It was going to be Carlos Brathwaite’s year.
That year, 2011, started brilliantly for the 23-year-old allrounder when he made a half-century and took 7 for 90 in his first-class debut playing for the Combined Campuses and Colleges side.
It continued superbly with a consistent season that brought a haul of 26 wickets in his first eight matches, and it was set to finish on a high when he was selected in the West Indies squad travelling to Bangladesh in October.
Then, on the eve of the tour, his world crumbled.
While preparing for the trip at his family’s home, Brathwaite’s mother, Joycelyn, told him she was suffering from severe pain under her arm.
“We felt it and it felt like a lump,” said Brathwaite. “Me, personally, I prefer to go to a doctor and hear that nothing is wrong, as opposed to thinking nothing is wrong and then something is wrong.
“So I urged her to go to the doctor, and there were two lumps. One was cancerous.”
There was little time to absorb the news. Brathwaite was soon in Bangladesh, impressing selectors and earning his ODI and T20I debuts. But it was difficult to celebrate such success with Joycelyn battling breast cancer through bouts of chemotherapy.
Instead, Brathwaite shaved his head to show solidarity and sent the photos home to show his support.
“She took it better than I did,” Brathwaite says. “I was the one stressing all the time wondering if she was okay, crying at times, and she was always the one with a smile on her face.”
By late 2012, Joycelyn was in remission. Brathwaite nevertheless struggled during that period of time – he repeatedly refers to it as “the ordeal” – to juggle supporting his mother and establishing himself as an international cricketer.
“Through the ordeal I cried the whole night, slept away from home, because I couldn’t manage to stay with her and watch her going through it,” he said. “But she was really buoyant throughout, always smiling and cracking jokes.
“She is a very spiritual person, and she was always saying ‘Just keep faith and God will come through for you’. And her ordeal showed me what God can do, and that is why I have the faith I have.”
Brathwaite has not spoken publicly about his family’s experience until now, on the eve of Jane McGrath day at the Sydney Test, a match that now holds deep significance for him.
The day before the match, when the West Indies posed for team photos in the iconic baggy pink caps synonymous with this Test, Brathwaite noticed the delegation of nurses and breast cancer sufferers from the McGrath foundation. He immediately walked over and hugged each of them.
“That was nice because I have not shared the emotion about breast cancer for a while because we don’t see it as my mum having breast cancer anymore. We just see her as a normal person,” Brathwaite said.
“Just to see someone who went through it and people that care for people going through it, I just felt the need to put my arm around them and say, ‘Thanks for the job you are doing.’ And then I went to the lady [with breast cancer] to say, ‘You are a fighter, you are a survivor and just keep going’.
“Sometimes people need those encouraging words. It may not be a royal speech but they might just need a word or two to lift the spirits, lift the day and have an impact on their life.”
Brathwaite has brought much-needed energy to this West Indies outfit and followed up a half-century on debut in Melbourne with another at the SCG. But this one had much greater significance. Having made 35 on the opening day, the allrounder provided the highlight of a gloomy, rain-sodden day with a swashbuckling 69 runs off 71 balls.
“[Mum] messaged me and said the first 50 was for her,” he said. “So overnight she was telling me that I have 35 of her runs, so get the other 15 today and then start over fresh for mine.”
While Braithwaite’s father, Chesterfield, had a major influence in his cricket career, his mother was the calming influence whenever things weren’t going well.
“One is Jekyll and one is Hyde. When they came together it makes the perfect parent,” Brathwaite said with a smile.
And it is his mother’s experience that has taught him life skills, which he tries to apply at training and on the field.
“Definitely discipline, to see the way she has had to be disciplined throughout the ordeal and then ultimately after the ordeal,” he said. “It is probably something she will have to live with for the rest of her life.
“It is something I have been trying to work on for the longest while now, trying to do things that you have to do, not because you want to do it. Also, the faith and the charity that she shows.
“You know, we have a lot of battles on the field, some battles even off the field, and the way that she handled her battle, keeping a smile on her face and looking to the father for help, that is something I also cherish and something I try to put in my life as well.
“She is always the person that I can defer to. Even if she does not have a response she will have a listening ear, so she has been a very, very important part in my life, not just my career.”
Joceylyn now plans to record a video for the McGrath Foundation, offering support and encouragement to breast cancer sufferers. Her son has his own message to families suffering the ordeal.
“My family is a very close knit group, we are very supportive, and it is about supporting a person through that time.
“It is also about the person having a positive outlook. A lot of doctors told my mum that her process was sped up because of her positive outlook, always smiling and laughing.”
Amid all the traditional celebrations that take place before play on Jane McGrath day, and surrounded by pink-clad fans, Brathwaite’s thoughts will undoubtedly turn towards his mother back home.
“I do not want to separate the occasion from the actual game itself,” he said. “But it means a lot to see the pink all around the ground and to know what we are playing for.”