April 13, 2014

The Bravo and Powell challenge

Two talented young West Indies batsmen, full of promise when they arrived on the scene, are in danger of falling by the wayside

While the high-flying T20 stars were in Dhaka, mounting their eventual anti-climactic defence of the world title joyously won in Colombo two years earlier, Darren Bravo and Kieran Powell were back in the Caribbean, watched by a couple of nut-sellers and a smattering of diehards in the understated first-class tournament, seeking to restore long-held expectations that they are two future pillars of West Indies' batting.

Bravo, at 25, is a year older than Powell. Both are left-handers who carry the unmistakable stamp and effortless evidence of class. The heady hopes around them are based on previous performance, Bravo's more so than Powell's.

It is recent inconsistency and, in Bravo's case, a hint of personal distraction, that is cause for concern. So too are their struggles since the last international series against India and New Zealand to rediscover their best in the inter-territorial and international 50-overs format in February and March and in the subsequent four-day contests now entering their run-up to semi-final qualification.

Bravo's match-saving 218 against New Zealand in Dunedin in December was, by some distance, the longest of his five Test hundreds, of which two have been in Bangladesh, two in India. It spanned over nine and three-quarter hours, occupied 416 balls and halted a sequence of eight innings without a fifty. It seemed reconfirmation of Steve Waugh's early prediction that Bravo "is world cricket's next superstar, no doubt."

A few days later, a wrist injury ruled him out of the next Test - just the third he has missed in the 27 since his debut in Sri Lanka, in November 2010 (eye problems accounted for his absence from the other two in the home series against the Black Caps 18 months earlier).

Within three weeks, he abandoned New Zealand and headed back to Trinidad for "personal reasons". They were unexplained and, given his subsequent shortage of runs, inevitably fanned speculation as to what they were.

In 18 innings in the Caribbean over the past three months (five in the Pro50, four in ODIs against Ireland and England, nine first-class), he has passed 50 twice, 69 his highest. He has simply been a shadow of the player he was and surely can be once again.

The return home of his elder half-brother, Dwayne, immediately after the World T20 was bound to be of comfort, but Dwayne is soon off again for another season in the IPL. His celebrated cousin, Brian Lara, is always near at hand to offer encouragement and advice. No book research is required to make the connection with Lara. Born in the same Santa Cruz area of north Trinidad 20 years after the most entertaining batsman of his generation, the similarity stretches beyond their left-handedness. There is an unmistakable physical and facial likeness; Bravo's mannerisms at the crease and his strong, elegant off-side strokeplay repeatedly cause us commentators to stifle the inevitable Lara identification.

Their identical records after their first 12 Tests was stuff for "Ripley's Believe It or Not" - 941 runs, average 47.05.

The insatiable Lara then went into overdrive to end with more runs (11,912) and more hundreds (34) than any other West Indian and, of course, his unimaginable 400 not out record. Inevitably, Bravo hasn't kept that kind of pace. A high average of 52.5 after 13 Tests has slipped to 44.68 after 27, useful but undoubtedly less than his capability. There is no question that he will be slotted in at No. 4 for the three Tests in June against a patently stronger, more united, better-led New Zealand than the team beaten in both Tests and four of the five ODIs on their 2012 visit. He is simply too good not to be.

Even so, time is running out for him to put together a major innings or two in Trinidad & Tobago's remaining matches - three if they get to the final - that would stimulate the self-belief presently lacking. Nor is it in the short term that West Indies cricket needs him; he is young enough to look forward to at least another ten years as the batting leader once the over-30s, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Chris Gayle and Marlon Samuels, depart.

Powell's case is based on less persuasive data than Bravo's; his average after 20 Tests since his debut against India in Roseau in 2011 is, well, average, 28.21. The first of his three hundreds, 134 against New Zealand in Antigua in 2012, was in an opening partnership of 254 with Gayle; two more followed two Tests later against Bangladesh in Dhaka, one in each innings. It placed him among giants of West Indian batting who had done the same - Headley and Walcott (each twice), Weekes, Sobers, Kanhai, Rowe, Greenidge. Optimism was understandably high; it swiftly waned in his next 15 innings, the highest 48.

While his scores for the Leeward Islands have perked up in the current domestic first-class season (four over 50 in eight innings, the highest 91), team coach Ridley Jacobs, the former Test keeper, has let him know in no uncertain terms that he expects more from him.

"He has a lot of work to do," Jacobs said leading into the last qualifying round match against 2013 champions Barbados. "He has not been what we are looking for at times, not very consistent, and that is what we are looking for from the top and from the captain. He needs to be consistent in every aspect, catching, batting, just everything."

It was a warning in flashing lights for the sixth Test player from the tiny island of Nevis (108 square miles, population 13,000). Other top-order batsmen offer the selectors alternatives for the Tests against the Black Caps. The strongest is 29-year-old Kirk Edwards, whose 12 Tests have brought him two hundreds and an average of 35.6; his case is bolstered by two hundreds in four innings for Barbados this season.

The challenge now for Powell, and for Bravo, is of character rather than ability. The outcome is critical to West Indies at a time of scarcity of quality young batsmen.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • alfred on April 18, 2014, 21:58 GMT

    WI fans fail to realise that the wealth of talent that once existed has now dried up. Apart from chanders, they lack batsmen capable of staying at the crease and building big innings. Pace bowling that was feared around the world is now represented by mediocre bowlers like best, Gabriel, fidel Edwards etc, roach is the best WI have, and he wouldn't make the first team on any of the top 4 test nations. There is also no keeper/batsman better than ramdin who is barely average. Whats ironic is that there are actually a couple decent spin bowlers around, that was once WI weakest area... all in all WI are slightly better than b'desh and Zimbabwe, when chanders leaves it will be even worse. WI fans need to accept this and be content with the mediocrity that exists, because there is no light at the end of the tunnel, regardless of who the manager or captain is.

  • Sevarino on April 15, 2014, 14:37 GMT

    Drop Sammy, Promote Ramdin, Drop Ramdin, bring back Bravo. Make up your mind WI people. Who are the players selected to replace Gayle, Chanderpaul and Samuels? Darren Bravo, Powell, Simmons, Holder,Beaton, Rampaul, Bishoo, Narine, Pollard, Ramdin, Roach, Brathwaite. These players given there faults and shortcomings are the nextgen like it or not the WICB and we West Indians need to show more support to these players. Play @ matches fail drop, oh he looks good, fail drop. I was looking forward to 12 rounds of matches for the 4 day tournament home and away. Another short season by the time NZ & BAN arrive the players will be well rested and out of form and the IPL stars are still in T20 mode. Well done WICB.

  • anthony on April 14, 2014, 23:34 GMT

    Sammys stats don't tell the full picture.everyone talks about his batting but it's his bowling that's deteriorated.I would keep him as captain as despite his lowly stats he does contribute meaningful innings,he's an anomoly of stats.he really should improve his fielding too,despite being the best windian " leader" since Richie richardson,his dropped catches have cost them against India in 2011 and 2012. Until the youngsters come through my team Gayle, Powell,sarwan,bravo jnr,chanderpaul,Samuels,ramdin,sammy,narine,roach,best.

  • Ray on April 14, 2014, 23:33 GMT

    In addition to drafting and nurturing future West Indies cricketers in his net, the new director of West Indies cricket needs to ask: `Why do so many promising West Indies cricketers - and I can name many - who, once seemingly set, fall off the radar? It's also worth noting, that despite what's said, the cricket manager's tour report - including the last generated after the West Indies tour of New Zealand - still enjoys the highest security clearance document, of any, in all of the Caribbean, if not, in all of the world. Nobody, except a privileged few, knows what transpires on tours. And so, with no public knowledge, we roll from one failed senior cricket tour, to the next.

  • anthony on April 14, 2014, 23:21 GMT

    The 2000-2003 class of Gayle,reon king,franklyn rose ,marlon Samuels,bravo and,Fidel Edwards,tino best,sarwan, and others had tremendous talent,they just didn't have the pride,unity,consistency and work ethic of the stars of the 70s and 80s.conversely the newcomers now don't seem to have the talent of the 2000-2003 bunch.the seeds of disunity were planted during the sudden collapse in 1997 and the Lara era.Ambrose,walsh,Adams and Lara himself kept Windies respectable till the summer of 2000, but if these players above had stepped up to the plate early on,particularly king,rose,and if Carl Hooper had been present throughout 98-2003 perhaps Windies cricket would have remained a world power up to today

  • Clifford on April 14, 2014, 12:53 GMT

    This upcoming tour by the Kiwis will be a marker of the progress (regress?) of the Windies vs the New Zealanders since the last time they visited in 2012. The fixtures seem strange as they show 3 tests and 2 T20Is but no ODIs. With the World Cup next year and NZ being a good limited overs team you would have thought some would be on.

  • k on April 14, 2014, 12:49 GMT

    This is an excellent article, Darren Bravo has reached the point where he needs to be drooped for a maybe 6 months. He needs to go away and play some cricket. Work on his game, his temperament, and his mind. i just dont want the west indies to make the same mistakes they make with a lot of good talent, i.e. leave them too long to fail. Further, he should be playing ODi cricket either, because currently he is definitely not good at it.

  • kent on April 14, 2014, 11:22 GMT

    Mr. Cozier, you are once again showing why you are one of the premier cricket analysts in the WI.The beauty of this article is not the just the problems simply with Mssrs. Powell and Bravo but the looming crisis in WI batting that is evidenced in the two young players.Solid batting technique travels farther and longer than batting form.Bravo and Powell are experiencing a reduction in their technique and is thus reflected in their low scores.The grave thing is that most of the WI batters with exception of Chanderpaul have suffered from a drop in technique.What do the others have in common that Chanders does not?Too much T20: the need for quick runs is greater than the need for proper technique, and the lure of big bucks is greater than representing WI. Gayle, Bharath, Simmons, Samuels, Bravo2 are obvious victims, but what about the dozens of young WI batters who are willing to sacrifice technique for power and strength and the chance to become millionaires over night.This is WI problem!

  • GV on April 14, 2014, 6:13 GMT

    If West Indies makes a selection into a 15 member test squad compulsory to represent West Indies in any format, including T20, then automatically test selection and cricket will become competitive.

  • Adrian on April 14, 2014, 1:39 GMT

    Darren Bravo looks to be a test match specialist, and I am sure he will slot back into the test team. As for Powell, he isn't quite at international standard at the moment.

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