketer who exudes an enthusiasm for the game that is familiar to its most committed fans. Carlos Brathwaite has been a revelation on this tour so far, as much for his infectiously enthusiastic approach to the game as a pair of freewheeling half centuries. When numerous other West Indian players have seemed unwilling to show too much of themselves on the field, Brathwaite's heart is very much on his sleeve.
The day's truncated rhythm, damp outfield and greasy ball suited the sort of smash and grab innings Brathwaite clearly enjoys playing, and in the day's longest stretch of play he took on the Australian bowling in a fashion that exploited bowlers still finding their lines. While Denesh Ramdin dropped anchor, Brathwaite moved from his overnight 35 to 69 from 71 balls, including a handful of strokes that will stay long in the mind's eye.
"I just went out there and tried to play my game," Brathwaite said of a tally that included 23 runs in two overs from a fast but wayward James Pattinson. "Thankfully I got from 30-odd overnight to 69. I'm not satisfied with the fact I didn't carry on to get three figures or to see out the day but still happy in the sense that I managed to record my highest Test score so far."
Watching Brathwaite making use of his height and the leverage it offers him, numerous heavy hitters came to mind. The man himself had been inspired by Kevin Pietersen, a batsman of similar reach and a matchless capacity to put a bowler off balance with agile footwork and blazing shots, not all of them in the coaching manual but plenty played with disarming flourish. But there is a twist to this tale - until he grew tall and broad, Brathwaite was a top-order player, dropping his bat on the ball with obstinate intent, inspired by none other than Rahul Dravid.
"Funnily enough when I was growing up I used to bat No. 3 and I was very defensive," Brathwaite said. "I used to bat the majority of balls and Rahul Dravid was my idol. A little shift now, in the years since I've bulked up and changed my game a bit I've looked to Kevin Pietersen, the way he puts bowlers under pressure, the way he stamps his authority on the game. If I can have half the career he had I'll be happy with that."
In taking the West Indies as far as 7 for 248, Brathwaite has given the visitors a chance to put some pressure on Australia's batsmen. Even so, Brathwaite still felt there were more runs to be had down the order, and there was plenty to like about the detailed way in which he looked at the talents of the lower-order batting Ramdin will have for company on day three.
"We always go out there with a positive mindset," he said. "Kemar Roach has been batting very well, Jerome Taylor has a Test hundred, and Jomel Warrican will never let any of us forget he's averaging 45 in Test cricket, only being dismissed once. So the guys in the dressing room can back their talents and see how far we can go from here."
It was a source of considerable frustration to Brathwaite that he would not be able to join them, having continued on his positive path right up until the instant Pattinson found some late swing to beat his bat and flick the outside of the off stump. A fine delivery ended Brathwaite's day, but it was nothing compared to the warm reception he was given by an SCG crowd who knew the preceding interlude was likely to be the highlight of the day.
"I was very, very upset, not on the dismissal because I think it was a good nut - didn't handle it as well as I could have though - but walking off I was upset that once again I got a start and couldn't carry on," Brathwaite said. "One of my mantras in cricket is when things are going good you maximise, because when things are going bad it's very hard to play yourself out of a slump.
"But reaching halfway off and hearing the applause and seeing some people standing, I took a step back and just enjoyed the feeling, raised my bat and looked around. It was a very good feeling, I felt at home and really appreciated it."
Unlike the MCG's BBL derby or even the first day of this match, a rainy afternoon at the SCG was only ever going to draw a crowd of the most committed fans to the grand old ground. Their affirmation of Brathwaite was genuine and touching, for in his attitude to the game many of the gathering saw a hint of their own delight in the game, and their own desire to see it played this way.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig