Borrowing a leaf from the famous Michael Jackson number, “Remember The Time”, it ought to be asked- do you remember the time when Kraigg Brathwaite debuted in Test cricket?
Long before the West Indies Cricket discovered the graceful Shai Hope and the determined Roston Chase, a time where the bold new generation of T20 cricketers were yet to bring home the first (of their two) T20 World Cup crowns, way before Rahkeem Cornwall off-spinned his way into the hearts of the Caribbean fans, the focus of everyone’s attention in the Caribbean was the ongoing series against Pakistan.
It was 2011.
Gayle and Samuels were around but the big-hitting star bat, who’d earn a ruthless reputation in T20I cricket, wasn’t really a recurrent phenomenon in Tests in those days. Sarwan and Chanderpaul were still around and you felt- gladly so.
In those days, Carlton Baugh kept the wickets; the idea of Joshua Da Silva in the national set up was about as distant as is Mars from Morocco.
It was a time where the likes of the passionate Devendra Bishoo and Ravi Rampaul, the latter, yet to suffer from the growing girth that easily sidelined what would’ve been a prosperous national career, were going strong.
But by no stretch of the imagination was this West Indies side of 2011 against lame pushovers.
They were up against a visiting Pakistani side that had names like Umar Gul, Taufeeq Umar, Wahab Riaz, Azhar Ali and names like Saeed Ajmal.
And soon after winning the opening Test of the two held in that series, the one at Guyana, the action shifted to Warner Park, St. Kitts.
While the likes of Darren Bravo, Ramnaresh Sarwan and most importantly, Marlon Samuels, were among some runs, the true highlight of this Second Test was a certain Kraigg Brathwaite.
A completely new entity in the-then Test firmament of West Indies cricket, the unassuming, very simple Kraigg Brathwaite would take guard in Cricket’s top flight.
And truth be told, while his arrival in the sport wasn’t anything to remember as such- all he could manage were fifteen runs, his total stay at the crease being no more than twenty six minutes- that Kraigg Brathwaite had arrived for the West Indies was something to cheer about.
For Kraigg Brathwaite’s arrival in Tests, as one later discovered, was perhaps the silver lining in the sky and much like the flickering light that you spot at the end of the tunnel.
This is no fan-speak; the last that anyone spotted Gayle wielding the bat in the five-day format was in 2014, just a few months after the severe 196-run loss Windies suffered in that St. Kitts Test. From the onset of 2013 until 2016, a period of time wherein he played twenty seven Tests, not once did Marlon Samuels seem the batsman he could be, averaging just thirty once in a calendar year during such time.
Sarwan’s career ended in 2011 itself. And barring Darren Bravo and on occasions, a Ramdin or Kieran Powell, the West Indian Test side desperately searched a stable run maker who could absorb pressure, stay put on difficult wickets and do the bulk of the team’s scoring.
That Kraigg Brathwaite didn’t take awfully long to respond to such onerous challenges was firm evidence that the breezy island nation had found someone for the long haul; not a stop gap arrangement who’d soon wither away when confronted by challenges and pressure.
Though conducting scrupulous examination on Kraigg Brathwaite’s first few seasons in the game’s top echelon would reveal that he averaged only 24, 14 and, 26, in 2011, 2012 and 2013, respectively, it’s his performances in 2014 that first made him a headlining material in the context of Caribbean cricket.
After biding time though without anything too significant to note, Kraigg Brathwaite, lest it is forgotten, crafted 701 runs from just 6 Tests in 2014, a remarkable rise for a batsman who struck no fewer than three hundreds that year.
And while critics and usual non believers would be quick to shove his effort under the carpet that two of those hundreds came in the Caribbean, that each of his centuries came against a different Test-playing nation- New Zealand, Bangladesh and South Africa (in that order)- would mark the arrival of a special talent for the once glorious and mighty team.
Whilst so many of us remained buried under eye popping feats of an Andre Russell, still can’t get over- and understandably so- the four consecutive sixes smoked by Carlos “Remember The Name” Brathwaite and the frenzied heights that Gayle and Pollard took their T20 careers to, what also ought to be remembered is that Brathwaite’s Test best, the 212 scored versus Bangladesh, also came in 2014.
In the years hence, he’s gone on to become the mainstay of West Indies Test batting, soldiering, time and again, against attacks- miserably challenging, average and even banal.
That Brathwaite has remained an unwavering figure of focus for West Indies whilst so many around him have taken severe hit- Bravo’s desperately out of form, Shai and Chase are largely struggling for runs and the versatile Holder tends to make runs when he can- offers the hope that others have failed to deliver.
That captain Kraigg Brathwaite, who’ll likely be long remembered for dismembering a Joe Root-led unit in the scorching heat of a very unforgettable Caribbean summer of 2022, doesn’t even have a stable opening partner around him- makes him every bit brilliant as can imagine.
Yet, what bites the true Caribban fan as it should is this.
That so much of our praise, unstoppable at times, and plaudits soaked in intrepid love mostly remain for the other openers- think Tamim, Rohit, Imam even and doesn’t really stop to applaud the man who’s hung in there for his West Indies, a cricketing system that’s, on occasions, more confusing than the Leaning Tower of Pisa’s design, more perplexing than understanding why they decided to kill James Bond himself in No Time To Die is a tad bit unfair.
Don’t you think?
That’s when Brathwaite, who’s not even 30 yet is just 250 away from 5,000 Test runs has pretty much given a decade in serving a team that’s quick to discard talents, often making headlines for not utilizing them as ideally as an administration should.
It’s the same man who, eleven years back in time, struggled to get going in his debut Test. The very man, who in a matter of 76 Tests since the 2011 at St Kitts has faced 11,812 deliveries.