How Dwayne Bravo cracked the code of T20 bowling

With 170 wickets, the dancing, singing, expressive allrounder Dwayne Bravo, who has played for at least 20 T20 franchises around the world, has become the highest wicket taker in IPL history. He has the zany persona for his art to be commercialised. Yet, without IPL, he might not have really blossomed.

Over the last few years, Bravo has often asked Lakshmi Narayanan, the performance analyst of CSK, one particular question: Why does Dhoni trust me so much in pressure situations in the game? Lakky, as Lakshmi is called in the team, tells him that he is loved and respected by Dhoni for his attitude and skills. Sachin Tendulkar gave him the confidence that his skill is respected far away from his own small island in the Caribbean when he called him to play for Mumbai Indians and Dhoni bottled the spirit of Bravo and sprayed it around even as he slowly slipped away from West Indian cricket.

The moment that turned his career came in 2006, two years before the first IPL, when his idol Brian Lara threw him the ball to bowl the last over with the job to prevent Yuvraj Singh from getting 10 runs. He bled two fours before slipping in a wicked little dipping slower one that completely befuddled Yuvraj. He ran away in delirium, arms spread like wings – the ball and the celebration has seen encores ever since.

That ball is well worth a deep dive as it captures everything about his art. It’s one thing for Lasith Malinga to bowl it; not that it’s easier but with that side-arm slinging action, it’s understandable. For Bravo to under-cut the ball with his more conventional action, he has to contort his wrists to get the fingers to slice the ball and then extend the arm out to ensure the ball floats really full. Without either, it’s not as effective. Malinga’s side-arm release allows him to slice and release the ball like a frisbee in a naturally flowing unimpeded action. Neither does he have Malinga’s pace. Yet, his version is wonderfully wicked.

Both Malinga and Bravo had no role models really. As in, T20 bowling was unchartered territory. The best pacers of their era didn’t necessarily have the best T20 style to emulate. Yorkers and slower ones as deliveries existed before, of course but they had to mould them into T20 shape on their own. There was no pre-existing model that they could dip into. They had to decide how many to bowl, where and when to bowl. More than most, Bravo has cracked the T20 bowling code.

One of the greatest gripes that Michael Holding has is the perception that people carry about the great West Indies bowlers of his generation. “Even our bowling. It was as if they thought, all we needed to do was run up and bowl fast or short. That’s what irks me the most. I tell them to check the scorebook: how many were lbw, bowled, caught in slips. It’s as if they don’t want to credit our thinking.” Even his jazzy run-up was attributed, by some, almost subconsciously to his race. It makes Holding bristle.

In a sweet irony, it has been left to a medium pacer from the Caribbean to make younger generation respect and acknowledge the brain and the thought that goes into bowling. That will be Bravo’s legacy.

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