Kraigg Brathwaite is criminally underrated, and could finish as a true West Indies great

Kraigg Brathwaite produced a wonderful hundred against Australia at Perth

Kraigg Brathwaite might not have the most eye-catching batting technique. But when it comes to scoring runs for the West Indies in Test cricket in recent times, he is second to none, writes Shashwat Kumar, and his record compares favourably with the best openers in the world.

The West Indies were defeated convincingly at Perth – a result that did not surprise many, considering how strong Australia are on their home patch. What was just as unsurprising was how the visitors’ batting fortunes revolved around captain Kraigg Brathwaite. As long as he was there at the crease, there seemed to be a sense of calm. Once he was dismissed, however, their innings, on both occasions, descended into chaos and collapsed. Being dependent on your skipper, especially when he is as good as Brathwaite is not a crime. But the numbers, since the start of 2014, don’t make for pretty reading either.

In this period, Brathwaite has averaged 37.21, the third-best among West Indies batters to have played a minimum of 10 innings. West Indies’ overall batting average for batters batting in positions 1-7 is 28.19. If you remove Brathwaite’s runs, that number comes down to 25.39, indicating how significantly better Brathwaite has been than the rest.

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During this same phase, West Indies’ openers average 30.27. Take out Brathwaite’s tally, and that number again falls to 24.69. In fact, since the start of 2014, West Indies’ openers have mustered 11 centuries in Test cricket. Each of those have been scored by Brathwaite. In fact, 19 of the top 20 scores by West Indies openers in that time have been notched up by Brathwaite, with the only exception being Kieran Powell’s 90 against Zimbabwe at Bulawayo in 2017. Brathwaite is also the only West Indies opener to have scored more than 1,000 Test runs since 2014.

So, it is clear that Brathwaite is a cut above the other West Indies batters. Not just because of how many runs he has scored and how influential he has been, but also because he bats at the top of the order, largely considered the toughest phase to bat in Test cricket. West Indies’ batting also seems to be defined by how he fares. If he scores runs, the West Indies hold their own for a decent chunk of the contest. If he does not, they go into a tailspin even before they think about taking flight. He averages 56 in victories, and just 22 in defeats. If he does well, often, West Indies do well. When he struggles, they struggle.

One of the most striking differences is how much of a value Brathwaite puts on his wicket. You will rarely see him throwing his wicket away, and he has the powers of concentration to bat for a long period of time. His technique, which banks on playing the ball as late as possible, allows him to thrive in a variety of conditions. He does not jab at deliveries often and plays with very soft hands, enabling him to counter whatever swing or seam is on offer. Brathwaite also has centuries in Australia, England and South Africa, averaging 57.57, 38.25 and 36.6 in these countries, respectively.

Another unique thing about Brathwaite is that he has not played any T20 cricket, which is significant considering the current generation of West Indian cricketers are born and brought up on a diet of the shortest format. He plays List A cricket, although his last ODI appearance was back in 2017. So, he has effectively foregone the riches of white-ball cricket and has concentrated on being the torchbearer of Test cricket for the West Indies. And, it seems to be working out fairly well, both from his and the West Indies’ perspective.

When pitted against the best contemporary Test openers in the game, Brathwaite’s overall numbers pale slightly. But his form has improved in recent years, and now he is up there with the best of the world. He averages more than 40 since the start of 2020, and now opener can best his tally of 1,571 runs in that time. Since the start of last year, his average rises to 46.20, sixth-best among the 15 openers to make at least 500 Test runs in that time, and better than more esteemed contemporaries like David Warner and KL Rahul. He averages more than 118 balls per dismissal in that time – among the openers with more than 15 innings in that time, none fares better.

For now, it is worth acknowledging what Brathwaite has done for the West Indies in the recent past and how almost all of their highest crests have come about when Brathwaite has played a pivotal role. A Test series win against England earlier this year would not have been possible without his heroic, 489-ball vigil at Barbados. Being only 30 years of age, and because he predominantly plays Test cricket, he can scale greater heights too.

The past couple of decades of West Indian Test cricket, in terms of quality, have not been very high. Among this debris, Brathwaite has stood tall. And that is what makes his returns special. Yes, the runs alone would have been enough. That he has done so with minimal support from the others, and in different conditions, and by almost defining how the West Indies will fare in any particular game, shows how criminally underrated he is, and illustrates why he deserves so much more appreciation than he gets currently.

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