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For Dwayne ‘DJ’ Bravo, success on stage & field is all about a nice change of pace


“Just last week, me and MS [Dhoni] were talking about that ball,” Dwayne Bravo says with a laugh. The man with one of the greatest dipping slower balls in cricket history was talking about the brute of a bouncer he had bowled to Kevin Pietersen. In his flipbook of foxiest slower deliveries that have dipped and alarmed batsmen, a page would sparkle with that brute. Watch it on YouTube, please. By the time Pietersen is aware of what’s happening, the ball crashes into his helmet, knocks it off his head, and it topples on to the stumps. A dazed Pietersen bends over the stumps almost, but Bravo is off, sprinting to nowhere in particular. What particular memory was he sharing with Dhoni, though?

“How KP didn’t speak a word to me after that for the rest of the series. Not a word!” Bravo tells this newspaper. “He thought I didn’t show concern that he was hit, and was celebrating. That was the furthest thought in my mind. I had one look, saw the helmet fall on the stumps and this was the wicket of KP. Of course, I was going to celebrate! Only after the series did we break the ice. Good times!”

It’s been a remarkable career for the T20 ronin who has played for 20 franchises around the world. For a man with the most gorgeous lofted drive over extra cover and long-off and who started as an opener in his formative years, only turning to bowling at the age of 19 or 20, it’s as a thinking bowler that he has been raved and feted. And in particular, his slower ones. Everyone knows he is going to bowl it; yet gets bewildered.

“The other day, my brother Darren [Bravo] was saying the same. ‘How is it that all of us batsmen know you are going to bowl the slower one and still get fooled?!’” The answer is blowing in his brain. “Mainly, it’s about execution – the timing of when to bowl, what lengths to bowl, the dipper or the regular cutter, or the full dipping yorker, or the well-outside off full ball. The game awareness.”

That, of course, but sometimes it seems even if he tells a batsman a slower one is coming, they can still get duped; especially when it’s that crafty dipper. “No, no! Many times it has gone wrong also, but that dipper is my favourite weapon, yes.”

It’s worth a deep dive. “The deception firstly comes from the fact that I don’t change my grip for any ball. The slower one, yorker, bouncer, everything has the same grip and the same arm speed. That I worked on a lot. The batsman might think it’s a slower one but since there are no visible cues, at the back of his mind, he has to think that it could be anything,” Bravo says.

“For the dipper, just before release, I twist the wrist and pull down on the side of the ball. The thumb and fingers don’t work much but sort of flick it out. The wrist-twist and the pull-down.”

Where he aims for is fascinating too. “I go for his thigh pad. What I am really looking to bowl is a full toss! The twist and pull-down drag the ball down from that height. The batsman feels it’s going to be a beamer before it dips so fast on him.”

He then adds an important trait needed for him to pull it off. “Courage. To get it full, high, slip it like a full toss and have the confidence that it will dip. Most batsmen by now should be used to it but it gives me great joy that I can still surprise them.”

Signature move

That ball turned around his career. The dismissal of Yuvraj Singh in an ODI in the West Indies, in particular. “It made the world look up and notice that I have one of the best change-up balls in business and it made my T20 career.” India needed just two runs off three balls when captain Brian Lara walked up to Bravo for a chat.

“To discuss field placements. I still hadn’t really thought about what ball to bowl. I am still not clear when I go to the top of my run-up.” He isn’t clear even half-way through his jog. “At some point, before I get to the umpire, I decide I am going to bowl that dipper.” From round the stumps, the beauty curved, drifted, dipped, and a stunned Yuvraj swished out in the air but only found air as the leg-stump was pegged back. Bravo was on the run, with Lara and Co. behind him. Sachin Tendulkar noted it and would later pass on the message through the late West Indian commentator Tony Cozier to tell Bravo to call him. He was in the Mumbai Indians team. “Life began to change.”

Over the years, there have been numerous times when he has left batsmen ashen-faced and sheepish. Faf du Plessis in the Caribbean Premier League. “Again, as I ran in, I thought he was about to step down the track; I just sensed it and chose the dipper.” Du Plessis was thrown off kilter so much that he lunged forward, stumbled out actually, and was bowled.

Or the time he played Shoaib Malik at the CPL. “I sensed he was going to swipe across the line. That feeling you get is precious as a bowler. As I said before, there have been times it goes wrong. And even when I sense it and bowl the ideal ball, he can still adjust and hit. But for all this to work, that feeling of what a batsman wants to do is important. I look at his feet. For some, their hands. Top hand or bottom hand. What’s his favourite go-to shot? How is he setting himself this ball. You get a quick look at the top of the run-up or as you run down and decide quickly.”

This is where his one-grip for nearly every ball helps. It’s a mental adjustment, not a frantic last-instant change of the entire mechanism. “Right. For that Malik ball, he did go as I thought he would.” The stumps tilted back towards the skies.

What about the delivery in an ODI to Graeme Smith. A proper off-spin cutter that landed outside leg-stump, broke in sharply to hit the middle. Bravo pauses, asks where it was, and even as one was about to mumble, he perks up, “Yes, yes. I remember that ball now. That was a very slow pitch. The ball gripped. Another thing to take in always is the conditions. There, I could slip in the off-break. That did him in, alright!”

It’s ridiculous to ask someone who has scalped so many with slower ones to choose his favourite and he replies it’s indeed ridiculous. “Too many, man, to choose one ball as favourite. That Yuvraj ball did change my life.”

***

As a boy, Bravo inhabited the imaginary world that cricket-mad kids often revel in. As soon as he finished his homework after coming from school, he would pick up a stick. It was his bat in this fictional world. He then picked two teams, usually England vs West Indies. In his mind’s eye, Darren Gough would run in to bowl and he was Desmond Haynes, batting in his style. An audio commentary ran along. He would play an entire match. If it’s Lara’s turn, then Bravo would bat the way Lara did.

It was one of his early mentors Richard Smith, who used to play for Trinidad & Tobago, who seeded the cricket dream. “He was the one who told me that when you play these dream games at home, make sure you put your name in the West Indies team.” A dream was born. His mother Joycelyn once told Trinidad Guardian. “He used to bat by himself in the corridor, running up and down. I used to see this piece of stick and throw it outside because I really didn’t know. He would come after and tell me that was his bat.”

The parents had divorced when he was very young, he lived with his mother but had a healthy relationship with the father. To this day, when Bravo is in town, his father comes to his house to cook chicken rice for him. It was the father who took a very young Bravo to play Sunday cricket with other kids.

“He is my hero. To this day, he doesn’t have a bank account, no credit card, no ATM card, nothing. He is the happiest man I know. Lives life stress-free.”

Bravo had his own way to beat the stress: Music. The king of dance-hall music Anthony Davis aka ‘Beenie Man’ was a major influence. “I never even dreamed that one day I would meet him and when I did, I was so star-struck. Luckily, we became friends.” One day, he dared to ask Beenie Man if he could sing with him. “He took me to his studio and that’s when I found out how tough it was. I made a mess! I had no clue but I decided that I would learn.”

Hit man

In the years to come, he began to roll out foot-tappers like Champion and the latest is Number One, launched by his own music label ‘47’. ’Ae yo DJ Bravo’ it begins, “I am no 1, you are new no 1 …’ “I call mine ‘happy music’.

The journey had started with a betrayal. He had made up his mind on buying a boat and using it as a party destination in Trinidad, where from Thursday to Sunday evenings, people party on boats. On a good day, at least four-five trips would be made, if not more. Anywhere from 50 to 100,000 could be netted in four nights. He had bought a boat from Miami but when it reached the Caribbean seas, someone else cut in, illegally, with more money and Bravo was shocked when his manager told him they lost the boat deal. Undeterred, Bravo moved on to his next venture, his original passion, and built a music studio. Then came the label. The songs have been spilling out ever since.

“Just 10 days before I came here for the IPL, I performed on the same stage in a big concert with Beenie Man! That’s cool!” He also has a way of incorporating his songs into his celebrations and in the last game, after he became the highest wicket-taker in IPL history by taking his 170th wicket, he swayed side to side, with the index finger up. “It’s an easy step. I don’t have to practise or remind myself too much about celebrations. It comes out nice and easy.”

Just like his dippers, then. Nice and easy, but deadly.





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