If not for Chris Gayle's headline-grabbing antics, Dwayne Bravo might have expected a more torrid time this summer. The murmurs and rumblings surrounding his absence from West Indies' unpopular two-Test series against England threatened to bubble over - particularly as he went on to play a full and active role for the Mumbai Indians in the IPL - but Gayle's Test cricket obituary pushed questions over Bravo's motives to the background.
If Caribbean cricket supporters were upset with Bravo over his appearance in the IPL during a Test series, all is now forgiven. Bravo turned in perhaps the most complete performance of the ICC World Twenty20 to single-handedly guide West Indies to a stunning seven-wicket victory over the defending champions, India, before a febrile Lord's crowd. Evidently, Gayle is not the only player capable of carrying the West Indies.
Bravo's extended stint in the IPL - which ran concurrently with the West Indians' dispiriting Test defeats at Lord's and Chester-le-Street - appears to have done him no harm. His nippy medium-pacers and deft variations unsettled the opposition batsmen, and went far to restricting the Indians to their lowest 20-over total of the tournament. Gautam Gambhir, MS Dhoni and the brothers Pathan made for an impressive list of dismissals and, fittingly, his figures of 4 for 38 were the best of his Twenty20 international career.
But he was not done there. Debunking the "no-Gayle, no-Windies" theory, Bravo combined with the impressive Lendl Simmons (44 off 37 balls) to steer his side home with eight-balls to spare. He did so in the most emphatic style possible - blasting Zaheer Khan over the extra-cover boundary - to round off a 36-ball innings of 66 not out; another career-best.
"I used the opportunity wisely today," Bravo said. "I've had two stints in the IPL and I've gained a lot of experience by sharing experiences with a lot of Test players. I'm happy and flexible and I don't want to play at a particular batting spot. It doesn't really matter where I bat."
Bravo returned from an eight-month injury-enforced lay-off in March, and his surgically-repaired left-ankle is in for its sternest test on Saturday. In a curious piece of scheduling, the West Indians will face the surging South Africans in the first match of a double-header at The Oval, having played the late game at Lord's on Friday. That represents a 15-hour turn-around; even less when commuting times and warm-ups are factored in.
Still, given the enormity of their accomplishment at Lord's, West Indies will presumably be happy to take on Graeme Smith's men at a time when the excitement of the victory over India is still coursing through their veins. A summer that began disastrously has suddenly, inexplicably, taken a dramatic turn for the better. The bedraggled bunch who limped their way through the series against England have taken on the visage of world-beaters. South Africa would be wise to treat them with respect.