The Brothers Bravo, and a tale of woe
Darren Bravo showcased his incredible talent before failing to make a match-winning contribution. His half-brother, Dwayne, sparkled before a game-ending knee injury
It could have been the stirring tale of the Brothers Bravo, but what followed the glimmering light of a few hours of West Indian batting turned into a growing, somewhat familiar gloom. The first 90 minutes of West Indies' World Cup began with all the promise of the team having turned a corner after 18 miserable months. By the end of the game, South Africa may well have believed they produced proof that their opponents were merely going around in circles.
To see the West Indian batting, their far stronger suit, go into meltdown at the Feroz Shah Kotla, was to be at the heart of the team's story. Every flaw that dogged them in the recent past was on show. Every reason why they lost games they could have won was played out yet again. Those 12 straight defeats to South Africa could make men of all manner numb.
They had their chances; the first half of the game was littered with them. West Indies had wanted to bat anyway. A century partnership for the second wicket meant they could absorb a blow to their solar plexus, Chris Gayle's third-ball dismissal. A mid-innings strangle by the South African spin allsorts left their two most experienced batsmen together with half the innings to play. When the last 15 overs were nearing, the man they call Mr Fireworks had found his turbo gear. As the anxiety grew, West Indies still had their biggest hitter waiting. Opportunities were being set up over and over again. And yet and yet…
But first, the glimmering light. The game today marked the unveiling of a beauteous left-hander to an international audience. He is said to be a clone of the great West Indian entertainer, and match-winner, who left this team four years ago. But clone is too derogatory a word, used for something created in a laboratory from a test tube. Not for a batsman who reminds us why we watch the game, and how, if we can distance ourseslves from the grim business of victories and defeats, cricket becomes unadulterated enjoyment. On a grey, grim Kotla day, dotted with empty seats and outbreaks of occasional noise, Darren Bravo decided to be radiance on two legs.
If there is anything about Darren Bravo that is reminiscent of Brian Lara, it is his instinctive urge to create a gorgeous shot. If not with the massive back-lift of his first cousin, certainly with the signature flourish of the follow-through. Bravo Jr came into the game when there was enough reason for him to be circumspect: 2 for 1 with Gayle gone. He survived a referral at the end of the Johan Botha over, and by the time Dale Steyn pounded in with metaphorical smoke emanating from his boots Darren Bravo needed very little time. Or rather, he seemed to have a lot of it.
Bravo flicked Steyn to square leg with the style of a cavalier whipping some fluff off his hip, then discarded Kallis' medium pace with minimal regard over the infield, past fielders leaping like salmon. He then had enough time to sit back, contemplate and choose the most contemptuous option - a swivel pull off a short ball. Eighteen off 11 balls from Kallis was enough to send a message about what the cavalryman made of South Africa's general. A one-handed six off Imran Tahir didn't end up the way it should have, in the context of the match, but it will make many at the Kotla today grin for months. Devon Smith was happy to be Bravo Jr's shadow, quick with the singles, generous with the running, eager to keep centre stage clean and polished.
Over on their dressing-room square of the wicket, the West Indians must have been pleased with the pace of the innings and the notion that their brightest star was about to shoot over the next stage of his career. That was where the South Africans pulled out their Orientalist avatar, one spinner after another. Botha to turn it, Petersen to restrain it and Tahir to leap in and steal a few in flight. It began with Botha getting Bravo, who played for some turn and then dolefully called for a review, trapped between hoping and sulking. Once he was gone, the shadow almost predictably followed in his shadow: Smith out to a return catch and wild celebrations from Tahir. Three wickets fell for seven runs but still there was Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Dwayne Bravo, Kieron Pollard and Darren Sammy, the captain, waiting.
The waste of that platform was a sign that if the younger man had been unable to convert a start into something more substantial, then the older men were unable to switch on in time. Dwayne Bravo's innings was the alter ego to his half-brother's in style. His purpose was determined and his sixes were tailored for the handsome 10,000 crowd gathered on a working day. Forty off a partnership of 58 even despite grappling with spin, meant that he knew just where and how he was going. Sadly Chanderpaul didn't. Bravo's clumsy run-out, however, was the first of many more errors. Chanderpaul was just hitting his ODI stride before he tried a drive in the sky too many. Pollard took too long to arrive and was gone too soon. The Powerplay was wasted, the last four wickets fell for 13 runs only and 222 was as shambolic as it looked. South Africa had bowled as well as they could have, with their three spinners on show, but the West Indian batsmen did not compete as fiercely as they should have.
Bravo Jr has seen the world's spotlight from a very close distance today and understood that the gap between appearance and impact is the mere matter of fifty runs more here or there. Or an extra half hour played or not. It is easy to calculate in hindsight but very hard to do in real time. Bravo Sr, his knee wrenched during one of his bustling bowling spells and a scan due tomorrow, must lament at where he and his team find themselves in this World Cup.
Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo