From the ‘next Lara’ tag to bowling swingers: Whatever happened to Darren Bravo?
In November 2010, Chris Gayle bludgeoned a famous 333 against Sri Lanka in Galle. The number would be emblazoned on the back of his shirts for years, and rightly the ‘Universe Boss’ took all the plaudits, given the fireworks on display during his record-breaking knock.
In a 196-run partnership for the second wicket, a 21-year-old Darren Bravo stood at the other end for much of this assault of the Sri Lankan attack. When he found himself on strike, he would leave, block, nudge and nurdle, with a temperament and patience beyond his years.
He was dismissed for 58 from 159 balls on his Test debut and would go on to score two more half-centuries in the series to average 68.66 for the tour.
Bravo, half-brother to West Indies compatriot Dwayne and first cousin once removed to the great Brian Lara, drew a deluge of comparisons to the latter throughout his Windies career. The parallels were only aided by Bravo’s stats after 12 Tests – 940 runs at 47.05 – the exact same as Lara’s after that many outings.
As a graceful, left-handed No.3 who hit through the off-side with conviction, West Indies fans had every right to be excited. Consecutive tons in India in 2011, at Eden Gardens and Wankhede, followed his maiden Test century – a 195 on tour to Bangladesh. His star continued to rise. After 15 Tests, his average stood at 51.36, and after 26, near the midpoint of his career, it read 46.67. That 26th Test included his finest knock, a double century following on in New Zealand to save the game for West Indies, and briefly spark hopes of a famous comeback. Since that game, he has averaged just 28.35 in Tests.
Unlike his idol, Bravo struggled at home. And against spin. And with the aggressive strokes required to pile pressure back onto the bowler.
As the West Indies Test team faltered following the departures of Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Gayle, so did Bravo.. In 29 home Tests, he averaged just 26.78 as big scores became fewer and further between. Another mark against his name arrived after a poor conclusion to the 2016 Pakistan series, when Bravo controversially insulted the then WICB President, Dave Cameron, on Twitter.
The issue was put to rest after a mutual apology in 2017, the door left open for a Test comeback. Still there were obstacles, with Bravo sitting out of the 2018 Cricket World Cup Qualifier in order to play in the Pakistan Super League, with West Indies a dodgy lbw decision against Scotland away from missing out on the main event. A Test return wouldn’t arrive until January 2019, for series against England and India. His second Test on comeback harked back to his debut almost a decade hence, Bravo poring over 216 balls for an even 50 to set up a famous series win over England on a spicy Antigua pitch. But it proved a false dawn, with an average of 13.25 and six single-figure knocks in ten innings leading to another exclusion for West Indies’ one-off Test against Afghanistan.
Bravo opted out of West Indies’ tour of England early in the Covid-19 pandemic, and also sat out of a Test tour of Bangladesh for safety concerns. Inbetween, he was recalled for a tour of New Zealand in December 2020, but scores of 9, 12, 7 and 4 were not enough for him to win his place in the XI back following Bangladesh. However, Bravo continued to earn international selections in the shorter formats, despite not yielding the results his call-ups warranted – bar a lone century against Sri Lanka in a 2021 ODI series, he didn’t pass fifty once.
For a batter whose early career signified a flourishing Test virtuoso, Bravo (like his half-brother Dwayne) began to focus his intentions on franchise cricket, particularly the CPL, increasingly detached from Cricket West Indies. He smashed a 32-run over off Kieron Pollard’s bowling in 2018, as well as an astonishing 94* from just 36 deliveries for the Trinbago Knight Riders that same season. He was the third-highest scorer in the 2020 edition, with 297 runs, no doubt prompting his return to the West Indian fold that year.
Although it feels as though he’s been around much longer, Bravo is still only 34 years old. Footage recently surfaced of him claiming his fifth first-class wicket, an outrageous hooping in-swinger for Trinidad and Tobago to dismiss Kevlon Anderson, followed by a massive lbw celebrappeal as Bravo wheeled away. Two more booming dismissals followed over the next couple of days, Bravo adding 15 and 95 with the bat to his match figures of 3-55. In his previous game, he made twin scores of 100 for once out.
Bravo feels like one of the last remaining connections with an era of West Indian cricket that is becoming a distant memory. Andre Russell made his debut in that very same Test in Galle in 2010 – his first and only Test. His is a separate, but just as telling tale. Another player with considerable talent and ability, despite his undeniable quality as displayed in countless franchise tournaments, hasn’t appeared for his country in well over a year.
Bravo showed immense potential and proven results early on, fell out with his seniors and was punished when the going got tough, reinvented himself and bucked his own identity, before ultimately seeing his career dwindle.
“He is too skilful and talented a player to just be washed up on the shore,” Michael Holding said of Bravo in 2019. Sadly, it appears that might be his fate.