In that great 1993 coming-of-age flick A Bronx Tale, the bus driver character played by actor Robert De Niro tells his young son: “The saddest thing in life is wasted talent, you can have all the talent in the world but if you don’t do the right thing then nothing happens.” West Indies batsman Darren Bravo at 29 is an ongoing tragedy. And what makes his case even worse is that he seemingly doesn’t have it between his ears to recognize his descent, or the right people around him to pull him back.
There is a connection among Bravo, England’s Joe Root, Indian’s Virat Kohli, Australia’s Steve Smith and New Zealand’s Kane Williamson. But that connection has nothing to do with what exists above their shoulders. About ten years ago these five were seen as the future of international cricket for their respective countries. Indeed, four of them introduced themselves to international audiences during the 2008 ICC Under-19 World Cup in Malaysia – Smith, Williamson, Bravo and the tournament-winning captain Kohli. Their talent was obvious and the world was their oyster. But while Smith, Williamson, Root and Kohli have gone on to fulfil and continue to fulfil their promise, Bravo has seemingly been guided by an inactive section of his cranium and his talent appears to be wasting away.
His case is perhaps the sadder because he had the jump on his contemporaries. Bravo made his debut for the West Indies in 2009 in a One-Day international and his Test debut the following year. In the former, he has to date played 94 games, scored 2595 runs with three centuries at an average of 32.03. He has played 49 Tests, scored 3400 runs with eight centuries at an average of 40. In essence, despite the obvious ability below the shoulders, he has overall been an average international player. He played his last Test in November 2016, and his last One-Day International in October of the same year.
On the other side of the world, Joe Root, 27, debuted in 2012 and has thus far played 67 Tests, scored 5843 runs with 13 centuries at an average of 52.63. Add that to his 4451 runs in 107 ODIs with 11 centuries at an average of 51.16 and he is fulfilling his promise. Kane Williamson, 27, debuted in 2010 and to date has played 65 Tests, scored 5338 runs with 18 centuries at an average of 50.35. Add to that his 5156 runs and 11 centuries at an average of 46.87 in 127 ODIs, and Williamson has repaid the investment the Kiwi hierarchy has made in him from his teenage days.
Despite his present troubles, Smith has – at one year younger than Bravo – already established himself as one of Australia’s all-time greats. He too debuted in 2010 and has 6199 Test runs at an average of 61.37 with 23 centuries. He has also scored 3431 runs with eight centuries at an average of 41.84 in 108 ODIs. The other modern-day titan, Kohli, is the darling of Indians at home and abroad because he produces for India in abundance. The 29-year-old wears the Ashoka Chakra on his chest with pride. It is a pride that in 66 Tests has seen him score 5554 runs at an average of 53.40 with 21 centuries and 9 588 runs in 208 ODIs at the astounding average of 58.10 with 35 centuries.
Those four have left Bravo in the proverbial dust, though he had a head start on all of them. Ironically, they have succeeded with varying degrees of adversity. Kohli, Smith and Root had brief periods where they were omitted from their national sides. But their strength of character and dedication to the game and their people have seen them all succeed. Meanwhile, Bravo remains pouting on the sidelines like a prima donna in pampers.
He has had a beef with Cricket West Indies. So what! He is not the first nor will he be the last. Sir Garfield Sobers had issues with the West Indies Cricket Board after his Rhodesia excursion in 1970 but that did not derail his career nor diminish his greatness. Clive Lloyd had issues with the West Indies Cricket Board but that did not derail his career nor diminish his standing as the father of the golden era of West Indies cricket. Sir Frank Worrell had issues with the West Indies Cricket Board and endured a torturous road to the captaincy of the team. However, that did not diminish the halo around his head in the estimation of everyone privileged to stand in his presence or to watch him on the cricket field. Brian Lara, Sir Vivian Richards, Chris Gayle, Desmond Haynes, have all had issues with regional cricket’s hierarchy at some stage of their careers but it did not distract them from producing on the field or answering the call to play for the West Indies. At the end of the day, these gentlemen won the hearts of the masses by their feats in the middle.
Bravo’s ill-advised “big idiot” tweet directed at CWI president Dave Cameron has been well documented and the facts require no repetition. But that impasse was patched. Or so we thought. Yet, Bravo still remains brooding on the sidelines seemingly seeking the comfort of a mother’s milk. He stood down from the 2016 World Cup to play first-class cricket in the Caribbean, which he hardly played, if at all. He has consistently found one excuse after another not to play for the regional side, preferring to sign up for the Twenty20 Leagues where he scarcely gets a game and when he does, performs poorly. Other than being pleased for him that he is making money, or one being a Bangladeshi or Indian, who really gives a goat’s testicles how many runs are scored by Comilla Victorians or Kolkata Knight Riders. Where is Comilla anyhow?
Bravo hardly plays first-class cricket for Trinidad and Tobago and is quietly, without his recognizing it, becoming a blip on the West Indies cricket landscape. Perhaps the new-Brian Lara tag pinned on him at the start of his career has been too heavy a cross to bear and has contributed to this L’Enfant terrible aura that now surrounds him.
As A Bronx Tale nears its conclusion, a caring father-figure pulls the young protagonist played by Lillo Brancato from a car occupied by some juvenile delinquents. While the youngster receives a scolding for the company he keeps, his friends drive off to commit a crime and in the process are all burnt to death. The young man was saved from his certain demise.
Bravo is not ageless nor is his talent eternal. Whoever has been advising him has been doing him an injustice. Who in Trinidad and Tobago, or elsewhere, will whisper in his ears and save him from going down in flames and becoming a forgotten footnote in West Indies cricket?