West Indies cricket April 26, 2009

Bravo playing for the wrong Indians

It is baffling that Dwayne Bravo is fit enough for IPL matches but not for the Tests in England

Dwayne Bravo is a curious case.

To the medically ignorant, or just plain cynical, the reason given by the West Indies Cricket Board for the omission of so vital a player from the team for the two forthcoming Tests in England is illogical. It simply doesn't ring true.

"The WICB's medical panel has advised that Dwayne Bravo is unavailable for the Test series as he is still recovering after ankle surgery," was the terse postscript to the announcement of the squad of 17.

But had Bravo not returned to the West Indies team on March 15, six months after his operation, to play in the Twenty20 and all five ODIs in the home series against England?

Certainly there was not the slightest indication on the field that he was "still recovering". He bowled his 38.3 overs and celebrated his nine wickets as energetically as ever ('you have to run and try and catch him when he gets a wicket', Chris Gayle noted), stroked ten fours and two sixes in his five innings and cavorted around the field like soca singer Machel Montano on stage, not someone worrying about whether his ankle could cope with all his energy.

His first act when he took the field as substitute in the final Test on March 6 was a swooping, underarm, direct-hit run-out of Owais Shah. No sign of a recovering ankle there.

It is more baffling that, while Bravo won't be in the Tests at Lord's and Chester-le-Street, seeking to keep the Wisden Trophy regained by West Indies in the Caribbean last month, he will be in South Africa, committing his immense all-round talents to the Mumbai, not the West, Indians in the IPL.

The presumption must be that the WICB doctors deemed that a left ankle operated on six months ago is more likely to buckle under the stress of a five-day Test than the 20-overs-an-innings bash that is the IPL.

If so, it was refuted by Andrew Flintoff's experience in the IPL last week when he twisted his knee on the outfield of Kingsmead in Durban in the service of the Chennai Super Kings, eliminating England's premier allrounder from the Tests against West Indies.

Whatever the format, there is always the danger of injury, especially in the case of wholehearted cricketers happy to be back on the field after layoffs from injury.

Bravo had told Cricinfo that his exclusion was "forced on me", explaining that the WICB medics had advised him to get stronger before he can play five-day cricket.

"I am excluded because of my situation with the injury," he said, adding that "everyone knows that Test cricket is the most important".

The background simply adds to the confusion.

In a lengthy interview with Michelle McDonald on the caribbeancricket.com website, Bravo said the problems with his ankle go back as far as 2005 when he twisted it in an ODI against Pakistan in St Lucia.

With the international schedule as crowded as it is, he pointed out that he never had time to give it a proper rest. He played on with the aid of pain-killing injections but always knew surgery was inevitable.

The question was not whether but when. Eventually, the pain became unbearable and he had to make what he called the "big decision" following last year's home series against Australia. The choice was between hanging on for the Stanford 20/20 for US$20 million match on November 1 with the prospect, but by no means certainty at the time, of a million-dollar pay day and an immediate operation he hoped would get him ready for the home series against England. He opted for the latter.

"When I put everything together, my health is more important than a one-off 20/20 game and my aim was to try and get back for the England series," he told McDonald. "That was the most important thing for me."

As it turned out, the recovery took longer than Bravo had hoped for, keeping him out of the five Tests against England.

In the interim, another unfortunate factor entered the equation. Bravo claimed in his caribbeancricket.com interview that, while the WICB "looked after me in terms of putting things in place for my surgery to be done", he had received nothing in insurance from the WICB during the eight months he was sidelined.

He called it "upsetting" and said that he was not the only player affected. Fidel Edwards and Sewnarine Chattergoon are known to be others.

The issue is one of the many areas of disagreement between the WICB and the West Indies Players' Association (WIPA).

The WICB contended that it needs details of any injury from either the player or the WIPA, on his behalf, to present to its insurers. The WIPA countered that it is the WICB's responsibility.

The matter has been reportedly sorted out and the relevant players, Bravo included, can now make their claims and be paid.

Yet it might just explain why the WICB is at pains to be seen as so overcautious in protecting Bravo from aggravation of an injury that has already caused aggravation of another kind between it and the player and the WIPA.

Tony Cozier has written about and commentated on cricket in the Caribbean for nearly 50 years