Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
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On Sunday, in the ODI series opener against Ireland in Malahide, similar questions were raised over his selection, although Mitchell Santner wasn't available to play after having a bout of Covid-19. Bracewell struggled for control with the ball against the right-hand pair of Harry Tector and Curtis Campher, but turned up with the bat under immense pressure to show what is truly capable of in New Zealand's white-ball side.
When Bracewell came to the crease, the game seemed all but over for New Zealand, who at that stage needed another 181 off 130 balls in a chase of 301, with only the lower order for company for Bracewell. Some of the Irish fans were already celebrating in the stands, but Bracewell hushed them and powered New Zealand to an incredible victory with a calculated assault in only his fourth ODI, thus ending unbeaten on 127 off just 82 balls.
Campher gleaned seam movement off the deck and swing in the air. Bracewell was particularly cautious against him and offspinner Simi Singh, who was matched up with the left-hander Bracewell. It was Ish Sodhi who took greater risks in a 61-run seventh-wicket partnership with Bracewell.
Bracewell then seamlessly shifted through the gears and took the chase deep. It ultimately came down to one man vs the other. Bracewell vs Craig Young. New Zealand needed 20 off the last over, with just one wicket in hand. Young's plan was to bowl wide yorkers away from the swinging arc of Bracewell and deny him the access to the shorter leg-side boundary.
Bracewell proactively veered across off stump and scooped the first two balls for fours, with both square leg and fine leg in. His smarts and power dismantled Ireland's best-laid plans as he then jumped across off and walloped the next two balls for four and six, both over midwicket. He added another four and six to the sequence to cap a sensational turnaround.
Bracewell is used to dealing with pressure. He has been around the domestic scene for over a decade, and captains Firebirds. His Malahide miracle is somewhat comparable to the rescue act in New Plymouth in the Super Smash in January earlier this year. Firebirds were 24 for 4 against Central Stags in pursuit of an imposing 229, but despite wickets tumbling around him, Bracewell turned on the beast mode in cracking an unbeaten 141 off 65 balls. Coincidentally, he had also finished that match with a No.11 for company, with one ball to spare.
"Those experiences… you always learn from and learn what you've done well, and probably what you can do better next time," Bracewell told NZC after scripting New Zealand's come-from-behind win against Ireland. "I think that's the benefit of playing plenty of domestic cricket and putting yourself in those pressure situations; you sort of learn how to get through them, and [are] fortunate enough to come on the right side in a couple of times now."
Bracewell said that the win didn't sink in until he walked off to a rousing reception from his team-mates and family, who were among the sell-out crowd in Malahide.
"That was pretty special. That was when it sunk in that I just got a hundred for my country and it was a pretty proud moment walking off the field and seeing all the boys' faces," he said. "Yeah, something that I will cherish for a very long time.
"[I] had mum and dad come over a couple of days ago and my wife Lauren and little baby Lennox. Yeah, it has been special; Lennox and Lauren have been here for a while now. Nice for them to see a win on the tour. And for mum and dad, I'm pretty proud to put on the performance for them in the crowd."
Bracewell's big-hitting and left-handedness in the middle order could be an attractive option to have, especially in a T20 World Cup year. And if Bracewell can tighten up his offspin, New Zealand could have a variety of spinners to choose from in white-ball cricket: Sodhi (legspin), Santner (left-arm fingerspin), and Michael Rippon (left-arm wristspin) being the other options.
It is this depth on various fronts that has transformed New Zealand into a force to reckon with in white-ball cricket - with or without their seniors. Bracewell's emergence is the latest embodiment of it.