All young cricketers dream of that perfect scenario that only they, the hero of their story, can get their side out of. It will lead to fame, money, glory and legendary status. It is that last-ball six against the world’s best bowler from what should have been an unplayable yorker. It is that final wicket to win just when it looked like the other team’s tenth-wicket stand was going to win it for them. Or a catch, running towards the boundary, flying through the air, twisting your body in several different ways but pulling it off and winning the World Cup.
Carlos Brathwaite didn’t have dreams like that. “I wanted to play a part.” He was not supposed to be the star.
When Brathwaite dreamed of his ultimate cricket life, it involved playing Test cricket for West Indies, but not just playing, being a part of the team that brought West Indies back to the top. “Even if we aren’t No. 1 by the time I finish my career, that we had made strides, that we are on the up and up. Eventually bring glory back to West Indies cricket.”
Not that he didn’t also think of the World Cup. “The dream was to win the World Cup and be influential. So it wasn’t a case of just wanting to be on the squad that won the World Cup. I just wanted to be influential, play some part, and then in years to come tell my kids and grandkids, ‘This medal, I had some sort of influence in it.’”
His story is now so unbelievable that when he sits his grandkids down and tells them about it, they will scarcely believe that their humble grandfather was the man who won a World T20 in four balls. He didn’t play a part, he played the part.
The West Indies Board President’s XI is not a name that slips off the tongue. And when they played Australia in a three-day match in May last year, few people were there, few people wrote about it, few people remembered it. A team of virtually unknown young West Indians put on 382 in the first innings. Five guys scored half-centuries. The match was drawn.
Playing his part, Brathwaite scored the fifth half-century. The first four were dour. All were scored at rates slower than 60, most well under 50. Brathwaite’s took 42 balls. There were three fours and five sixes. The bowling attack included Josh Hazlewood, Peter Siddle, Mitch Marsh and Nathan Lyon.
Brathwaite had played for West Indies before, but he had never had a day like this, a day where he believed.
Six months later he was playing his first Test, again it was against the Australians. His bowling had not gone well. He had a career first-class bowling average of 22, but the Australian batsmen took no notice of that as they smashed their way to 551 for 3 declared. Brathwaite’s 30 overs cost 109 runs and no wickets.
His team was six down and 468 behind when Brathwaite walked in to bat at the MCG. With Darren Bravo, he put on 90 runs. His first Test innings was a fighting 59 off 126 balls.
He still might have been the second-most famous Brathwaite in West Indies cricket, but Carlos now believed he belonged at this level.
Brathwaite has played for three CPL franchises. Considering the short history of the tournament, that makes him a fast-moving journeyman. But the CPL is giving West Indies cricketers, especially the younger ones, and the late blooming ones, something they have never had before. A professional cricket environment to learn in. Brathwaite has played club cricket in places like Dublin. But his chance to play like a professional, with other professionals, was the CPL.
“I would say the CPL, the impact it has had, is similar to the impact the IPL had when it first started. Young Indian players were able to rub shoulders with seasoned internationals, and you know, it kind of gives you a sense of their professionalism, their routines, the way they go about games and the way they prepare. Instead of just watching them from afar and just seeing the end product on TV, you actually get to be a part of it, and be close to these players day by day. It has helped me a lot.”
Not only is it a professional environment to learn in, it brings in outside cricketers to learn from. “I associated with Shoaib Malik, David Hussey, Martin Guptill and Shakib Al Hasan. So you got to experience different cultures, different preparation, different techniques, and it has been a pleasure.”
For generations, even before they were a Test side, West Indies’ best players have been all but amateurs in pay at home, and took their money from travelling abroad. That means that some of the most talented simply walked away. With the CPL those players are now professionals home and away, and the West Indies team and players like Brathwaite are seeing the benefits already.
There had never ever been a team of players with more ability to hit sixes than West Indies in the 2016 World T20. But big-hitting teams aren’t always successful. Especially on the slow, low-scoring pitches of India. You need to be smart. Not only were the West Indies team the biggest hitters, they had the smartest tactics of the tournament.
Part of that came from knowledge. “The amount of experience that we had in our team of T20 cricket all around the world, and especially in India, was a huge part,” Brathwaite said.
But there was also belief that went with that knowledge and talent. “We have the know-how and we have the confidence that no matter what the run rate gets up to, we have the depth in our batting line-up, not only in quality batsmen but in six-hitters. That we can conquer anything.
“I saw some stats online about the boundary percentages. I guess it’s more a confidence that our guys in the middle don’t panic when most teams panic. I think most teams can’t hit the amount 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.”
This as a team that knew India, that knew T20, that knew how to chase, that knew how to hit boundaries, and mostly just believed they could do all those things.
West Indies weren’t sure who should go in to bat after Darren Sammy in the final – Brathwaite or Denesh Ramdin. While their first-class averages are similar, Ramdin has scored four Test centuries, has been a constant for West Indies during some of their worst days, and has also captained them. On the other side of things, Brathwaite has one first-class century, is still very new to the team, and is less known. But Brathwaite made the decision for them by stepping forward and telling them he should go in.
When he got to the non-striker’s end he looked up at the big screen. On the board were his career T20I stats: 25 career runs, strike rate of 113, highest score in T20I (13), and to himself he said, “Oh Carlos, you need more than 13 today if you are going to win.”
Straightaway he looked for boundaries. “I assessed the field, I tried to get an idea of what the bowler wants to bowl. In the back of my mind I had an idea of what Chris [Jordan] wanted to do. Bowl full on a wide line; as we know he’s an excellent exponent of the wide yorker. My intention at the point in time was that if he did bowl it, I was looking to get through or over mid-off or extra cover.”
Brathwaite hit a couple of decently timed balls, but extra cover stopped one, mid-off the other. All the time it was clear that Marlon Samuels was tiring. Who knew how many big hits he had left in him?
Against David Willey, Brathwaite tried to hit out. “I swung at one and got an inside edge, and I was thinking it makes no sense going to the big side of the ground. I knew I had to attack either straight or I would play a dink. And you know what, I just made up my mind to back my dink. I’d been trying it for the whole World Cup in practice, and there was no better stage to actually try it.”
The dink, the scoop, the lap sweep, was perfect. This big man got down low, inside the line of the ball, and found a boundary where England had never seen one coming.
But one more over of Jordan’s yorkers and England were seemingly in charge with an over to go.
Samuels came to Brathwaite to talk about Ben Stokes before the last over started. Anyone who had followed Stokes’ death bowling knew that unlike the razor precision of Jordan, Stokes’ skill came as much from surprise. He liked going short. He didn’t stay full and wide, he went wherever he decided to, in part to keep the batsmen guessing, in part because that is how Stokes plays. It doesn’t always work, but when it does, even his full tosses can be hard to hit. Samuels fed this information to Brathwaite. He told him to hold back as Stokes would bowl hittable balls.
Brathwaite also knew what Stokes would do. “Looking at the field and looking at their plans from before, England are usually a good yorker death-bowling side. But I knew it would be that plan or they would go into the wicket and force me to hit towards square leg, midwicket cow corner, which was the bigger side of the ground. I guessed they didn’t want to bowl a wide yorker since the short side of the ground was on the off side. Having those plans in the back of my mind, I tuned back to watching the ball.
Then there was the actual total up on that scoreboard. “I looked at the board once and I saw 19 runs, but I didn’t really acknowledge it. And after that I just focused on the ball.” And presumably, sending that ball a long way away.
That six-hitting ability is exactly the kind of player Brathwaite is – part of cricket’s new evolution towards massive batsmen, with clear front legs, almost baseball-style power positions, and fast hands. There was probably no point in his life when Brathwaite couldn’t hit a six, but now he trains himself to do it when he needs it. “I do a lot of range hitting. When you are in the nets and you hit a ball, it stops in the net. It really is a lottery as to where the ball would have ended up, but when you do range hitting, you see the ball actually sail a good height and distance over the boundary. That really helps. I’ve come to a place where I can clear the boundaries. The majority of boundaries in the world, if not all.”
Ben Stokes’ four balls became a part of Carlos Brathwaite’s range hitting.
“To me, a star is a guy who is more consistent. My thing is consistency. I will take consistency any day over just having that one match-winning performance. Fortunately, or unfortunately, that is the way the World Cup is for me. It’s funny, because in a team game you can see yourself as something, but once you’re a team man, you’ll be asked to do different roles at different points of time. I see myself as a team man, first and foremost. If it requires it, I will bowl a very long spell, very defensively, with little chance of getting a wicket. I don’t mind impacting my average negatively. That being said, if we need three wickets to win a game, I want them to throw the ball to me with the hope I’ll get those wickets. I want to do whatever the team needs at that time.”
This time the team needed 19 runs. Carlos went six, six, six, pause, and six. He played his part. He was not supposed to become the star, but by being the team guy, playing his part, the part, that is what he became.
“I never imagined I would hit four sixes back to back and win the World Cup for West Indies.” Carlos Brathwaite was a bigger hero in real life than he had ever been in his dreams.