Lara's heir falls short on flair
When Darren Bravo was in his early teens, he watched cricket for just one man. Perhaps he still recalls the famous innings; the 153 in Bridgetown or the 400 in Antigua. As soon as Brian Lara was dismissed, Bravo would turn away. There was perhaps little else to enjoy in West Indies' cricket as their empire fell. Dreaming one day to play like his idol, Bravo went out to bat.
In the hours before he strapped on the pads, he had absorbed Lara through the television screen. The "Prince" is Bravo's first cousin, once removed, on his mother's side. Maybe he figured his blood ran blue as well.
Now 24, the languid lunge that precedes Bravo's cover drive bears the same royal air. The hands and feet glide through the crease like liquid, like Lara. Bravo lacks for a touch of majesty, but the high backlift, the chin that grazes his shoulder in his stance and the leap upon reaching a ton are all there. Only, at The Oval, against India, he played an innings that was the antithesis of his hero's career. Where Lara had waged a lone, lionhearted war while a once-great side withered beside him, Bravo's knock robbed West Indies of their early momentum, and amplified the burden on the surrounding batsmen.
Upon arrival at the beginning of the sixth over, Bravo blocked a few, then glanced a four. Nothing was awry yet and Johnson Charles soon began his surge, hiding to some extent, the pedestrian strike rate Bravo nursed. Spin came into the attack and Bravo's plight worsened. Having made only 18 from 38, he dead-batted Ravindra Jadeja's first over, though there was no alarming turn or exceptional skill on the bowler's part. After Jadeja removed Charles, next over, Bravo made no move to assume the responsibility for run-scoring, 46-balls old at the crease though he was at the time. His innings grew more laboured still.
R Ashwin bowled another maiden against him, after Marlon Samuels and Ramnaresh Sarwan had floundered and fallen at the other end. Having gone at over five runs an over in the first 20 overs, West Indies managed only 25 in the next 10. Finally resolving to attack, Bravo skipped down the track to Ashwin in the 34th over, only to change his mind midway, and find himself comprehensively beaten and stumped. There were many occasions during his 83-ball stay that Bravo might have seized the initiative but instead he oversaw a meandering middle-overs effort that made the task of achieving a par score nearly impossible.
How differently Lara might have handled it. Unconquered by the two best spin bowlers to ever play the game, he relished attack, and planned never to let a bowler settle when they began against him. Bravo is proficient against slow bowling, and it is unfair to expect him to replicate the success of the brightest raw batting talent of the last 30 years but, though he has mined Lara footage to recreate his idol's style, there are vital lessons on substance yet to be gleaned.
"This innings to me was one of Darren's worst innings," Dwayne Bravo, West Indies' captain, said. "We're aware of it and we've already spoken to him. Batting on top of the order, we expect a bit more from him, but at the same time, while he stayed in there, we kept losing wickets. So it also makes his job a lot more difficult."
"But it's all in the experience with him. He's young, and he's one of our better batters, and once we show a little faith in him and try to let him know where he went wrong, he can improve. Definitely it will do good for him and for us as a team once we can get him scoring runs and turning over the strike a bit more. Like I said, it's a learning curve."
Dwayne Bravo's point about rotating the strike is a crucial one. The West Indies batting order carries artillery at the top and furious finishers lower down but, in between, they are short of an engine room. Of the 300 legal deliveries West Indies faced today, a staggering 194 were dot balls. In Tests Darren Bravo has displayed the aptitude to become the link man, whose graft glues the innings together, but in ODIs, the gear in between stonewall and sprint has eluded him.
A score of 260 or 270 might have made for a different result, Dwayne Bravo reflected, but perhaps the strength of India's batting in this tournament would have made easy work of any total on the lighter side of 300. West Indies now enter a shootout with South Africa for the second semi-final berth in their group. If Darren Bravo can imbibe a little more of Lara before that encounter, perhaps the West Indies cannonade will have a sturdier base from which to launch.
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. He tweets here