West Indies' current T20I team is better than the one that won the World T20 four years ago in India. So says Dwayne Bravo, who overturned his international T20 retirement in December to strengthen West Indies' bid to defend their title.
Speaking to ESPNcricinfo's Alexis Nunes, Bravo was thrilled at the depth of batting resources available to the West Indies side - riches that have turned him, a globally respected allrounder in the format, into playing a more-or-less specialist bowler's role.
"In the last series in Sri Lanka, we had a team meeting, and coach Phil [Simmons] put the team down, the list, and he put it down in batting order, and he had my name down at No. 9," Bravo said. "And I said to the guys, I said listen, I don't think I was ever involved in a T20 team when I am down to bat at No. 9.
"[…] I'm just in awe of our batting line-up, and I said to the guys, I said listen, I think this team is actually better than our World-Cup-winning team, and that is no joke, because at the end of the day, you have batting all the way down to No. 10.
"And imagine, Sunil Narine is not even in the team as yet. So just imagine, when Sunil comes into the team, Sunil will be batting at No. 10, or No. 11. He's an opening batsman now in T20.
"So just imagine a full-strength West Indies team, everyone is on deck. As a bowler, you get Evin Lewis out, [Shimron] Hetmyer comes in. You get Hetmyer out, [Nicholas] Pooran comes in, you get Lendl Simmons out, [Andre] Russell comes in, you get Russell out, [Kieron] Pollard comes in, you get Pollard out, Rovman Powell comes in, and it keeps going, going, and then you reach the champion DJ Bravo.
"It's an intimidating team, it's a team to intimidate the opposition, and that excites me. So I will just do my part as a bowler, try to control the back end of the innings, especially closing off the innings with death bowling, which has been, in the past, a bit of a concern for us. You saw how Oshane Thomas did with his pace in Sri Lanka. Then you have Sheldon Cottrell, now a leader of the attack, Kesrick Williams on the bench, so things starting to look bright again, things starting to look good again."
Apart from all the talent in that line-up, Bravo believes West Indies also have the leadership they need to defend their T20 world title - whenever that happens, with the Covid-19 pandemic leaving the T20 World Cup's scheduled staging, later this year in Australia, in doubt. Bravo referred to Pollard, who took over as captain of West Indies' ODI and T20I teams last year, as a "figurehead" who "commands respect worldwide".
"He loves to win," Bravo said of Pollard. "That's the most important thing, and as a captain, he'll do anything to win, in the right way and the right spirit, and he's very determined to win, to make a difference. I remember when they approached him to take over, I said to him, it's going to be a good challenge, a big one, a tough one, but now is the best time. You get both teams at the bottom of the table. There's only one way you can go, which is up, right?
"I said now is the right time, you build a team and you create a dressing-room environment where everyone is on the same page, and I think what Pollard has is his honesty, which is the most important thing. You have leaders in the past sometimes that said, okay, well, I don't get involved in selection, I had no say, you know, they give all types of excuses and stuff, and the system will be able to manoeuvre them and control them, but Pollard, you can't control him. You can't control someone who's so independent and all that, and strong within himself.
"[…] The players also respect him, because of whatever he has done and achieved in the white-ball format, especially in T20 cricket. He's one of the best in the world. So if someone like Pollard is speaking in the dressing room about T20 cricket, we all have to listen, because he's played the most games, he's had success, and he's highly respected around the world.
"West Indies always needed a leader like that, a figurehead leader. One time we had Chris Gayle, we had Brian Lara, we had Sir Vivian Richards, we had Clive Lloyd. We had Darren Sammy. West Indies leaders have always been figureheads, and have that impact on world cricket. Not just West Indies cricket, but world cricket. Pollard is someone like that, you know, he demands and commands that respect worldwide, so the team will always give him that support and love.
"And that relationship we have with Phil Simmons as well, it's another good thing. Captain, coach - always have to have a good relationship. The captain cannot be singing one song and the coach singing the next song, and the selectors a different song. Collectively everybody has to sing the same song. You can disagree and agree at some point, but as long as at the end of the day you all decide to sing the same song, then everybody would be happy."
Bravo made his international comeback in January, against Ireland in Grenada . He said the match felt like a second international debut for him.
"I announced my return while I was in India on a music tour […] I talked to my family, I talked to my close friends, and I said I'm going to make myself available," Bravo said. "One of the things I wanted to make sure was that when I do make myself available that I am 100 percent committed to play T20s for West Indies. I would not say okay, I'm available, and then miss a series to go and play in a league or something like that. I just wanted to make sure I played every T20 series once selected.
"And the first chance was in Grenada versus Ireland. I remember the morning of that particular game. That game was scheduled to start at 2pm or something like that. I wake up at 7am. Had breakfast. I'm not a morning person. I wake up so early, I put on my uniform, I went downstairs, had breakfast, and everyone was watching me like, I just felt like a kid making his debut all over again. I just wanted to put on the West Indies clothes again and represent the people.
"[I] get into Grenada stadium, seeing a lot of children, a lot of kids with 'Welcome Back DJ Bravo', 'We Missed You, Champion' - so many placards around the ground, with my name, and all the love, and I'm just thankful that I got the opportunity again, and I wanted to do well and contribute to something that I think is very special, especially in the T20 format, with the team that we have now, with the young players that are there: Pooran, Hetmyer, Rutherford, Brandon King, Fabian Allen, Rovman Powell, Keemo Paul, Alzarri Joseph.
"These players are brilliant players. They just need guidance, they just need someone to put their hand around them, and walk them through. Russell is back now, Pollard is the captain, a very good leader, Phil Simmons, a very good coach. We're waiting for the return of Sunil Narine, and once that happens, we're going to be another team that people are going to talk about again, but for me, on my return back to West Indies, I'm very happy and thankful for the opportunity."