Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
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During his early years at Otago, Michael Bracewell performed the role of a wicketkeeper-batter. He still keeps wicket occasionally for his current domestic side Wellington, but his primary role is that of a batting allrounder. Earlier this year, Bracewell broke into the New Zealand side as an attacking batter who could bowl some offspin. However, he has now become a bowling allrounder, who can operate in the powerplay as well in the middle overs.
After taking a hat-trick against Ireland in Belfast in July, Bracewell strengthened his case for a spot in New Zealand's T20 World Cup XI during the tri-series against Pakistan and Bangladesh in Christchurch. He has taken six wickets in four innings at an average of 11.66 and an economy rate of 5.38.
Bracewell isn't a big turner of the ball like Santner but he creates an illusion of some turn with a delightful combination of drift, grip and bounce. It was the grip and drift that tricked Babar Azam and Afif Hossain into playing for turn when it wasn't there. Babar and Mohammad Rizwan had given Pakistan a typically steady start in the fourth game of the tri-series. Santner, who was returning from a paternity break, looked rusty with the new ball. Bracewell stepped up by dismissing both of Pakistan's key batters.
After bowling a quick dart into the pitch and drawing a hasty back-foot punch to extra-cover from Babar, Bracewell cut his pace down, lured Babar forward and grazed his outside edge with significant drift. The next day, on a fresh pitch at Hagley Oval, Bracewell deceived Afif with similar drift. The Bangladesh allrounder charged at Bracewell, but the offspinner slowed down his pace once again and snuck one through the gate.
Bracewell has his limitations but he is learning quickly and could potentially be a third spin option at the spin-friendly SCG, where New Zealand will play two league games in the upcoming T20 World Cup. And if Daryl Mitchell doesn't recover in time from his finger fracture, Bracewell could find a place in the starting XI.
"I think the role that I'm playing at the moment is definitely sort of a genuine allrounder, where if you get an opportunity with the bat, it's going to be in a pressure situation and you need to make things happen pretty quickly, and my role with the ball is very surface-dependent at the moment," Bracewell said. "Obviously, with Jimmy [Neesham] and Mitch Santner as other allrounders in the team, it gives us great balance and if the pitch suits spinning conditions, then I get a bit more of a role, and obviously it's a seaming wicket then Jimmy bowls his full allotment."
It has been a whirlwind few months for Bracewell. In only his third ODI innings, in July, he smashed an unbeaten 127 off 82 balls largely in the company of the lower order to seal a stunning victory in Ireland. During the T20I leg of that tour, Bracewell became the third New Zealand bowler, after Jacob Oram and Tim Southee, to take a T20I hat-trick. Then in the Caribbean in August, he took the new ball in Kingston, a role he is also performing in Christchurch, just a week out of the T20 World Cup.
"I don't like to dwell on what has gone before me," Bracewell said. "But it does give you a lot of confidence that you've been in a lot of different environments and playing all around the world and trying to be as successful as you can in those different conditions and adjust your game accordingly.
"It hasn't been absolutely smooth sailing (laughs) but those are the ways you learn the most as a player and you can draw on those hard times. I've been really fortunate to play a lot of domestic cricket before I made my international debut, so I'll definitely be drawing on those experiences as well."
Bracewell also understands the fickle nature of the shortest format, though he doesn't have a great deal of exposure in other T20 leagues, and he doesn't want to read too much into his recent success.
"Performance - it's so hard to judge in Twenty20 cricket," he said. "It's a pretty fickle game and I don't like to judge myself on the result of getting two wickets or not getting wickets or whatever. The confidence I get is trying to bowl the deliveries I want to bowl and owning what I can control because you can bowl really well and get absolutely pumped in a Twenty20 or vice versa."
It is this clarity that helped Wellington Firebirds win back-to-back Super Smash titles under Bracewell's leadership in 2019-20 and 2020-21. Now New Zealand are benefitting from it as well.
In the last T20 World Cup, Daryl Mitchell turned out to be New Zealand's trump card as a makeshift opening batter. In the 2022 T20 World Cup, Bracewell could turn out to be that trump card as a makeshift spin allrounder, especially during the Sydney leg of the tournament.