Bar English supporters, no one wanted to see Joe Root step into the crease in Barbados. Throughout the series, Root had terrorized the West Indies bowling attack—the most impressive performance being a masterful innings of 182 not out in the second Test. For nearly six hours, Root had been nothing less than omnipotent, swatting 21 boundaries, including four sixes. As England’s tenth wicket fell, Root stood alone—the architect of a 464 first-innings total that would ultimately undo the West Indies.
As Root strode out of the English dressing room a week later in Bridgetown, the outlook of a West Indian victory looked no less promising. Yet, with the third Test on a precipice, it would be Root who would fall. With Jason Holder bowling, Root attempted a defensive stroke: The ball caught an edge and carried into the open palms of the man at first slip. After facing just 13 balls and with a solitary run to his name, Root was dismissed. The Kensington Oval roared. Holder leaped into the air, his fist clenched, howling emphatically. Smiles stretched across the faces of the West Indian fielders. They realized how momentous this catch was. Root was gone. England had managed just 28 runs at the cost of four wickets in their second innings. Victory seemed within reach.
Yet, despite the wanton celebration, there was one West Indian who remained quiet—the very man whose instinctive grab had had squeezed the life out of England’s batting order: Darren Bravo. There was no smile; there was no celebratory shout. Instead, Bravo raised his finger to his lips and asked for silence, emotionless.
Mercurial. Inconsistent. Talented. Bravo is all three in equal part. That he would refuse to celebrate a massive wicket in a series deciding Test should be of little surprise; that he would ultimately lead the West Indies to victory with 82 runs the following day should be even less of a shock. After all, this is the man whose connection to Brian Lara goes beyond their similarity at the crease—they’re family as well.
However, beyond the superficial likeness in technique and their familial ties, it would be unfair to either man to draw a true comparison. Lara is perhaps the greatest batsman in the last 50 years. Bravo is the very embodiment of untapped potential. This is a batsman whose vast promise has resulted in inches upon inches of prognosis and prognostication from cricketing minds for years. But gloriously, like the sun melting away dark clouds, Bravo’s talent occasionally shines through: He has six centuries to his name, including a 218 run stand against New Zealand in 2013.
Yet the storm clouds almost always return. Shortly after his maiden double century in Dunedin, Bravo abandoned the tour for unspecified “personal reasons.” He offered the same justification just months ago upon pulling out of the West Indies tour of South Africa. For the sake of Bravo, one can only hope his issues beyond the boundary are less severe than some have insinuated.
It’s dangerous to essentialize a man into single statistic, but the very nature of Bravo is perhaps best expressed when examining his home and away performances. In 17 away Tests, Bravo sports a robust batting average of 53.68, including five centuries. When playing at home, Bravo has only managed a meager average of 33.71. On the road, he’s Lara—in the Caribbean, he frustrates. For the average West Indies supporter, Bravo’s greatest performances exist solely in the realm of late-night satellite television—they can be forgiven for thinking that these feats were merely dreams. This is Darren Bravo: The man who hates attention; who absconds from the spotlight; who will not cheer—no matter the occasion. It’s an admirable yet disappointing character trait for those wishing Bravo possessed a relentless hunger for greatness. How good could he be? That’s what we all want to know.
In a scant few weeks, Australia will arrive in the West Indies for a two Test series. If the West Indies are to stand a chance, Bravo will need to perform to the peak of his abilities and show that he can answer the question: What if?