IPL 2016: Constantly-evolving Dwayne Bravo is the fittest to survive era of big-hitters - Firstpost
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IPL 2016: Constantly-evolving Dwayne Bravo is the fittest to survive era of big-hitters

"(Dwayne) Bravo is playing in an altogether different theme with the Champion song and after the World T20 win. I met him in Mumbai and he was really happy. I am very lucky to have him in my team," Gujarat Lions captain Suresh Raina said just a week ago at a promotional event in Mumbai.

On Tuesday night, Bravo did seem in that 'different theme' as he made Gujarat Lions' IPL debut a memorable one with his best figures yet in the League as he became the first bowler to scalp 300 wickets in Twenty20 cricket, surpassing Lasith Malinga who is on 299.

It was palpable that Bravo had carried forward the confidence and momentum from the historic World T20 win at Eden Gardens on that memorable night, as he danced to the tunes of 'Champion' during every wicket celebration.

Dwayne Bravo was on song against Kings XI Punjab on Tuesday. AFP

Dwayne Bravo was on song against Kings XI Punjab on Tuesday. AFP

On a good batting wicket at the PCA Stadium in Mohali, everything seemed to be going against Gujarat Lions after Raina won the toss and opted to bowl. This was a venue at which the team batting first had won 5 times out of 7 since the start of 2015. Then, the KXIP got off to a solid start as Murali Vijay and Manan Vohra played some sublime strokes puttting on a 78-run stand from eight overs. Things were looking bleak for Lions before Ravindra Jadeja finally removed Vohra in the 9th over.

David Miller arrived and straightaway got into the groove with a four off the second ball he faced. Vijay, meanwhile was looking in ominous touch.

This is when Raina introduced another bowler from his collection of ex-CSK players -- Bravo.

The West Indies all-rounder varied his pace well in his first over and Vijay found it difficult to read. He was forced to sway away from a quick bouncer too while he found it difficult to get away the slower ones. KXIP could garner just five runs from the over and that built the pressure. Jadeja cashed in on Vijay's impatience in the next over to send him back for 42.

Despite Vijay's departure, Miller looked in aggressive mood as he launched Jadeja into the orbit for a massive six in the same over.

Two of the most dangerous batsmen were at the crease now - Glenn Maxwell and Miller. The crowd were in anticipation of yet another M & M show on a very good batting wicket.

"If these two guys can bat till next eight overs (we are expecting) may be 200 plus, if they got out 170-180 is a good total," KXIP mentor Virender Sehwag pointed out while talking to Rameez Raja on the sidelines.

Five balls later, both the batsmen were back sitting with their mentor in the dug out as Bravo provided a drastic turnaround in the 12th over. Within a space of few deliveries, he showed why he is one of the most creative bowlers in T20 cricket right now.

Nothing can match the joy of watching a bowler set up a batsman's wicket. He bowled a quick bouncer off the third ball, Maxwell was caught off guard as he first looked to pull but then left it alone -- he was beaten by the pace. The next ball, Maxwell gave himself room, too much room, probably expecting a slower one, but Bravo bowled a fast, stinging, pin-point yorker which disturbed the stumps even before Maxwell could get his bat down. Bouncer-yorker-champion dance.

Then next ball was another sharp short of a length ball to the new man Wriddhiman Saha who patted it to point but earned a run on the overthrow. Now it was Bravo's turn to play with Miller's mind.

He ordered the mid-wicket fielder to rush to deep mid-wicket and brought third man in. Now, there was a deep square leg and a deep mid-wicket. With two men on the deep on the leg side, Miller would have been expecting a short one again. But what followed was the ball of the match -- a lovely dipping slower one which completely foxed Miller who was moving forward way before the ball reached him and continued his walk to the dressing room as the ball shattered the stumps, once again.

The ball dipped, it spun and hit the middle stump. It danced to the tunes of Bravo and then Bravo to the tune of champion once again. As Miller trudged off, he signaled to Saha at the other end that he failed to pick up the slower one. Bravo surpassed Malinga to become the highest wicket-taker in T20s and the 300th was indeed off a special delivery.

Short ball, fast full ball (wide), slower length ball, fast bouncer, yorker (wicket), short ball, slower one (Wicket) - this is how Bravo's match turning over.

Bravo is a thinking cricketer. What sets him apart from others is that he is continuously evolving and adjusting himself to the demands of the game. Something which other top class bowlers have struggled to do in the shorter formats, even the likes of Dale Steyn or Morne Morkel. Bravo's variations are the ones that set him apart. It's very difficult to predict the slower ones because of his fast action. Bravo did develop slower ones early on but he's developed variations of variations and now he has that slower one that dips at the last moment and deceives the batsman.

Bravo's slower ball exhibition was on display in the World T20 too where he inflicted a bizarre dismissal of Angelo Mathews who tried to duck under a high full toss but the ball dipped at the last moment and kissed his gloves on the way to the keeper.

He then cleaned up the dangerous AB de Villiers in another match with another slower length delivery which the South African completely failed to read. It is this dip in the slower ball that makes him deadly.

"Where he foxes the batsman is, not only does he slow it up but he seems to put a bit on it, like a hard spun off break and he gets a bit of drop on it," Ian Chappell said after the South Africa - West Indies World T20 match post-game show on ESPN. "A lot of the time, the batsman's picked up that it's a slower ball and he waits and waits but it's that dip in the end that actually defeats him. It's a very good slower ball," he added.

In an era where bats are getting heavier, pitches flatter, grounds smaller and batsmen audacious, only the fittest (bowlers) survive and Bravo has made sure that he is one of them.

"The [dipping] slower ball is a new ball I've been working on. On a good surface you've got to adjust and David Miller is a dangerous player, happy to get his wicket," Bravo said in the presentation ceremony on Tuesday after his four-wicket haul in the season opener.

"Everyday the batsmen improve on their game, sometimes they switch hit, they lap sweep, they fine sweep, they paddle sweep so as a bowler you have to be on top of your game. As a bowler you always have to keep coming up with new variations, so no one can get accustomed to the way you bowl and the style you bowl. The wicket was a good one so I tried to push the batsmen on the backfoot and tried to set them up," he added.

Dwayne Bravo, as is evident, thrives on challenges.

"Being able to bowl at the death when there is a big challenge," Bravo told me during an interaction before the start of World T20, when asked what are the thrills that bowling gives him.

"When you have to defend a particular score in the last over or the second last over, those are the areas that I strive for. To know that for the last five years I’ve been playing for Chennai (CSK) and captain Dhoni trusts me so much that every time the team is in a spot of bother, he throws the ball to me. I enjoy that," he added.

That 12th over from Bravo pegged back KXIP and they never got back the same momentum which they got at the start. Bravo's next over went for just seven runs before he was taken off. Bravo came back to hound them again in the final over -- he bowled from round the wicket and clinched the wickets of Saha and Stoinis off consecutive slower balls. He could have had his first five-wicket haul in IPL but for a dropped chance by Sarabjit Ladda off the final ball of the innings.

Bravo took two wickets and conceded just six runs in the over. It was an exceptional effort. Bravo's 4/22 made sure that the hosts were restricted to a below par total (161) on a good batting pitch.

Aaron Finch, man-of-the-match for his 74 off 74 balls, conceded that on the night of a successful debut outing for the Gujarat Lions, it was Dwayne Bravo who provided the turning point.

"When you've got two guys like Maxwell and Miller, with the firepower they've got and the six hitting capability, to get both out in the same over and then have two new batters and then dry it up for a small period was absolutely crucial, " Finch said. "There are not many better than him (Bravo) going around in this format," Finch added.

Over the years plenty of mystery bowlers have come and gone after being decoded successfully by the batsmen but Bravo has survived for 12 years now.

Bravo has been a globe trotter all these years. He's gained enormous amount of experience having played for West Indies, Chennai Super Kings, Essex, Kent, Lahore Qalandars, Melbourne Renegades, Mumbai Indians, Sydney Sixers, Trinidad & Tobago, Trinidad & Tobago Red Steel and he is only getting better with age.

Bravo is the highest wicket-taker for West Indies in T20Is. Bravo was the highest wicket-taker for Chennai Super Kings in IPL. Bravo was the purple cap holder in 2013 and 2015. Bravo is now the highest wicket-taker in T20s.

The ever-evolving Bravo is a champion and Raina is indeed lucky to have him in his team, again.

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