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Dwayne Bravo is reinventing himself in T20, age be damned

As batter, bowler, strategist, leader, the allrounder is constantly evolving to stay on top of the T20 format, and this year he has his eye on the T20 World Cup title

Deivarayan Muthu
With wins in the CPL and IPL this year, Bravo has 16 T20 titles under his belt, the most for any player  •  BCCI

With wins in the CPL and IPL this year, Bravo has 16 T20 titles under his belt, the most for any player  •  BCCI

Dwayne Bravo began his career as an opening batter in age-group cricket and even did the job at the top of the order for West Indies in the 2002 Under-19 World Cup in New Zealand. He wanted to be the next Brian Lara, but has evolved over the years to become a T20 superstar with the ball. He recently won his 16th T20 title - the most by any one player - playing a vital role in Chennai Super Kings' IPL triumph.
There's another title up for grabs now: the T20 World Cup. Bravo wants it so much that he came out of T20I retirement in 2019.
After all these years, he still has it - both with ball and bat - and he keeps finding a way with his T20 smarts.
For one, he is increasingly going around the wicket to threaten the body of the batter or deny them access to the shorter boundaries. In the two years before 2020, according to ESPNcricinfo's logs, Bravo bowled only one ball around the wicket every 4.5 deliveries to one every 3.4 deliveries since 2020.
He has also made his slower balls less predictable by nailing his on-pace yorkers more often. Since January 2020, he has bowled 100 quick yorkers in 32 innings, conceding only 65 runs off them. In the two years before then, he bowled only 57 quick yorkers in 29 innings, giving up 69 runs.
In the IPL this year, when Deepak Chahar didn't find swing with the new ball in the UAE against Sunrisers Hyderabad, CSK went to Bravo as an option in the early exchanges, who then pinned Kane Williamson with an outswinger that dipped and shaped away very late. It was only the sixth time in five years that Bravo was on as early as the seventh over of an IPL game.
It doesn't surprise St Kitts & Nevis Patriots coach Simon Helmot in the slightest. Helmot first worked with Bravo in 2009 when the allrounder was signed by Victoria Bushrangers as an overseas player in the pre-BBL era. In September earlier this year, the pair ushered St Kitts & Nevis Patriots to the CPL title as captain and coach - a comprehensive turnaround rom 2020, when the side had finished at the bottom.
"When I first met Dwayne [during the Victoria stint], he was a very good allrounder and a quality cricketer," Helmot says. "We re-engaged in 2014, when I had the opportunity to coach Trinidad & Tobago Red Steel. Just before that, Dwayne came over to the Renegades when I was coaching them. Five years after the first engagement in Australia with Victoria Bushrangers, I just saw the growth of this person - he was not only a very good cricketer but was a very good leader.
"We won the last game and Dwayne put five fielders on the leg side, with four to win for the [Adelaide] Strikers and three to tie. He came round the wicket and bowled that traditional [yorker] into the back heel. It only went for two and we won the game by a run.
"Dwayne Bravo is not only a cricketer, he's a thinker and strategist; he gets the game."
In the Caribbean and various leagues around the world, Bravo has been harnessing his 500-plus T20s worth of experience to nurture youngsters, settling into a role like his Super Kings captain MS Dhoni has been fulfilling for a while. When Nicholas Pooran stood in as captain for the injured Kieron Pollard for the home T20I series against Australia, Bravo was often at mid-on or mid-off, passing on inputs to the younger bowlers. And during the CPL, he was often spotted around the pool, exchanging ideas with Pooran, Sunil Narine and Samuel Badree, who was commentating on the tournament. Bravo was picked as a mentor by Trinidad & Tobago for their Super 50 campaign earlier this year.
"In 2021 [at St Kitts & Nevis Patriots], I saw a difference again from 2014-16. He wasn't just the captain, he was the ultimate leader," Helmot says. "He's invested in our staff and players, he's invested in our ownership and the entire organisation. Maybe that's with him being involved with CSK and their strong organisation. But I've seen this guy grow around 15 years now from being a quality captain, player, and now the whole gamut.
"Game intelligence and game starts in T20 cricket is crucial. Yes, T20 can be known as a young person's game, but it's also for the person of experience - one who can problem-solve and work out situations, not just for themselves but also for team-mates around."
While Bravo performs a number of roles in T20, it is his defensive bowling that defines his career, Helmot says, drawing a comparison with Muthiah Muralidaran.
"The two guys I've had a lot to do with over a decade have been Dwayne Bravo and Muralidaran. Both those guys are legends in their countries and very successful in T20 cricket. They both base their bowling on defence - you bowl the best defensive ball you can, then the wickets will come. Murali was all about making sure you don't go for more than 28 runs [in a four-over spell]. This is a guy who has taken 800 Test wickets, but he always talks about being the best defensive T20 bowler you could be, and Dwayne is exactly the same.
"He can bowl round the wicket, he bowls the floater slower ball, he has bowled the offcutter, wide yorker, and his change of pace is his fast bouncer. If you stop someone scoring in T20, only two things can happen: boundary or out."
Bravo the batter has stepped up this year, in the lead-up to the T20 World Cup. He has scored 270 runs in 18 innings in 2021, 21 runs more than what he managed across the previous two years in 28 innings. West Indies tried to make use of his batting form by promoting him to No. 5 in their opening match against England, but he fell cheaply in a horrific team collapse. Nevertheless, if West Indies still can't quite fit Roston Chase, their anchor, into the XI, Bravo could once again be an option to break up the sequence of left-handers and power-hitters.
CPL title: check. IPL title: check. Can Bravo go on to win the world T20 title as well and do a three-peat in the same year? It's not beyond him, as far as Helmot is concerned.
"Every time you see a West Indies side walking out in a World Cup, especially in T20s, you're worried aren't you? They know how to win and have already won it a couple of times. Wouldn't it be amazing - CPL, IPL and World Cup in the same year? I wouldn't really put it past the champion!"

Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo