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Kraigg Brathwaite keeps the faith on dodgy deck to plot a path for West Indies

Kraigg Brathwaite held firm Getty Images

Of course he fell one short of his half-century.

Of course, Kraigg Brathwaite fell just short of a milestone that might have earned him more acclaim and attention. It so often seems to be the way.

Certainly it was that way when he made 134 in the first innings at Leeds and 95 in the second to help West Indies to a memorable victory over England in 2017. On that occasion, the acclaim was taken - on the whole - by Shai Hope, who made centuries in both innings.

That Leeds game is interesting. While Hope was subsequently made one of Wisden's Cricketers of the Year, largely on the strength of that match, you wonder if Brathwaite would have won the same accolade had he made five more runs in his second innings?

Unlike Hope, Brathwaite is not burdened by beauty. He is, in many ways, West Indies' equivalent of Alastair Cook: not especially pretty; not especially quick and not especially fashionable. But, for a side with an attractive but somewhat brittle middle-order, he performs an utterly indispensable function in shielding them from the new ball.

His contributions in this series have been one of the key differences between the sides. In all three innings to date, Brathwaite has posted a 50-run stand with his new partner John Campbell. And if Campbell has, in between times, enjoyed a little fortune, Brathwaite has been determined, disciplined and defiant.

In both first innings, he batted for more than three hours. As a result, he has helped draw the sting from the bowlers at their freshest, the ball at its hardest and the game at its most intense. His runs - and the time he spends on the crease - are disproportionately important for this team.

With many modern top-order batsmen, you have the impression they are playing within themselves. As if they are forcing themselves not to play aggressive strokes.

That isn't the case with Brathwaite. With him, you get the impression that he really doesn't have many strokes beyond the nudge, the nurdle and, to be fair, a pleasing drive when the ball is over-pitched. But even then, it sometimes feels as if he is playing with a slightly broken bat as apparently well-hit drives pull up short of the boundary. He has never played T20 cricket, even at regional level, and has an ODI strike-rate of 57.55 runs per 100 balls. It is remarkable that West Indies picked him for ODI cricket as recently as March 2017.

Instead, his great weapons are judgment about which balls to leave - James Anderson singled him out for high praise for the manner in which he left the ball in the first innings in Barbados - a tight defence and an ability to concentrate.

So while Hope draws purrs of appreciation for his back-foot drives, in particular, Brathwaite has to scavenge for his runs. His first four came from his 79th delivery - a slash over the slips off Ben Stokes - while his second (though it doesn't strictly count as a boundary) came when Stuart Broad took a shy at the stumps and conceded four over-throws. A few minutes later, he completed an all-run four - a slightly mis-timed drive squeezing beyond the field - before he took Moeen Ali and Sam Curran for a boundary each from over-pitched deliveries. The end result? 49 runs, 156 balls, three boundaries.

But on this pitch, in these circumstances, this was a fine and worthy innings. On a surface offering some spiteful and unpredictable bounce, Brathwaite laid the path for those who followed him and gradually eroded the edge of the England attack. As the most experienced member of his side and with more Test centuries than anyone involved in the series other than Joe Root, he is fulfilling exactly the pragmatic, prosaic role required of him.

"Those were some of my toughest runs so far," Brathwaite said at the close. "The England boys bowled really well today, they were very disciplined, mixed in with aggression. It will be tough work tomorrow but we've got to stick together and keep working.

"One thing you can't do is worry about the ball that's gone," he added. "You may get one like Roston Chase that popped, then the next one kept low. That was just unlucky. You just have to play what you see and graft for as many runs as possible. You have to know your scoring options, and once you do that, you get some luck."

And, in both Barbados and Antigua, the value of his batting has been illustrated by events after his dismissal. In the first innings in Barbados, for example, West Indies lost their last six wickets for 49 runs, while here in Antigua, West Indies subsided from 133 for 1 to 186 for 5 with his dismissal.

West Indies' seam attack is likely to gain the plaudits for this series. And it is true that in Shannon Gabriel, Kemar Roach, Alzarri Joseph and Jason Holder, they have a quartet that have utilised these conditions far better than their vaunted England counterparts.

But they also possess the sort of old-fashioned batsman who helped India win in Australia (Cheteshwar Pujara), England win in India (Cook) and could well help West Indies win here. He's not big and he's not pretty, but England, you suspect, would give anything for an opener like Kraigg Brathwaite.