The West Indies-England ODI series has been a pretty scrappy affair, the games mostly being given away by incompetence rather than won by superior play. Even should the deciding match take place and be a humdinger, this will still not be a series many will wish to remember.
Except for one thing: the return of Dwayne Bravo to international cricket.
He is that rarity in West Indians, an allrounder. In their 80-year history as a Test team, they have only really had five: Learie Constantine, Gerry Gomez, Frank Worrell, Garry Sobers and now Bravo. Collis King was a very useful one-day allrounder, but it takes thinking very hard to come up with any other names unless you want to give the benefit of the doubt to the spin of Viv Richards, Carl Hooper or Chris Gayle – and I incline not to.
In the years after WW2, a popular call-and-response in the Caribbean was “Who de best cricketer in de West Indez? It’s Gerry Gomez!”
Gomez’s statistics don’t scream “megastar”, but he was a player of a very similar cast to Bravo – a medium pace bowler who batted at six or seven and one of the best fielders in the side, though Gomez caught close and Bravo is a run-saver. And calling Bravo the best player that West Indies have is at least plausible.
He does not take as many wickets as the other bowlers, nor does he score as many runs as those higher in the order, but then his contribution is more qualitative than quantitative. He is dangerous. A side may think they are getting on top, but then Bravo disabuses them of that notion, whether by getting rid of the partners in a stand of 140 in the first and second over of his spell, breaking the grip a bowler was tightening by smacking him for three fours and a six, or making a brilliant catch or direct-hit runout.
He is the action hero who drops out of a helicopter on to the roof of a moving car, slides in through the window, grabs the steering wheel and wrenches it into a U-turn with one hand while incapacitating the driver with the other.
Of course, it’s rare that stunts like that come at the end of the movie. All that has been achieved is a temporary advantage. Whether it is decisive will usually depend on whether the backup arrives in time to press that advantage home.
Under the indolent leadership of the somnambulistic Gayle, it is all too possible that the backup will finish their drinks and smoke a cigar before making their way to the scene in their own good time, but Bravo’s evident passion is at least partial insurance against such sloth. His committed enthusiasm ought to be infectious, but even when it isn’t his vocal displeasure at sloppiness in the field lashes the lazy into line.
It is most likely that his contributions will be recognised as decisive in the shorter forms of the game – if he has not done so already, he should commission a joiner to come up with a display case for all the Man-of-the-Match awards he is going to pick up – but he will also be the man who tipped close Tests West Indies way. Even though someone else gets the credit for a century or six-for, the crucial moment will have been when Bravo ran out Graeme Smith or smote Harbhajan Singh from the attack.
He is an exciting player in the best sense - he makes things happen and matches come alive when he is involved. It is good to welcome him back.