New Zealand vs West Indies, ICC World Cup 2019: Carlos Brathwaite's calculated assault proves he is more than just a heedless slogger

  • Rohit Sankar
  • June 23rd, 2019
  • 12:47:16 IST

2016 Eden Gardens moment nearly re-created itself at Manchester with the soundbite of Ian Bishop once again providing the perfect background music as Carlos Brathwaite launched into a scathing attack on the Kiwis only to fall short of pulling off an incredible heist.

Carlos Brathwaite celebrates reaching his century. Reuters

Carlos Brathwaite celebrates reaching his century. Reuters

It seemed that the Windies had self-immolated when they went from 142/2 to 164/7 in less than five overs. There was no Andre Russell to save them from the ruckus and a target of 292 looked well beyond them with the CricViz predictions showing 1 percent probability for a West Indies win.

But Carlos Brathwaite wasn't seeing the prediction models. If there was a number assigned to West Indies' probability of winning the World T20 finals in 2016 before that final Ben Stokes over, it would certainly have been less than 1 percent. Nineteen runs needed off six balls and Brathwaite, not batting an eyelid, slammed four successive sixes to take the Windies to a win.

Here, he needed to do more. A loose assault would almost certainly have brought a premature end to the game. He waited, biding his time, reading the pitch, assessing the opposition bowlers and the conditions. He had walked out only for the second time in his ODI career at a position greater than no 7. West Indies had Evin Lewis battling a hamstring injury and Russell on the sidelines. If ever there was a moment for Brathwaite to step up, this was it.

At 164/7, West Indies were done and dusted and sent to the dead. There seemed no coming back and it worked to Brathwaite's advantage. He had been under the weight of insane expectations ever since pulling off that incredible onslaught on Stokes. Every time Brathwaite stepped out to bat, the epic line by Bishop - 'remember the name' - was thrown around by commentators.

But the bat never talked. His highest score since that World T20 final in T20Is is a mere 37. In ODIs, he averaged 14.4 after 31 innings. His first half-century in the format had come in February earlier this year, eight years since his debut. In short, Brathwaite was lucky to be on the World Cup flight. He had turned heads with his composure and hitting on *that* night in 2016, but that hasn't translated into consistent performances.

"You'll fail more times than you perform, I think I've come to grips with that. I've begun to level my own expectations, which probably were more than the expectations of others," Brathwaite, named T20I captain shortly after his blinding show in the finals, revealed a year later.

After meandering through several below-par performances under pressure, Brathwaite was finally under no obligation to take West Indies over the line at Manchester. They were 128 runs away and he was the last recognised batsman – a term that could only have been used to describe Brathwaite before this match – in the middle. The impossibility of the task was evident.

But with the weight off his shoulders, Brathwaite could think. In his 47-run association off 68 balls with Kemar Roach, Brathwaite played out 21 dots and hit two fours and a six. There was the odd single that was being taken but Brathwaite was just sitting back, waiting for the right moment. He had to trust the tail-enders and even after Roach fell, Brathwaite unhesitatingly put Sheldon Cottrell in the line of fire.

If this was to happen, he needed support from the rest of the batsmen. When his turn came, Brathwaite continued to dodge short balls and defend lavishly. Sixes and fours came off his bat as he completed his half-century in 52 balls. West Indies couldn't have gotten themselves to hope just yet. The stand with Cottrell spanned just under seven overs and yielded 34 vital runs.

But importantly, nudging, scoring the odd boundary and defending a lot, West Indies had ambled along to a total from where Brathwaite did not quite need his partner to do much. When Cottrell fell off the last ball of the 45th over with West Indies at 245/9, the game seemed over.

Brathwaite knew his moment had arrived. They were still 47 runs away from a win but this was on him now. He prides on hitting those pressure sixes and backs himself to do it.

"I saw some stats online about the boundary percentages. I guess it's more confidence that our guys in the middle don't panic when most teams panic. I think most teams can't hit the number of boundaries we can hit at the end, so they have to do more rotation of strike. We pride ourselves on hitting those big shots, and continue to," he had said in an interview with ESPNcricinfo shortly after his World T20 heist.

By patiently waiting for the right moment, Brathwaite had let the required rate soar over nine runs per over. The Windies had only one wicket in hand and Brathwaite knew it was time to load up his shotgun. He had seen what the bowlers were trying. He knew Trent Boult and Ferguson had only one over left in the bank which meant Williamson had to get three overs out of Matt Henry and James Neesham.

The Boult and Ferguson overs were played out with minimal fuss as Brathwaite calmly knocked off a four and a six - both off length balls - and evaded the shorter balls. When Henry came on, Brathwaite was loaded to do what he does best - hit sixes.

A short ball was pulled into the stands and two low full tosses also disappeared as Brathwaite showcased what he was all about. Another boundary and the equation was down to eight off 12 balls. He would pick up a double later in the Neesham over to complete a terrific maiden ODI hundred, one that injected life into a run-chase that looked all but over at the halfway stage.

"My thinking was to still watch the ball, still react, and if it is not a ball that I can get a six off, I try to get a single. He [His partner, Oshane Thomas, the no. 11 batsman] was on high alert, but if it came in my area I try and finish the game in that ball, which I did," Brathwaite says in the post-match press conference.

However, unlike at Eden Gardens, Brathwaite could not pull off that last six with five runs needed. A short ball from Neesham was sliced in the air to long-on and an incredible onslaught came to an abrupt end. I thought I had enough bat on it," he said. "Unfortunately it didn't."

Brathwaite sunk to his knees, desperate, inconsolable and in the gloom. He had picked his bowlers, nailed his sixes and manufactured the kind of knock that a No 6 batsmen in ODI cricket dream about. From hopelessness, he had salvaged his team by rallying together the tail-enders and brought them to the cusp of a win.

This World Cup had seen some incredible knocks from underrated stars – a 92 from Coulter-Nile against West Indies, a brilliant 94* from Liton Das against the same opponents and Dimuth Karunaratne shedding his Test avatar to finally embrace the ODI format with a terrific 97 against Australia. None of them quite matched Brathwaite's knock, one that stemmed from nowhere and caught the attention of cricket fans still raving from Afghanistan giving India a run for their money earlier in the night.

"The dream has diminished for Carlos Brathwaite here in Manchester" – commentator Bishop's voice tremored in the background. Another punch line for 'The Incredible Hulk' called Brathwaite. This time, though, the aftermath could be different. Unlike the waves of pressure that washed him over after his heroics in the World T20 final, this could just be the beginning of silent acceptance of what he brings to the table. The dream might have "diminished" for Brathwaite at Manchester on Saturday, but eight years since his ODI debut, it might just have sparked his ODI career to life.

"For me personally, for my confidence, it is a result of all the hard work that I put in," Brathwaite says.

For all the latest news, opinions and analysis from ICC Cricket World Cup 2019, click here


Updated Date: June 23, 2019 12:47:16 IST

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