Before the West Indies team set a foot on South African soil for the three-match Test series, Kraigg Brathwaite was under the microscope in relation to how he would cope with a much vaunted pace attack of Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel.
Ignoring the talent and guts which the 22-year-old Barbadian opening batsman has been blessed with, there were some detractors who publicly stated that he would be a failure.
But as soon as Brathwaite proved them wrong by scoring a high-class century in the rain-hit, drawn second Test at St. George’s Park in Port Elizabeth, his critics were sheepishly singing a different tune.
Brathwaite made 106 – a career third century in 16 Tests and his first outside of the Caribbean. The fact that his three centuries were scored in his last six Tests – all in 2014 – underlined his big appetite for hundreds, which he exhibited from the primary school level.
He batted for 287 minutes, faced 186 balls and struck 12 fours, featuring in a record third wicket stand of 176 with the experienced Marlon Samuels who made 101 in 203 minutes off 160 deliveries with 14 fours and one six.
Apart from those two centuries, it was a somewhat strange West Indies scorecard of 275 for nine off 79 overs in reply to South Africa’s first innings of 417 for eight declared off 122 overs, with the last day’s play being washed out.
The way Brathwaite dug in against the pacers was very admirable, especially when he was peppered with short-pitched balls from Morkel, bowling around the wicket, as short-leg and leg gully were lurking.
“It wasn’t easy. Morkel was bowling some short balls this morning but I just decided I would bat what I see, believe in my ability and fight hard,” Brathwaite said.
“I just told myself when I see the ball in the area where I can score from, that I would back myself and go after it and that’s what I did and it came off quite well.
“At the end of the day, it is all about how the pitch is playing and you play to suit. I always work according to the pitch. I’ve also been working hard in terms of different shots and stuff and it’s paying off now.”
Brathwaite’s other Test centuries are 129 against New Zealand at Queen’s Park Oval in Trinidad and 212 off Bangladesh at Arnos Vale in St. Vincent.
In 2014, he scored 701 runs in six Tests at the outstanding average of 77.88.
It is clear that Brathwaite has worked extremely hard on his game since his Test debut against Pakistan at Warner Park in St. Kitts in 2011. There was then a feeling in many quarters that he was too defensive and needed to beef up his shot selection.
Gradually, Brathwaite has become more positive and effective. Just look at the way he times the ball when cutting and also his drives through the off side and down the ground. He can only go from strength to strength.
Yet, there is no need to be carried away by the wonderful century he scored against South Africa. He has made it clear that it is his desire to play 100 Test matches and once he keeps his focus and continues to produce, that target will become a reality.
This series against South Africa was always going to be a big test for West Indies. Prior to the final Test which started today at Newlands in Cape Town, apart from Brathwaite and Samuels, the batting was a major concern and the bowling was generally ordinary.
Soon the attention will turn to the Twenty20 and One-Day International series against the South Africans with emphasis on the latter as the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand approaches.
Victimisation or not in relation to the axing of Dwayne Bravo as skipper of the ODI team, it is a bold step by the Clive Lloyd-chaired selection committee to give the captaincy to Jason Holder, the 23-year-old fast bowling all-rounder from Barbados.
Bravo has paid the price for his role in the unforgettable, aborted tour of India last October and has also lost his place in the ODI side, along with another seasoned player in Kieron Pollard as the selectors seek to shape the squad for the World Cup.
Former captain Darren Sammy was not named in the original ODI squad as well, but was drafted in with an ankle injury to pacer Kemar Roach, sustained in the opening Test, which South Africa won by an innings and 220 runs with a day to spare at SuperSport Park in Centurion.
Lloyd, the outstanding former West Indies captain, has told us that Holder’s appointment was with an eye to the future.
“Jason is one of the good, young players who we believe will form part of the long-term future of West Indies cricket. We expect him to be around for a very long time. He is a young man with a very bright future. We have invested in him. He was part of the High Performance Centre and he also played for the West Indies Under-19 Team and the West Indies A Team,” Lloyd said.
“He has played ODIs for the West Indies before and has done well. We know he will continue to grow and demonstrate leadership. He has a very good cricketing brain and has the makings of a very good leader.
“The selectors decided that now is the time to make the transition and Jason will have people around him to help and guide him. Some might say it’s close to the time of next (this) year’s ICC Cricket World Cup in Australia and New Zealand but we know that we have a good One-Day team which can do very well.”
Those are indeed powerful words.
To become the youngest ever West Indies captain is a big honour for the 6ft 7in Holder. There is no question about his leadership ability and the level-headedness, which he possesses. He has played 21 ODIs and is now in only his third Test.
“It’s just about moving West Indies cricket forward and I think most of the guys can buy into what I’m about to put forward and what I think is best for West Indies cricket,” Holder said of his appointment.
The Jason Holder I know is a good listener and thinker. He sees his batting as stronger than his bowling but I trust that he keeps a very open mind in relation to both aspects of his game and remains humble with such a big leadership task ahead of him.
West Indies certainly need a bright start to 2015.
Keith Holder is a veteran, award-winning freelance sports journalist, who has been covering local, regional and international cricket since 1980 as a writer and commentator. He has compiled statistics on the Barbados Cricket Association (BCA) Division 1 (now Elite) championship for over three decades and is responsible for editing the BCA website (www.bcacricket.org). Holder is also the host of the cricket Talk Show, Mid Wicket, on the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation 100.7 FM on Tuesday nights. Email: Keithfholdergmail.com.