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'Champion' Dwayne Bravo packs a Caribbean punch

Dwayne Bravo may be the man of the moment, but the West Indian cricketer has had a career full of many such highs and his share of lows

Kathakali Chanda
Published: May 11, 2016 06:53:06 AM IST
Updated: May 6, 2016 12:46:14 PM IST
'Champion' Dwayne Bravo packs a Caribbean punch
Image: Joshua Navalkar; Outfit courtesy: The Parabito collection by Bhavesh Shah

Dwayne John Bravo is a busy man. Days after his team won the ICC World Twenty20 (T20) in the most dramatic fashion, the lithe West Indian still can’t find time to catch his breath. When Forbes India met him at a luxury hotel in Mumbai in April, there were over 100 congratulatory texts lying unanswered in his inbox (and he tries to answer them all, he insists). The Indian Premier League (IPL) was upon him and he needed to wrap his head around the new franchise he’s playing for—Gujarat Lions. But before that, he had to take care of another piece of business: The IPL opening ceremony. At the high-voltage event that evening, Bravo was to share the stage with biggies like actors Ranveer Singh and Katrina Kaif and singer Yo Yo Honey Singh. But there was no doubt about the headline act: A groovy number that features the 32-year-old Trinidadian himself.  

Ever since his “good friend” Chris Gayle introduced the song to the wider cricket audience in the opening match of the World T20—doing the signature jig to celebrate his century against England—Bravo’s single, ‘Champion’, has gone viral. On the field, it invoked the West Indian fight-back spirit, and evoked parallels with Cameroon soccer great Roger Milla’s wiggle in the 1990 football World Cup. Off the field, the song has notched up more than 12 million views on its official YouTube channel in over a month since its release. Clive Lloyd’s done it, so have Brian Lara and Usain ‘958’ Bolt. Not just “every Vincy and every Bajan”, but from months-old babies in their cribs to zumba enthusiasts, everyone’s in on the ‘Champion’ jig. Mumbai designer Bhavesh Shah, who has worked with Bravo for more than five years now, has roped in the cricketer as the face of his latest campaign that is dedicated to champions around the world.

“I recorded ‘Champion’ last August and kept it hanging for a while. I was waiting for the right moment to release it. I had the gut feeling that I should do it before the World T20. Thank god I did, because without the team’s success, the song wouldn’t have been this big a hit,” says Bravo.

It didn’t take him much to put the chartbuster together. Last August, when Bravo was in Jamaica and playing around with the lyrics with his friend Colin ‘Raza’ Wedderburn, the word ‘champion’ was on his mind. By the end of the day, the two came up with the song that has the word playing in loop and is a roll call of sorts for Bravo’s heroes (Grammy-winning reggae and dancehall singer Beenie Man), mentors (Brian Lara) and friends (Gayle and Kieron Pollard). They recorded a demo with Gayle and Gage, a dancehall artiste, and the master version was produced in the studio of Trinidadian soca artiste Bunji Garlin. The lyrics are uncomplicated and the foot-tapping beat a child’s play. You don’t have to be Michael Jackson to master it; as long as you are willing to give your biceps a mild workout in tune, you are a #Champion.  

Bravo’s innings in the recording studio took off thanks to a joke he cracked with Beenie Man. As a kid, Bravo hero-worshipped the Jamaican artiste (“Because he wrote a lot of songs about girls,” he says winking) and every time Bravo visited the island nation since 1998, he would try to meet him. The meeting finally took place in 2006, when a friend passed on a word to Beenie Man and he invited Bravo over to his house. Over time, the two became friends and when Bravo pulled his leg saying he should do a song with him, Beenie Man took him to his studio. “That was the first time I had gone to a studio. I had no idea it was so difficult to do music,” says Bravo, who recorded ‘Beenie Man & Bravo’, his first ever song in 2011. “That’s the greatness of the man. You make one joke about a dream and he helps you achieve it.”

'Champion' Dwayne Bravo packs a Caribbean punch
Image: Adnan Abidi / Reuters
Dwayne Bravo, who says he’s the best entertainer in his team, does the ‘Champion’ jig

Ever since, Bravo has performed a few more singles (‘Chalo, Chalo’ for instance) and appeared in a song-and-dance sequence of Tamil song ‘Yenda’ from the movie Ula. Despite his years with Chennai Super Kings in the IPL, Bravo hasn’t picked up any Tamil, but agreed to take the plunge when the “offer to entertain” came along. “In 24 hours, I learnt the language, recorded the song and shot the video,” he says.

Such spunk helps in lifting the spirits in the dressing room too, as Bravo announced that he’s the best entertainer in his playing XI. “There are good singers, like [Sulieman] Benn, [Jason] Holder, [Andre] Russell. But entertainers are a different breed, they make everyone feel a part of the atmosphere. I think that’s my strength,” says the fan of actor Shah Rukh Khan.    

If there’s another thing that he can call his strength, besides his lethal dipping yorkers at the death or his heart-stopping fielding, it’s his ability to never give up. Just like Rocky Balboa’s proverbial champion. The last time he represented his national side on Indian soil, Bravo incurred the collective wrath of the powers-to-be by pulling the team out in the middle of a series over a pay dispute. That was in 2014. The Caribbean players had a running feud with the West Indies Cricket Board for years but, by drawing first blood, Bravo had both his board and the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) frothing at the mouth. Bravo calls the move a “team decision”. “If you ask any player of that time if he was part of the decision-making, he would say yes. It’s not like he did something because Dwayne Bravo told him to. We all took the decision,” says Bravo.

But that match in Dharamsala, in 2014, when the team announced its decision to withdraw midway, was to be his last one-dayer for West Indies. Next year, Bravo, who played his last Test match in 2010, retired from the longer format. In one stroke, his role as the skipper of the renegade side turned him into a cricketing pariah, wiping away memories of his decade-long career as one of the most exciting all-rounders for West Indies in recent times.

Now, Bravo is back in India and is the flavour of the season.

The story of Dwayne Bravo began about 10 minutes away from Brian Lara’s house in Santa Cruz, a small village in Trinidad. His father and grandfather played cricket for the local clubs and Bravo, the third of eight siblings, “knew he wanted to play cricket ever since he was five”. Every weekend, his father would bundle the village kids to the Harvard Coaching Clinic, where Bravo’s role model Lara started as well. But cricket, for him, wasn’t limited to the weekends or the cricket field.

When he was young, Bravo would play at home all by himself. Back from school in the afternoon, he would draft competing teams in his notebook and stand proxy for all 22 players. “I would have my favourites who would always make runs or take wickets. Among the West Indians, that would be Lara, [Ian] Bishop, [Curtly] Ambrose. Among other teams, my favourites would be Alec Stewart, Nasser Hussain, Darren Gough [England], Mark Waugh, Michael Slater [Australia], Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid [India],” says Bravo, who was called the right-handed Lara till his southpaw half-brother Darren Bravo arrived on the scene.

In his debut series against England in 2004, Bravo made a fine impression. With his career-best bowling figures of 6-55 and an elegant knock of 77 in the third match of the series in Manchester, he was dubbed a genuine all-rounder in the mould of Learie Constantine and Gary Sobers. But Bravo remembers the series for sharing the dressing room with Lara for the first time. “I had met Lara a few times before, but was too star-struck to talk. During that tour of England, we really got together and he showed me around. I owe most of my early success to him,” he says.  

But Bravo’s rise in world cricket has been marred by run-ins. In 2005, during a Test match against South Africa in Antigua, he accused opposition skipper Graeme Smith of racially abusing him. The match referee found Smith not guilty and the South African demanded a public apology from Bravo. That never came, and the bad blood between the two players and, by extension, the teams overshadowed Bravo’s maiden Test century in the series. The 2014 pullout from the series in India only reinforced Bravo’s image of a man who loves to rub the cricketing C-suites the wrong way. Says Ayaz Memon, veteran cricket writer, “His is an unfortunate story where his career became stunted and three or four of his best years were lost in the battle with the administration.”

Bravo does have a tinge of regret that his Test career didn’t take off the way he expected it to. “I could have achieved a lot more. The first four-five years of my Test career were great and I would have liked that to continue. But things happened on which I had no control,” he says. “But I don’t regret taking up issues. I don’t like to take advantage of others and others of me. So I have moved on. I am in a good place right now and I want to continue enjoying that.”

Bravo has always performed well in the IPL—where he played for Mumbai Indians and Chennai Super Kings before moving to the Gujarat Lions this year—and enjoyed playing in India, which he calls his home away from home. But his current high, cricketing and otherwise, was unthinkable even a few months ago, when he joined his national T20 team for a preparation camp in the UAE ahead of the World T20. Despite their success in the shortest format of the game, West Indies were always an afterthought when it came to picking favourites. Besides, the team comprised members who hadn’t turned up in national colours for months. “But that’s OK,” he says. “Even if we don’t play with each other for months, we are all good friends and it didn’t take us much time to gel with each other in the camp.”

Speaking on his team’s world-beating feat, coach Phil Simmons has told ESPNcricinfo how senior members of the team, including Bravo, turned West Indies into a cohesive unit and fed innovative ideas into the think-tank. “From early in the camp,” said Simmons, “Bravo was working heavily with Jerome Taylor and Carlos Brathwaite on their bowling.”

The bugbears lay elsewhere, outside the 22 yards. The match-fee dispute was still simmering and when the team landed in Kolkata ahead of their warm-up matches, they didn’t even have their jerseys ready. “The state of West Indian cricket makes me emotional. When you see other teams, you see them in similar clothes. When you see the West Indies team travelling, you don’t know who they are. Each player has a different suitcase, different kitbag. This is unacceptable at this level,” bristles Bravo.

But what hurt him the most is Mark Nicholas’s column where the former English player called them a team that was “short on brains”. “It’s OK to criticise, but you call somebody brainless, it’s insulting. This is one format where people must respect the West Indies team,” says the first cricketer to take 300 wickets in T20 cricket. Bravo reached the milestone after dismissing Kings XI Punjab skipper David Miller in this IPL.

When West Indies lifted the World T20 at Eden Gardens in Kolkata—they are the first team to have done it twice, having won it in 2012 as well—they did it without the services of top players like Pollard, Sunil Narine and Darren Bravo. Lendl Simmons, their match-winner against India in the semi-final, joined the team late. “Would India have been able to win the tournament without the likes of MS Dhoni, Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma and R Ashwin?” asks Bravo.   

“If we play 10 T20 matches, chances are we’ll win eight,” he fires away. Who could you lose the other two games to, I ask? “In one game, any team having a better day than us will beat us, and in another we’ll beat ourselves,” he says.

Going by his purple patch, that’s a worry he can put off for the time being.

(This story appears in the 13 May, 2016 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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