Picture this: the MA Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai is packed to the rafters. The Chennai Super Kings are in town, and thousands of fans have seen MS Dhoni, Ravindra Jadeja and Suresh Raina plunder runs for fun in the first innings. The pitch does not seem to have many demons, meaning that it is conducive to stroke-making. But because CSK have so many runs on the board, they fancy their chances.
As their bowling innings starts, people are celebrating in the stands. They have seen whatever they had come to see and barring anything spectacular, they should have enough to outlast the opposition. The only problem with this, though, is that CSK’s opponents have a slightly different plan.
They attack, and attack, and attack. What that does is reduce CSK’s mammoth total to a very chaseable target. The confidence that ran through the stadium at the innings break has now given way to tense murmurs and a sense of nervousness.
Dhoni, as ever, is calm behind the stumps. He knows this game is going away from him and CSK. But he opts to keep his cards close to his chest (of course, he does; what else has he done throughout his career). There are two reasons for this – one, because he understands that a moment of magic could turn the tide. Second, because he knows that he has someone fit for exactly that role.
And if, by now, you have not yet figured out that the great MS Dhoni is banking on Dwayne Bravo to produce that moment of magic, well, you have missed out on a truly epic cricketing story. Bravo and Dhoni. Bravo and Chennai. Bravo and the IPL. Take your pick. Each is just as drool-worthy.
Dwayne Bravo was sensational for CSK
Bravo, ever since he started playing cricket, has been this flamboyant figure. Capable of producing what others can only dream of, almost all of his best cricket has been played with the sort of flair you normally associated with West Indian cricketers. Chennai, as a city, though, is slightly more laid-back.
They value cricket and are not averse to applauding even when a cricketer from another country performs well against India. But try remembering any international or top-level cricketer hailing from that town who would break into a dance after picking up a wicket, or would bat with the sort of flourish that made you wonder how carefree and fearless a batter could be. You won’t find many (if any).
And that is what made this marriage between Bravo and Chennai (extended to CSK, of course) so special. They were poles apart in how they perceived cricket. For more than a decade, however, it felt that Bravo was destined for Chennai, and Chennai was destined for Bravo.
Whenever speaking about the all-rounder, it is also important to remember that he picked up more IPL wickets than anyone else. When T20 cricket was still a relatively new fad, not many would have thought that the West Indian, armed with countless variations, would end up usurping the more conventionally-suited bowlers in arguably the biggest T20 league in the world. But that was the beauty about him. You always knew you were in a contest against him, but you could never predict when he would outwit you.
In fact, after a few years, batters started telegraphing his slower deliveries. Still, he went on to pick wickets. It was almost as if he was telling the batters that they could throw their best shot at him, and he would still have a riposte for it.
This particular approach led to 183 IPL wickets across 161 matches. A few of those came for the Gujarat Giants and the Mumbai Indians. Most, though, came for CSK, meaning that his latest gig with the franchise, as a bowling coach, is not entirely surprising. If you are wanting your next generation to develop the sort of wicket-taking guile the all-rounder had, what better than to have him around the set-up.
The one quality that endeared Bravo to Dhoni, Chennai and almost everyone watching the IPL was his propensity to put himself into tough situations. At times, he would bowl exclusively at the death, which is not very advisable, considering you can leak runs and those spells can dent your confidence. The all-rounder, though, thrived in that environment.
Whenever CSK needed him, he was on hand to answer their call. The miraculous comeback in 2018 will go down in IPL folklore as one of the greatest turnarounds of all time. In their very first game back, however, things were not as rosy. Against MI, at the Wankhede Stadium, CSK found themselves in all sorts of strife.
Dhoni, Jadeja and Raina had been dismissed. Ambati Rayudu and Shane Watson had not scored much either. Before that game, the internet and social media was replete with memes about how CSK had signed the ‘Dad’s Army’, referring to many of their star players being in their 30s. So, a convincing defeat, which they seemed to be heading towards, could have sent their campaign into a tailspin even before it had begun.
Only for Bravo to grab the bull by the horns, and tell everyone that he, or CSK, or the thousands clad in yellow at the Wankhede Stadium, were not going to be beaten. Or even if they were going down, they would never let the opposition know when they were going to get beaten. And that is just one among countless occasions of Bravo standing up to take responsibility.
So, you kind of get why he is such a cult figure among CSK fans and cricket-lovers in Chennai. You would get all the flamboyance, the dance moves and the flair from him. But then, you would also get the steely determination, the skill and the tactical awareness to be ahead of the game.
That was Bravo in a nutshell. Cheerful, charismatic, and above all, a champion cricketer. A cricketer that forged a very unique relationship with a city and a franchise that will transcend eras and different competitions.
If you can gain the trust of Dhoni, a totally unknown city, and almost all of your teammates, well, you are pretty special. And Bravo was a special cricket. In every sense of the word.