Bravo's getting of wisdom
Darren Bravo placed an exasperated hand on his helmeted head when he was out late on day four of the Dominica Test. His dismissal by Shane Watson for 45 in the shadows of stumps ended a stand with the indefatigable Shivanrine Chanderpaul that had briefly promised to drag West Indies back into the match. It was a sight already seen once or twice across a series in which Bravo has learned many hard lessons. He might have begun Australia's tour hoping for a breakthrough sequence of matches. Instead he has been left with memories more painful than pleasurable. But their accumulation will make Bravo a harder player. They could, in fact, be the making of him.
Of the many subplots that have run throughout the West Indies' three-match joust with Australia, Bravo's has been more slow burner than headline grabber. He has contributed quietly, deftly, making a few runs here and there, without ever quite going on to the sorts of performances he sparkled with in India late last year. Instead of enjoying a home series to compare with that personally fruitful journey to the subcontinent, Bravo has had a transitional one, learning how to cope with the assiduous planning and discipline of Australia's bowlers, while at the same time developing not only as a batsman but as a more senior member of a young team.
By the time he walked out to bat on the fourth afternoon in Roseau, Bravo was armed with plenty of knowledge and insight, offered to him across the limited-overs series and the Tests. He also had the best possible West Indian to have at the other end in a fourth-innings pursuit. Together, he and Chanderpaul set about forming a stand that was at first optimistic, then defiant, and finally hopeful, before it was ended by Watson's persistence and Matthew Wade's harder-than-it-looked catch behind the stumps. Ultimately Bravo had succumbed to the weight placed on him by the tourists, but it took only a passing glance at how the wicket was celebrated to know that Australian respect for Bravo has grown.
The Australians marked Bravo's exit raucously, for they had not found him quite so hard to dismiss all tour. Yet his patience and substance was a promising marker of how much he has progressed in dealing with the pressure they have imposed. This innings was was a long way from those of the hesitant young batsman Bravo had been during the ODI and Twenty20 series, when scores of 4, 16, 0, 25, 3 and 12 had him dropped from the team for the final T20 match, so he could play a first-class fixture for Trinidad and Tobago ahead of the Tests. That sojourn did not appear to do a great deal in terms of turning Bravo's fortunes, for he made only 13 and 7 on a dicey Queen's Park Oval surface, and he still looked short of touch when he took to the nets at Kensington Oval ahead of the first Test.
However there were soon signs that Bravo had developed a little more steel in time for the Test encounters, much as his coach Ottis Gibson had hoped. As the Barbados match drew near, Gibson had spoken of what Bravo needed to do following his poor returns in the earlier matches. "He just needs to be himself," Gibson said. "I think sometimes one-day cricket lends itself to you having to go out in circumstances and play shots and maybe up the scoring rate or whatever's the case or consolidate when you've just lost a couple of wickets and stuff like that. Test cricket's very different, he goes out every day and starts over, [he should] just be himself and bat the way he batted, especially in India.
"He made a brilliant hundred in Bangladesh, but in India he was outstanding, and the Indians, from some of the fields that they set for him, it was clear they had obvious plans for him as well and he scored two Test hundreds. So he is somebody that we have a lot of confidence and belief in and somebody that will take us forward over the next couple of years. We're not worried about his form, we know what he's capable of and he tends to rise to the big occasion as well, so we're looking forward to seeing him bat over the next couple of weeks."
The confidence Gibson expressed was shown to be quite well founded, for Bravo was far more fluent in the first Test, making 51 and 32. He chided himself for making only middling scores in each innings, and it would be a similar story in Trinidad, where a first innings 38 was followed by a second innings that had barely begun when rain ended the match early. That match had been preceded by a function for the teams at which Bravo spoke at some length to Brian Lara, the man to whom Bravo's name has so far been constantly linked. They spoke of concentration and building an innings, while the topic of dealing with Australia's combative attitude also had a very strong chance of coming up. Lara excelled on numerous occasions once he had been riled up by Antipodean sledging, and his mental strength when dealing with Australia's great bowlers Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne, particularly in a breathless 1999 series, had been immense.
Fielding is one area in which Bravo has shown enormous improvement, taking seven catches for the series, mainly in the slips. He was nowhere near as safe as that when he began, and it is indicative of a thorough attitude that Bravo is now claiming chances on such a regular basis. In that respect his wider cricket skills are setting an example for others in the team, and presenting them with the fact that one of the more talented young batsmen to emerge in the Caribbean over the past 20 years is not above working tirelessly at one of the lesser elements of his game.
Bravo left Trinidad intent on putting together a performance of memorable dimensions in Dominica, but in the first innings he learned another lesson. Having spanked the part-timer David Warner for two rapid-fire boundaries, Bravo was not sufficiently forward to a well-pitched delivery from the same bowler and lobbed a simple bat-pad catch. His disappointment then was not quite as acute as that which accompanied his second-innings exit, but in both cases he had added another experience to guard him against future missteps. When he flies to England in a few days' time, Bravo will do so with the burning sensation of a series defeat in his stomach, and plenty of resolve to do well. At Lord's he will want to walk off with his bat held skywards instead of his head bowed. The lessons of this series will give him a greater chance of doing so.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here