Dwayne Bravo @ 500: a T20 bowling phenom

When Dwayne Bravo was growing up in Santa Cruz in Trinidad, he wanted to follow in the footsteps of Brian Lara, who hailed from the same town and put it in the international spotlight. Back in the day, Bravo was a batting allrounder who could bowl skillful seam-up. On his Test debut as a 21-year old against England at Lord's, he forged a resolute century stand with Shivnarine Chanderpaul, and on that tour was quick enough with the ball to beat the likes of Michael Vaughan and Andrew Flintoff. In Cape Town in 2008, he wheeled away for 24 successive overs, broken only by two intervals.

A slower-ball phenom in T20 cricket? Who, then, woulda thunk it?

More than 15 years since his Test debut under his hero Lara's captaincy, Bravo has become the first-ever bowler to 500 T20 wickets. To understand the significance of the milestone, you need to just look at the next best, a bonafide T20 bowling great: Lasith Malinga, who has 390 wickets.

Half-a-thousand strikes! Who, ever, woulda thunk it?

Run-ins with the West Indies board and multiple injuries prompted Bravo to give up red-ball cricket and reinvent himself as a bowling allrounder in the white-ball formats. Bravo and his good friend Kieron Pollard were the first West Indians to turn down central contracts in 2010 and become T20 nomads. Now in 2020, five months after Pollard became the first player to feature in 500 T20 games, Bravo has reached a special 500 of his own under Pollard's captaincy in the CPL. #friendshipgoals

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While Bravo still shows the occasional glimpse of the Lara wannabe he once was, especially when he drives inside-out, it is his deadly, dipping slower ball that has made him a sought-after T20 specialist.

How deadly exactly? Just ask AB de Villiers. In Nagpur, during the 2016 World T20, it was that sharp dip that defeated de Villiers for length and rearranged his stumps off an inside edge. It was as good as the killer dipper Malinga is famed for. In addition to this slower dipper, Bravo also has a slower offcutter and slower bouncer in his repertoire.

When other bowlers were working towards generating extra pace in the slog overs, Bravo cut his down and dared batsmen to manufacture it for themselves. Incidentally, it was in an ODI that Bravo found his formula for T20 success. Bravo had only bowled three overs before he was tasked with a distinctly T20 scenario: defending 10 runs off the last over against an in-form Yuvraj Singh. After Singh had picked off two seam-up balls for fours, Bravo slipped in a slower dipper to skittle him and earn a one-run victory.

More recently in the USA, Bravo duped MS Dhoni with a slower delivery off the last ball and earned West Indies a one-run victory in a T20I that aggregated 489 runs. Bravo was initially looking to bowl a fast yorker, but upon seeing Dhoni move across his stumps, he sucked pace off his delivery and finished off the finisher.

In modern-day T20 cricket, the likes of England's Harry Gurney and Benny Howell, and Australia's AJ Tye, are now emulating Bravo's template by going slow to fool batsmen.

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When he's in rhythm, though, Bravo can also nail the quick yorker - both on the stumps and wide of them. Thanks to such variations, 283 of Bravo's 500 wickets have come in the death (last five) overs.

Bravo has been a serial topper across leagues when it comes to the wickets charts, and, by extension, he is a serial winner in T20 cricket. Nobody has more T20 titles than Bravo and Pollard, who are tied on 13 each.

Bravo's game-changing ability has particularly lit up the IPL, with his Chennai Super Kings captain Dhoni publicly acknowledging the balance he lends to the team. After Super Kings were knocked out of IPL 2014, Dhoni had highlighted Bravo's injury as one of the major reasons for the team's early exit. In the previous season, Bravo had bagged 32 wickets in 18 matches at an economy rate of 7.95. Only Alfonso Thomas (33 in the 2010 Friends Provident Trophy) has collected more wickets in a T20 league season anywhere.

More injuries have hampered Bravo since and he will turn 37 this October, but he keeps bouncing back to stay relevant in the shortest format. To put his longevity in context, when he made his T20 debut in 2006, his current Super Kings coach Stephen Fleming and Trinbago Knight Riders coach Brendon McCullum were both playing for the opposition. And Bravo has now come out of international retirement to have another tilt at T20 World Cup glory.

An important step towards that goal is this CPL 2020, which is being played behind closed doors. Bravo had missed the entire 2019 season due to a finger injury and his absence coincided with Knight Riders faltering in the knockouts. Bravo is fit again and has handed over the captaincy to Pollard, saying he simply wants to enjoy his game.

A Bravo who's enjoying his game, singing, grooving, and channeling his inner Beenie Man is sheer T20 entertainment. The Bravo T20 show is probably the cricketing equivalent of the Great Gatsby's parties: thrilling and wild. There won't be crowds to add to the fun in this CPL owing to concerns around the Covid-19 pandemic, but it's still fitting that the 500th wicket has arrived on his home island Trinidad, for his home franchise Knight Riders, at his home ground Queen's Park Oval.

Can Bravo celebrate his 500th wicket, which is also his 100th in the CPL, by bowling Knight Riders to an unprecedented third title?