Hope springs eternal

As the round-robin stage of the 2018 Caribbean Premier League (CPL) reaches the half way mark this week, the hopes of West Indian cricket fans of their team’s chances in next year’s ICC Cricket World Cup, are beginning to climb.

 Captains, Andre Russell of the Jamaican Tallawahs and Keiron Pollard of the St. Lucian Stars, noted plunderers of the ball, have both walloped centuries. However, it is the recent form displayed by the two lefthanders, the young Guyanese Shimron Hetmyer and the experienced Trinidadian Darren Bravo, which has the hearts and minds of West Indians racing again. 

  Hetmyer, who is now beginning to establish a regular place in the West Indies line-up, has led the Amazon Warriors to two resounding victories with his bat. His responsible innings of 79 not out versus the St. Kitts and Nevis Patriots, in front of his home crowd in the Amazons’ first match, was followed by a thrilling even century in Florida last Saturday, anchoring his team’s total of 209 in a 71-run defeat of the previously unbeaten Tallawahs. His 49-ball innings included eleven boundaries and five sixes, as he continues to demonstrate his natural run-scoring ability which needs only to be tempered as he appreciates the need to accumulate huge scores in the longer formats of the game.

  Bravo has been absent from the West Indies team, since his “big idiot” tweet, which was aimed at Cricket West Indies  (CWI) President Dave Cameron, back in November, 2016. The impasse appeared to have been resolved last year July when Bravo agreed to remove the tweet. However, he has offered a series of flimsy excuses every time an offer has been extended to him to return to the team, even declining to go the ICC World Cup qualifiers.  He has preferred to offer his services to the very lucrative T20 leagues around the world, though rarely given the opportunity to perform, along with sporadic appearances for his native Trinidad and Tobago.

 Under the captaincy of his older brother, Dwayne, Darren appears to have regained an appetite for the game, guiding the Trinbago Knight Riders (TKR) to two unlikely wins within the last week. On Thursday, facing the challenging target of 213 set by the St. Lucia Stars, Bravo strode to the middle to join Brendan McCullum, with his team precariously placed on 71 for three, off 9.2 overs. 

  What followed next can only be described as the unprecedented savaging of a CPL bowling attack, as Bravo and McCullum pulled off an improbable victory. With five overs left, the Stars were coasting to the win, with the TKR still requiring 85 runs. Captain Pollard, with a decision he will regret forever, opted to deliver the 16thover.

As a little drizzle commenced, Bravo drilled Pollard’s first delivery, a good length off-cutter over the fielder at deep mid-wicket for six. The second, of a slightly fuller length, was promptly dispatched out of the Darren Sammy Stadium in St. Lucia, the third sailed over the deep mid-wicket boundary, as the crestfallen hometown fans gasped in disbelief.  Pollard tried to hide the fourth ball outside the off stump, only to watch Bravo, who appeared to have guessed correctly what was coming, plant his right foot across and launch it over long-on. The name of Garry Sobers entered the conversation, as the television audience began to hope to witness Bravo emulate Sir Garry’s 1969 feat of six sixes in an over. It wasn’t to be, as Bravo miscued the next delivery, a slower one, into the vacant mid-off, as the batsmen scampered two. The final delivery was deposited straight back over the sightscreen.

The fortunate viewers had just witnessed the most expensive over ever in the CPL’s six-year history:  6, 6, 6, 6, 2, 6 – 32 runs. The gleeful Bravo could not resist pumping his fist in obvious delight, a man once again enjoying the pure pleasure of batting.

McCullum, taking his cue from his partner, then hammered two sixes and two boundaries off of McCoy, Obed, not The Real one, as the TKR reduced the target to a paltry 32 off 18 balls.

The contest was over, just like that. The pair added 137 runs off 53 deliveries, as the Stars were reduced to mere spectators at their massacre. Bravo would finish on undefeated on 94, inclusive of ten sixes and six fours, with McCullum contributing 68 from 42 balls, with six maximums and three boundaries. The TKR victory win with one ball to spare in the end, was really not that close.

On Sunday, Bravo was at it again, this time as the TKR chased the Tallawahs’ total of 184. Arriving in the middle after six overs, with the score on 28 for three, he guided his team to 135, before playing over one from Imad Wasim to be clean bowled, for 50, inclusive of five sixes. His dismissal left the TKR requiring 48 off 22 deliveries.

As the television cameras followed Bravo back to the shed,  as he glanced up at the sky, his disappointment at having let his side down was etched all over his face. He continuously banged the bat on his right leg, still annoyed with himself at the fundamental mistake he had committed. When Javon Searles hammered the last delivery for four to give the TKR the unlikely win, it was Darren Bravo who led the celebratory charge on to the field.

Bravo’s passion for the game appears to have returned. All efforts must be made to harness it and return him to his rightful place in the West Indies line up. His striking of the ball continues to be clean and precise, as he plays, like all great players do, as though blessed with an extra second or two, to decide where he is going to place the ball.

At 29, Bravo can no longer let his precious talent meander away. Introduced to the World at the ICC Under-19 World Cup in Malaysia in 2008, his fellow contemporaries, India’s Virat Kohli, the Australian Steve Smith, England’s Joe Root and New Zealand’s Kane Williamson have been scaling new heights, while Bravo pines away on the sidelines.

It is time Bravo forgets about his quibbles with the CWI. Disagreeing with the authorities is nothing new in West Indies cricket. Sir Frank Worrell, Sir Garry Sobers, Clive Lloyd, Sir Viv Richards, and more recently, Brian Lara and Chris Gayle have all clashed with the board. Battles can be fought off the field; the war is won in the middle of the pitch.

The ICC World Cup commences on 30th May, 2019, late spring. The West Indies take the field the next day in a game with Pakistan at Trent Bridge, Nottingham, and their fans are hoping to see the names of Shimron Hetmyer and Darren Bravo in the number three and four slots in the lineup.

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