A main-stay in the West Indies Test batting line-up, Darren Bravo hasn't played a competitve cricket match since the third Test against Pakistan in Sharjah. © Getty Images

A main-stay in the West Indies Test batting line-up, Darren Bravo hasn’t played a competitve cricket match since the third Test against Pakistan in Sharjah. © Getty Images

It’s been more than six months since Darren Bravo last played for West Indies. The 28-year-old left-hand batsman was axed from the national side after he called Dave Cameron, the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) president, “a big idiot” in a row over contracts. His apparent refusal to publicly apologise for the rant has left him lingering on the sidelines. Since that controversy, the Trinidadian hasn’t had a taste of any competitive cricket.

The wait might come to an end inside the next five weeks. The stylish stroke-maker, who opted not to play for Deccan Chargers in the Indian Premier League in 2012 due to international commitments, was snapped up by Kolkata Knight Riders this February at his base price of 50 lakh. Bravo has played for Trinbago Knight Riders — managed by the same owners as Kolkata — in the Caribbean Premier League.

While he refused to throw light on his issues with the WICB and Cameron, Bravo spoke to Wisden India at length about his maiden IPL experience, his love affair with the Eden Gardens and Asian conditions in general, how he prepares to tackle someone like R Ashwin, his impressive overseas Test average, and more.

THE IPL DIARY

Preparations for IPL 10
I am happy to be a part of this franchise. I know I haven’t played much international or competitive cricket lately, but I have worked hard back home and have been hitting the ball pretty well in the nets. Hopefully, I will do justice to my ability and do well for the franchise. By all means, the IPL is the No. 1 T20 competition in the world. It has created a situation for the start of many T20 leagues around the world. Though I always wanted to be known as a Test cricketer, I love playing this format too. It’s all about focusing on the present and right now my goal is to do well for KKR.

Old hand in Indian conditions
This is not my first time in India. I have been here a couple of times before, once with Trinidad and Tobago for the Champions League as well as for the West Indies for international matches. I am quite familiar with the conditions over here and the atmosphere, so I don’t think it’s going to be difficult for me here.

Having Sunil Narine and Rovman Powell as teammates at Kolkata
Having them on the same team makes it a lot easier for me. I play with Narine for West Indies and Trinidad back home. We have grown up together and he being here with me makes my life easier. I also play for the same franchise in the CPL and the owners or the entire management is like a family to me. For me, it’s a home away from home. The guys over here are making me feel comfortable, so no trouble for me.

Being a part of Kolkata Knight Riders feels like a home away from home for Darren Bravo. © CPL

Being a part of Kolkata Knight Riders feels like a home away from home for Darren Bravo. © CPL

The journey from TKR to KKR
When I was playing CPL, I had no idea about the fact that KKR were interested in availing my services. I just put my name in the auction hoping for the best and when I woke up in the morning, I saw messages coming in that I was bought by this franchise. Obviously, that put a big smile on my face.

The atmosphere here and in Trinbago Knight Riders is pretty much the same. In both places, the players gel pretty well and are always there to help each other. The communication between the players is fantastic and everyone is willing to work very hard to get the desired result. We are allowed to do what we want to do and that’s the most important part.

The IPL experience
I think having proper communication both on and off the field is very important. The friendship and communication between the players is something we thrive on. Being an international player myself, it’s important for me to learn as much as I can from the Indian guys about playing in these conditions. They know these conditions better, so for me it’s all about enjoying their company and soaking in valuable inputs.

***

Since his international debut in June 2009, Bravo has played 49 Tests, 94 One-Day Internationals, and 12 Twenty20 Internationals. While his ODI and T20I records are passable, he has been one of the mainstays of the batting line-up in Test cricket. With 3400 runs at an average of 40, including 16 fifties and eight centuries, he is well clear of any of the current West Indian batsmen.

Having already made a mark in his first few Tests, it was during West Indies’ tour of India in 2011 that he announced his arrival. Bravo finished the series with 404 runs from three Tests, including 136 in Kolkata, followed by 166 in Mumbai. While the other batsmen except Shivnarine Chanderpaul struggled against the spin duo of R Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha, Bravo mixed caution with aggression to stay on top of these quality spinners throughout the series.

Having averaged more than 50 after his first five series, Bravo’s average has now dropped to 40. Surprisingly, it’s his poor record on home soil that has been a big contributing factor. Most batsmen tend to relish home conditions and struggle overseas. With Bravo, it’s the completely opposite. He averages 29.35 in the Caribbean and tops the 50-mark abroad. Seven of his eight Test hundreds have come overseas, including against Pakistan in Dubai in the day-night Test in October last year.

HOME-AND-AWAY CONUNDRUM

Playing at the Eden Gardens
Our (Kolkata’s) home ground is Eden Gardens and I have some very fond memories over here. I know this is probably the most famous ground in India and what makes me happy is that I have done well here in the past. So, if I get a chance to play here, I will probably be more comfortable while expressing myself.

Bravo has always been more comfortable in away conditions, with his average rising to above 50 compared to 29.35 in the Caribbean. © Getty Images

Bravo has always been more comfortable in away conditions, with his average rising to above 50 compared to 29.35 in the Caribbean. © Getty Images

Personal favourite — 136 in Kolkata or 166 in Mumbai?
I don’t really have a preference regarding what is closer to my heart. I have done well at both the venues and those two innings were quite fun.

A knock to remember
Before that innings, I can remember I was consistently getting out after making fifties and I was just desperate to get my first hundred. I finally got my first century in Bangladesh and that gave me the confidence that I can go on to convert starts and get a big hundred. It’s like after you score your first century, the second or the third become much easier. Before coming into this tour (of India in 2011), I knew I was in good touch and I was hitting the ball neatly. From there on, it was just a matter of concentration and the result came out pretty well in Kolkata. That type of innings helps you grow as a player.

I remember even before I got my Test hundred, I had a very good conversation with Rahul Dravid and he sort of walked me through the process and told me how to build an innings and make it a big one. I really admire him for that, to take some out for me and give that sort of advice. He really inspired me. All those small bits of advice have helped me grow as a player.

On the Mumbai Test that ended in a draw with scores level
Yeah man, that has to be one of the craziest Tests I have ever been a part of. It was a fun game, after posting close to 600 runs (590) in the first innings, and from there on to take the game to the wire…. Imagine how entertaining it would have been for the fans out there. You could feel the tension hovering in the dressing room; for me, it’s one of the best Tests I have ever played.

On his method of tackling Ashwin
To face someone like Ashwin or any other world-class spinner, you have to know your strengths and weaknesses. It’s about playing your natural game against them and trying to understand how they are planning to get you out. That’s all I have been doing and it’s working for me. I don’t try to change my game when I face them. Instead, I look to understand the situation of the game and work around it. I also believe I am blessed with good hand-eye coordination and I have really worked hard on it and that’s why I am what I am today.

I like facing spinners, I believe I am someone who backs my defence as much as possible. You’ve got to know your strength and build your innings around that when you come to the subcontinent. It’s also important to express yourself and not to get caught with just applying the basics. It’s just about batting the way you know how to.

The formula for success in India
I haven’t played much of T20s here but have a fair amount of experience in the longer formats. As I said earlier, it’s important to back your defence and spend as much as time possible out there in the middle. For example, if you score a Test hundred in Australia, you possibly need to bat for close to 150 deliveries compared to playing near about 300 balls to get a Test century here in India. It’s all about spending time out in the middle and playing to your strength. It’s all about trusting your defence rather than thinking about what the bowler is planning to do. As a batsman, you know what works for you and I try not to overcomplicate things when I play in these conditions. I try to bat with a free mindset and try to enjoy the challenge that lies in front of me.

"I always try to perform better than my abilities and when I succeed in doing that, people and the media start making a comparison." Darren Bravo on competing with his older brother, Dwayne Bravo. © Getty Images

“I always try to perform better than my abilities and when I succeed in doing that, people and the media start making a comparison.” Darren Bravo on competing with his older half-brother, Dwayne. © Getty Images

Better away than at home
Yes, I know my average on home soil is very low compared to what I average in foreign conditions. I don’t exactly know the reason behind that but I know one thing — that I enjoy playing Test cricket, no matter where we are playing. It has worked out fantastically well for me outside the West Indies but it’s important for me to note down the mistakes I have been making in home conditions so that I can rectify it whenever I get a chance to come back to the side.

Preparatory routine
I guess when you start playing international cricket regularly, you get to know how to prepare differently for different conditions. The net sessions are the most important thing for me. There you get to know how the ball is behaving and then prepare accordingly. I try to do stuff like psychological realisation and then have a chat with the mentor regarding how to position myself differently according to what the conditions demand. Sometimes it works for me and sometimes it doesn’t. But there is no harm in practicing new things.

***

Bravo has been passionate about the game from his childhood, and has always seen Brian Lara, his cousin, as an inspiration. Bravo has often been compared with the legendary batsman for similarity in batting styles. Closer home, he also has had to perform in the shadow of older half-brother Dwayne.

LARA, AND THE REST

Brian Lara – more than just a mentor
I am always in touch with him, he has always supported and motivated me to do well when I have needed it the most. We don’t always talk about cricket, we chat about life and all other kinds of stuff. It’s actually fantastic to have a mentor like him who has always helped me channel my career in the right direction.

Pressures of being from a cricketing family
At times, the pressure is always there in the back of your mind that you come from a family that has produced some great cricketers, especially when people start comparing me with them. I try not to think much about it and just focus on my game and do the best I can for whichever team I am playing for. I always try to perform better than my abilities and when I succeed in doing that, people and the media start making a comparison. That’s when pressure starts building on me, but I try not to think much about it.