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CPL 18: This is not the year for a TKR loss; Best defends the demonised Dwayne Bravo 

“A tragedy of magnanimous proportions.”

The phrase is borrowed from cricket media’s Mr Malaprop, who used it to summarise the rapid demise of “a triumvirate” of Jamaica Tallawahs batsmen in a recent CPL match. I damblay it to sum up how the hordes of boisterous Trinbago Knight Riders are likely to view any failure by Dwayne Bravo’s team to deliver a second successive title at the Brian Lara Stadium on September 16.

Photo: Trinbago Knight Riders captain Dwayne Bravo (left) is deep in thought alongside wicket keeper Denesh Ramdin during the CPL final against St Kitts and Nevis Patriots at the Brian Lara Cricket Academy in Tarouba on 9 September 2017.
(Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)

Despite the team’s indifferent start in this year’s three-match home leg, today, with just over half of the round-robin phase of this year’s tournament completed, things are looking good for TKR.

Kieron Pollard’s St Lucia Stars are already non-Star-ters for the next round. And although the pecking order is as yet far from settled, it seems a pretty safe bet that joining them on the sidelines of the playoff phase in Guyana on September 11 and 12, it will be either Jason Holder’s Tridents or the Amazon Warriors—matters not whether it is Jason Mohammed or Rayad Emrit who replaces the departing Shoaib Malik at the helm.

So the fans are cock-a-hoop, confident that Bravo and his boys will pull the chataignes out of the fire this year as well. When, however, at the end of Week I, the TKR entry on the standings table read “Played 3 Won 1 Lost 2”, the criticisms were flowing thick and fast; unsurprisingly, most of them were directed at the skipper.

Bravo, many felt certain, should leave the death bowling to someone else. And he should also, just as many insisted, abandon the experiment of opening with Sunil Narine who has only been, as an angry caller put it, “shitting on he tail.” And not just in the current season!

I disagree, on the general and the specific. Right here on Wired868, I have argued that much of the credit for TKR’s 2017 success was due to DJB, the senior Bravo.

Photo: TKR skipper Dwayne Bravo, (centre, front row) with match-winner Kevon Cooper at his back, celebrates his team’s capture of their second CPL title after they defeated the St Kitts and Nevis Patriots in the final at the Brian Lara Stadium in Tarouba on 9 September 2017.
(Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)

A cricket match after all, as a very wise man once said, is played in the minds of the opposing captains. And even before Wired868’s recent Cover Drive interview with the TKR skipper, it was obvious to discerning observers that DJB has a mind of his own.

Obvious too is the fact that his man management skills are superior to those of any of the other current captains in the competition. And his success as the undisputed leader of his Trinidad-based T20 aggregation can be explained by his intuitive understanding of how T20 cricket really works along with the seemingly telepathic understanding existing between captain and batsmen, as well as what is clearly a shared vision of what is required from each TKR player in his assigned role.

Bravo’s mastery of the working of the T20 format, my theory runs, began with the West Indies’ capture of the ICC T20 World Cup in India in 2016. There are doubtless scores of WI supporters who will claim that, with West Indies needing first 45 off the last four overs of that final match-up, then 38 off three and soon 27 off two, they still expected a West Indies win.

Today, with six rounds of CPL 2018 completed, the senior Bravo can perhaps make a convincing case. But not even he can persuade me that he expected Carlos Brathwaite to produce his sick six-six-six-six heroics to reach the 19 needed off Ben Stokes’ last over—with a lagniappe!

Photo: West Indies’ Carlos Brathwaite (right) and teammate Marlon Samuels celebrate after victory in the World T20 cricket tournament final match between England and West Indies at The Eden Gardens Cricket Stadium in Kolkata on 3 April 2016.
(Copyright AFP 2016/Dibyangshu Sarkar)

Reflection on that event, I submit, enabled Bravo to clearly perceive and make sense of what he had until then merely intuitively grasped: when chasing in the T20 game, your eyes always have to be on the mathematical chance of victory. Put another way, for as long as the required run-rate remains less than 36 runs per over, you may have lost control but you have not yet lost the game.

My gut tells me that CPL 2018 has already changed skipper Bravo for the better, providing first-hand evidence in support of his original intuition. It started with Andre Russell’s savage dismantling of the TKR attack to the tune of 122 runs to earn an incredible win for his side in Port-of-Spain. Arithmetic, that heart-breaking defeat has taught Bravo, is helpful when you are chasing; when you’re defending, however, you sometimes need algebra. Or perhaps even differential calculus.

But the panic provoked by Russell’s onslaught really has no place in the TKR scheme of things.

An important lesson for the skipper came from another dismantling—this time of the Stars by Bravo the Younger in conjunction with Brendon McCullum. The pair averaged just below 30 runs per over from overs 16 to 18, thus denying Pollard’s men what seemed like certain victory.

TKR, Bravo saw clearly, still have not just the potential to devastate but the proven firepower; so panic has no place in the TKR scheme of things.

Photo: TKR batsman Darren Bravo goes on the attack during CPL action against Jamaica Tallawahs at the Queen’s Park Oval on 10 August 2018.
(Copyright Allan V Crane/CA-Images)

That message was reinforced in the subsequent match against the Tallawahs. This time, Bravo the Younger, who is, in his elder brother’s words, “the best batsman in the region,” did not quite manage to keep open the mathematical possibility. The proven firepower coming behind did the rest.

QED: Panic has no place in the TKR scheme of things.

The final piece of the picture came in a game in which the TKR were mere spectators. With his team chasing a modest total of 147 and their most destructive pair of Chris Gayle (0) and Evin Lewis (1) both dismissed cheaply, the Patriots’ Brendon King allowed the Tridents’ Mohammed Irfan to deliver 23 consecutive dot balls.

From 31 for 2 after 9 overs, the St Kitts and Nevis side recovered to win fairly comfortably by six wickets.

Ergo, panic has no place in the T20 scheme of things!

The lesson of all these performances—Russell, both Bravos and King—is that, whereas in the five-day, 450-over Test cricket format, the batsman has the luxury of playing each ball on its merit, the T20 format is a 120-test affair.

In it, the merit of each ball is not determined by its line or its length, the prevailing conditions or any such technical consideration; it is determined almost entirely by the numbers on the scoreboard—inter alia, the par score for the ground, the required run-rate, the minimum number of balls left in the innings, the current score and the number of wickets in hand—at each one of the 120 moments.

Photo: Trinbago Knight Riders captain Dwayne Bravo (left) gives instructions during the CPL final against St Kitts and Nevis Patriots at the Brian Lara Cricket Academy in Tarouba on 9 September 2017.
(Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)

It is the mastery of the full import of those last seven words that, in my view, makes Dwayne Bravo better than any of his opposite numbers in the CPL. Like Tiger Woods in his heyday, the TKR skipper has consistently evinced a capacity for finding the right answer to the question being posed now, for living in the moment.

Which is why he generally demonstrates in each game a high degree of flexibility, adaptability and unpredictability. And why, alerted by the reversal of fortunes in their second and third CPL 2018 games where in-the-momentness temporarily took a back seat behind complacency, TKR have already righted the ship.

Skipper Bravo has now eschewed the temporary reliance on tried and tested formulae, anathema, he seems once again acutely aware, to the successful T20 captain.

Editor’s Note: Click HERE for Part Two as Earl Best explains why Dwayne Bravo will continue to bowl at the death, Sunil Narine should stay at number two and Shannon Gabriel should be kept on the bench.

About Earl Best

Earl Best
Earl Best taught cricket, French, football and Spanish at QRC for many years and has written consistently for the Tapia and the Trinidad and Tobago Review since the 1970's. He is also a former sports editor at the Trinidad Guardian and the Trinidad Express and is now a senior lecturer in Journalism at COSTAATT.

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