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Daniel Brettig

Bravo's band changing rules of international game

If the premier West Indies cricketers are to be solely known for their T20 skills, will the regional Test side remain relevant anymore?

Daniel Brettig
Daniel Brettig
06-Apr-2016
Dwayne Bravo and Andre Russell trigger wild celebrations after Ben Strokes' dismissal, England v West Indies, World T20, final, Kolkata, April 3, 2016

According to Dwayne Bravo, the next generation of West Indian cricketers is likely to gravitate towards T20 over the other formats  •  Associated Press

In Oliver Stone's biopic, a bewildered Richard Nixon wonders at the circumstances that brought about his resignation via Watergate. "Things won't be the same after this," he tells Henry Kissinger. "I played by the rules, but the rules changed, right in the middle of the game."
At the World Twenty20, England, India, Australia and New Zealand played by the rules entering the tournament, but teams mixing Test men and T20 experts all fell short of a West Indian collective with only two modestly performing Test players and a majority long finished with the game, if they ever made it there in the first place. A turning tide had been evident for nearly six months.
On December 12 in Hobart, West Indies lost to Australia in three days. An underprepared team shivered through the Tasmanian winds and took only four Australian wickets before lasting less than 107 overs across two woebegone innings. The next two weeks before Boxing Day were duly filled with tale upon tale of Caribbean ineptitude and struggle, with plenty of brickbats directed at Marlon Samuels in particular.
It was in these gloomy days that a jerky dance number first emerged, launched not in Shane Warne's Club 23 at Crown Casino nor any other swanky Southbank locale, but instead at a near deserted Docklands Stadium, as ground staff mowed the pitch in the background. Dwayne Bravo's "Champion" was unveiled with the help of some Bollywood dancers and the Melbourne Renegades PR team.
At the time the scene looked faintly absurd: a West Indian cricketer, his Test team in between hidings, dropping his own name and that of Chris Gayle alongside a galaxy of Caribbean, African and American high achievers. They included the musicians Beenie Man, Bounty Killer, Machel Montano and Bunji Garlin, Michael Jordan, Barack Obama, Nelson Mandela and Serena Williams, the Trinidadian Miss Universe Wendy Fitzwilliam, Jamaican sprinter Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, and "9.58 Bolt" - otherwise known as Usain. Brian Lara and Kieron Pollard got a mention too. Hobart, it seemed, did not matter.
For an idea of the mental space from which Bravo pulled "Champion" together, it is worth recalling some of his words a few days before he launched it, speaking on behalf of Gayle, Pollard and others: "We're all committed to West Indies cricket, but sometimes, with the way we've been treated over the years, we second-guess and ask ourselves why should we actually fight with West Indies' cricket when the rest of the world are opening their hands for us?
"Yes, they pay us well, but at the same time we never feel disrespected in any way. When we play for those teams we feel well loved, well respected ... we play our hearts out the same way we do for the West Indies. But do we get that type of treatment back in the region? No, we don't."
With that in mind, Bravo's intent was clear. This was a reminder of how much good has come from the region and the race, worthy of praise, respect and, yes, the champion label. Even as the Test team was being cut to ribbons, Bravo drew a direct line from the breakaway T20 players in the Big Bash League - Lara has been an outspoken supporter of their cause - to greatness, either achieved or foreshadowed. It was almost as though he had one eye on Kolkata on April 3 the following year.
The brilliance of a West Indies team that has effectively cut ties with Test cricket will leave plenty wondering how it will be possible to beat them in future without changing schedules to allow others to play as much T20 as Bravo, Gayle and Andre Russell have
Bravo had something else to say about the future of the game, too. He did not see Test cricket as the way to speak to the Caribbean's youth. "Whether it's good or bad, the fact of the matter is T20 cricket is what kids gravitate to now," he said. "I think one of our biggest problems back in the region, that we tend to hold on to too much of the past and not focus on the present and the future. I think that is our downfall."
Four months on, and "Champion" is everywhere. So is the team Bravo wrote it for, the T20 group in open war with the WICB. Through a memorable triumph over England they have not only gained enormous notoriety for DJ Bravo, but also a chance to negotiate with the board after their IPL duties are over. Where that can get to is anyone's guess, but the unusually equivocal public words of the WICB president Dave Cameron demonstrated the power of such high-profile cricket performances to change stances previously hardened.
In truth, the WICB will not be the only entity considering its position right now. Bravo, Darren Sammy and their brash band have opened up all manner of questions for opposition players, coaches and administrators, not merely of a tactical nature either. The brilliance of a West Indies team that has effectively cut ties with Test cricket will leave plenty wondering how it will be possible to beat them in future without changing schedules to allow others to play as much T20 as Bravo, Gayle, Andre Russell, Samuel Badree and Lendl Simmons have.
Broadcasters and sponsors will tire quickly of matches played as Hobart was. This week saw the Nine Network take a decidedly dim view of what was served up in the prime Test matches of the summer, holding cricket responsible for a drop in advertising revenue. "Nine's summer of cricket was adversely impacted," its quarterly market report stated, "by both the weather and the standard of competition." It suits Nine to talk down the value of Test cricket at a time when rights negotiations are starting up, but undoubtedly a full-strength West Indies would have helped.
However this West Indian group has developed a strong sense of identification with T20, to the point that it feels this, not Tests, is its cricket. For one thing it is the only format in which the WICB has deigned to let them play for the region, leaving a somewhat understandable sense that Tests now loom as "the board's cricket", played poorly and in front of no one - much as it was in Hobart. Bravo, Gayle and others still harbour some affection for Test cricket, but not for what it has come to represent in practice: an emasculated West Indian XI competing unevenly against better paid and drilled opposition.
They also see the way others, those who have towed the WICB line, are scarcely better off for doing so. Jason Holder has carried an enormous burden in Australia each of the past two seasons, first as leader of a fractured World Cup squad then as helmsman of a Test squad that was hopelessly overmatched throughout. His thanks from the board? Refusal to grant Holder a no-objection certificate to play in the Pakistan Super League leading into the World T20. Understandably drained by the captaincy, Holder wore a drinks bib in Kolkata.
By contrast, Samuels seemed to time his run. A distant and meandering figure in Australia, he was suddenly engaged, energised and focused upon the task of taking down the world's best players at a global tournament. His emotional outburst following the last over in Kolkata had clearly been pent up for some months, but he conveniently omitted the fact that Warne's criticisms in Australia had been more than merited on a performance basis. If we saw the real Samuels in India, then who on earth turned up in Hobart?
As Peter Siddle has said of Samuels' words: "I think I enjoy it at times from blokes that probably perform a little bit more frequently than he does. If you look at a Chris Gayle doing it, or an Andre Russell, they probably have the performances to back it up."
One man who Siddle could also have referred to was Carlos Brathwaite. The power he used to dismember Ben Stokes' final over was very evident in a series of lower-order batting joyrides in Australia, while a sense of passion and fun for the game overflowed whenever he spoke. Ian Bishop exclaimed "remember the name" when the final six sailed over wide long-on, but he did not clarify where we would be seeing it in lights. Thanks to the international schedule, Test duty would bar Brathwaite from playing in this year's Caribbean Premier League.
This is where Kolkata, Bravo's anthem and the parlous state of West Indian cricket cross over into a most unsettling scenario. If this Caribbean team really are "Champion", then they do not want or need the validation of Test performance to confirm it. If that is so, then others beyond West Indies - players, broadcasters and administrators - will soon be thinking along similar lines. Apart from reasons of finance, schedule and self-preservation, there is now a strong desire to knock West Indies off their Kolkata perch. The rules are changing, right in the middle of the game.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig