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Match Analysis

Miracle man Bracewell unleashes the Beast on the big stage

His name didn't come up for bidding at the last two IPL auctions, but how long can anyone resist his power and versatility?

Deivarayan Muthu
Sitting deep in his crease and expecting Shardul Thakur to go short, Michael Bracewell swatted the ball way beyond the wide long-on boundary. New Zealand, at one stage 131 for 6 in a chase of 350, now needed 14 off five balls.
Bracewell, who had engineered this sensational turnaround, was batting on 140 off 77 balls.
It was panic stations for India. Ishan Kishan anxiously followed the trajectory of the 95m hit, the 10th six of Bracewell's innings. Rohit Sharma vented his frustration with the bowler. Shubman Gill slumped to his knees, perhaps wondering if his double-century would not be enough to win the game.
None of this was new to Bracewell. In a Super Smash game last year, he roused Wellington Firebirds to victory against Central Stags with an unbeaten 141 off 65 balls, after they had been 43 for 5 in a chase of 228. This blazing assault propelled him into New Zealand's white-ball plans. Six months later, Bracewell announced himself in international cricket with an unbeaten 127 off 82 balls against Ireland, as New Zealand hunted down 301 from 120 for 5.
It wasn't to be on Wednesday in Hyderabad, as Thakur had Bracewell lbw with a yorker, ending New Zealand's innings when they were two sixes from levelling the scores, with four balls remaining.
It was a knackered-looking Bracewell who addressed his post-match press conference.
"You just try to win a game of cricket really," he said. "It's about coming in and trying to do your role. I think it takes pressure off [you] a little bit when you're losing so many wickets. You've just got to try and rebuild and you can't get too far ahead of yourself, so I think it's one of those things that once you're able to get over the line, then you start to believe that you can do it again. Obviously, disappointed with the end there not to get us over the line."
The Hyderabad crowd may have been surprised by Bracewell's blitz. But coach Glenn Pocknall, who worked closely with Bracewell at Wellington before his recent moving to Central Districts, wasn't surprised one bit.
"Yes, [I've] been lucky enough to witness him pull off some incredible innings for us when I was coaching at Wellington," Pocknall tells ESPNcricinfo. "He has now translated that into the international arena away from home, which is special and a sign of how composed and calm he is. He has always had the power, but he worked hard on getting into stronger positions more consistently, which allowed him to use this power to hit more and different areas of the ground.
"He's naturally suited to the leg side, but the development in his ability to hit straight, over cover and behind the wicket with ease was something that shone through when he achieved the record in the Super Smash. Chasing 17 an over for eight-nine overs and then winning the match with two-three balls to go is something I'll never forget."
Bracewell's expanded range was fully on view on Wednesday. He relishes hitting the ball square on the leg side, but the square boundaries at the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium are longer than the straight ones. An alert Bracewell kept peppering the arc between cover and midwicket by sitting deep or flitting around the crease. Another productive shot against the quicks was the scoop either side of - or over - short fine leg.
The Super Smash innings - the highest T20 score in New Zealand - encouraged Bracewell to sign up for the 2022 IPL auction, but his name didn't come up for bidding either then or at the 2023 auction. The Hyderabad special, though, is sure to have made an impression on IPL insiders. Wasim Jaffer, the Punjab Kings batting coach, is one of them - he called Bracewell's six-hitting "mesmerising".
Bracewell has already earned a deal with Worcestershire for the Vitality T20 Blast. The IPL may soon be ready for 'the Beast' too.
After all, he is a do-it all man. He started his career as a top-order batter, but has now stepped up as a finisher. He also bowls offspin and can keep wicket if needed. In the field, he often patrols the hotspots for both Wellington and New Zealand.
Bracewell isn't even a year old in international cricket, but he has already packed his career with so many spectacular highlights that he is in elite company. He is only the second batter, after MS Dhoni, with two ODI hundreds while batting at No.7 or lower. He also has a T20I hat-trick and Babar Azam's number across formats, having dismissed the Pakistan captain four times in ten innings. Among spinners, only Adil Rashid (7) and Nathan Lyon (5) have dismissed Babar more often in international cricket. And as far as Pocknall is concerned, Bracewell's best is yet to come.
"The astounding point about him is he's still improving and getting better, so he's capable of doing feats like this again in the future," Pocknall said. "He's always looking at ways [where] he can be ahead of the game and this attacking mindset gives him opportunities to produce special moments like what he did the other day."
With the World Cup round the corner, New Zealand are looking forward to more such special moments from Bracewell.

Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo