'I want to be known as a Test cricketer'
Darren Bravo was cricket's brightest young batting star in 2011, following his exploits against India at home and away. This year he has had to face the pressures created by his promise, finding life difficult in series against Australia and England. But his decision to play Australia despite holding an IPL contract also made him a talking point, as a rare West Indian to choose representing his region over the T20 club competition.
You've said in the past you want to be the batsman other teams plan for. Against Australia and England this year you seem to have had to face up to that reality after your successes against India.
I'm someone who's worked very hard on my game and it is very important for me to continue working hard. I had a good series against India and I haven't started off the year the way that I wanted, but I'm keeping the faith. As you said, I'm someone who really wants to go out there and perform every single time. So in that case the opposition will be planning for me, and I have to do my homework as well. Australia and England this year, both teams came to me with plans and I wasn't able to counter-act it. I had decent scores against Australia, but I guess the experience over here in England will serve me well in the future. It is just a matter of me continuing to believe in myself and working hard. I'll use this experience as a motivation for the future.
What did you find most challenging about facing up to the Australian and English bowling attacks?
I believe that Australia comes at the batting line-up really hard. They don't really relax and let things happen. They're very proactive. In England it is very difficult to get a start and it is very important when you get a start to carry on the way Marlon Samuels did in the series. So that's something to look at. They're very challenging bowlers and the conditions as well are very difficult. I'm sure I'm going to learn from it.
How did you prepare for England and what have you learned from the series about batting here?
I played with Nottinghamshire last year and I was grateful for the opportunity. I thought that then I gained some experience. But when I came up against the likes of Anderson and Broad, who are world-class bowlers, as well as Bresnan, it was a challenge in itself. I guess the main thing up here is to try your best to leave as many balls as possible. Sometimes you think that you're to the pitch of the ball and you're not really there, so that is something you have to ensure - that everything is in the right place, your feet are in the right place, and stuff like that. It is very important that you play the ball as late as possible.
It is very important as well to speak to players who have performed in those conditions and understand how they went about things, and when you put all that together, you're going to reap the rewards in the end.
Speaking of advice from older players, there is your technical resemblance to Brian Lara and your relationship with him. Were you in touch during the England Tests?
I speak with Brian nearly every day, through BlackBerry Messenger - he is always there motivating me and always inspiring me to go out there and perform. I'm really grateful for that and he is someone I hold very close to my heart, along with my brother. He knows I haven't had the best of times [against England] but he is supporting me, so I'm grateful for that and I'm sure as long as I keep believing in myself that I'm going to make each and every one of them proud. We all know what Brian did and he's someone I have looked up to ever since I was a child. The sort of information that he's passing on to me I'm really grateful for, and I'm sure I'm going to use it in my game and go on to reap the rewards.
It is quite striking the passion you have to play for West Indies. Was that something that has grown from speaking to past players like Brian or was it always there?
To be quite honest I'm someone who always likes to talk cricket. If I see one of our legends or someone like that passing by, I will quickly stop and ask questions, get to learn the game as much as possible. So I think the West Indies legacy is something I have close to my heart. Obviously there is a reputation that the legends set for us, and I want to try my best to walk in their footsteps and bring back West Indies cricket to the way it once was.
You're the only West Indian player contracted to the IPL who chose to play in the Tests against Australia instead. How did you reach that decision?
When I looked at the West Indies schedule, I thought it was a bit difficult to play in the IPL, because I believe that Test cricket is the ultimate. I want to take part in the IPL sometime in the future and I was grateful to Deccan for giving me the opportunity to represent the West Indies. They were quite happy to allow me to play the Test series against Australia, as well as over here in England, and we have a very good understanding. I was really happy to be able to play against Australia, and hopefully next year I can be available for Deccan in the IPL.
Were you conscious that you were setting an example as a West Indian player, placing Test cricket notably above a club competition?
I wouldn't say I set an example, but I believe Test cricket is the ultimate. I want to take part in the IPL, but it is just a matter of understanding where you want to be and what you want to achieve. I want to be known as a Test cricketer, and I'm grateful for that opportunity to play in the Australia series as well as in England. I really want to establish myself as a Test cricketer first and then we'll see how things go in the future.
How do you feel the West Indies team is developing, after the lost series against Australia and England?
I believe the team has shown a lot of character. We're taking Test matches into the fifth day, which is something we haven't done in the past couple of years and something we're working on together as a team. We're very inexperienced as a team at this point in time, but I think if we continue to play together and gel as a team and continue sharing information and helping each other out, I think we're going to reap the rewards in the future.
You made a succession of starts against Australia and England and were unable to go on to the big scores you managed against India. Has that been a concentration issue?
I believe so. When I get a start, it is very important for me to buckle down a little more and concentrate, play the ball on its merits, don't think too far ahead.
It depends on who I'm batting with and understanding their game as well as understanding mine and how we can go about building a partnership together. I think that will help me. When you get a good start and you cross the century mark or something like that, you must take it as far as possible, so it is very important that you reap the rewards from a good start.
In which innings recently did you feel you should have gone on to something greater?
I believe the second innings at Lord's and the second innings at Trent Bridge I got two decent starts but wasn't able to carry on. But I can't really be too negative about it. Very important I stay positive. There are a lot of games in the future, and hopefully I can go out and represent West Indies in the best possible way.
Going back to your childhood, was cricket the only thing for you or did it have to compete with anything else?
Cricket was there from the beginning. My dad used to play a little club cricket, and my brothers too, and obviously Dwayne was the one trying to pursue his dream. I was always just behind him, playing a little cricket in the road and behind the house and stuff like that. It started off at a very young age and was just a matter of me continuing on. I went to a Queen's Park coaching clinic and that's where it all began.
Apart from Lara, were there any other heroes of yours or players you took after?
To be quite honest I was just about Lara alone and that was it. But when I looked at the West Indies team I was inspired by all of them, growing up as a kid, and Lara was my role model. Every time he was at the [Queen's Park] Oval and the West Indies were there to practise sometimes, I'd skip school just to look at him practise and stuff like that. If he was playing for Trinidad and Tobago in a first-class game I'd try my best to get there and watch. I had photos all over my room of Lara and stuff like that, so that can paint a picture for you. I'm really happy to have a close relationship with him now.
Playing for Queen's Park club seems to have been an influence. It offers as much tradition and structure as any club environment in the region.
Their history speaks for itself. A lot of the Trinidad and Tobago greats who represented the West Indies played for Queen's Park, and for us who represent the West Indies now, we came from there as well, so it's a great feeling to be part of that institution, and I'm sure we're making them proud as well.
I started with a coaching clinic there, so as a kid growing up you learn the basics with all the coaches and stuff. There's an Under-19 team that goes to the Sir Garfield Sobers school tournament in Barbados. There's a lot of developmental cricket played there, and the guys are coming through the ranks and making a start for themselves.
Did the club help instil in you the importance of representing your country and your region?
Definitely. One thing I must say is that the cricket administrator there, Bryan Davis, whenever we got selected for Trinidad and Tobago, he'd always call us to have a chat in his office and explain to us that we're representing Trinidad and Tobago and that we're ambassadors for the Queen's Park cricket club as well, so we must know how to carry ourselves and stuff like that. There are ways and means by which they do things and we're very grateful to be part of that institution. There's a lot of history there.
Another influence you had there was, of course, Runako Morton, who died earlier this year. What are your memories of him?
It was a really unfortunate circumstance of his passing, so may he rest in peace. Runako and I had a very good relationship, as well as other members of the club and the T&T national senior team. When he was around, he made sure that everyone was happy. If he went to buy lunch for himself, he'd buy it for every single player in the team. That's the sort of person he was - he was really loving and caring. He brought about a never-say-die attitude in the club, the way he played his cricket, obviously, but also the way he motivated the players to go out there and give every single effort. He's someone we all hold close to our heart. We're all missing him and we dedicated this year's club cricket back home to him, and thankfully we won all tournaments. But it was a sad passing. Most of us were really hurt by it, but as we say, life goes on.
Now you have played 19 Tests, you're no longer the youngest or most inexperienced cricketer in the team. Do you think you're starting to set an example as well as looking for advice from others?
I think it is very important that as a team we help out each other as much as possible, no matter who is representing the West Indies. When we come here it is about building a team and we go out onto the field to represent the region. As long as we continue to do that, then everyone will learn from each other, and everyone will take a page from each other's book, and that's going to be a very good sign for us.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here