Ben Jones analyses one of the great ODI tons.
Carlos Brathwaite hit five sixes today. Brutal, totemic sixes. 30 iconic runs from all out assaults on the New Zealand attack. Five shots. Just short of six.
Carlos Brathwaite hit 25 runs off Matt Henry, in the 48th over of the game: 25% of his total runs in five minutes and 50 seconds of absolute, utter chaos. It brought West Indies’ prospects up from a 3% chance to a 45% chance, from a shot in the dark to within touching distance. Five minutes, fifty seconds. Just short of six.
Carlos Brathwaite hit Jimmy Neesham to long-on. A muscular parabola, the ball arced high into the Manchester sky, white on black in the night, arcing towards the fielder. Just short of six.
When Brathwaite came to the crease, West Indies were 142-4. They were almost exactly halfway to their target, but it felt an awful lot further away than that. In the overs that followed, they lost Chris Gayle, Ashley Nurse and a crocked Evin Lewis. A frustrating session, the sense was that Pooran, Gayle and Hetmyer had thrown it away. Fans had begun to leave, and we’d all allowed our minds to wander, back to the wonder of the match we’d witnessed in Southampton earlier that evening, and to Lord’s for another crucial encounter tomorrow. The light had gone out.
When Lewis fell, their chances with WinViz dropped to 1%. People will mock, but who can look you in the eye, as they say they thought West Indies had a hope?
Unlike most team sports, cricket is binary. Ties go down in history, and you can count them on your hand. In white ball cricket, you win or you lose. You’re up, or you’re down. You’re dead, or you’re alive.
Carlos Brathwaite gets that.
He gets that if you’re still stood at the crease, you still have a chance. That’s why, when all others around him were falling, he stood, and let the action happen. He let the game come to him. As the wickets fell, and the game began to flat-line, Brathwaite just hung. He put no pressure on himself to hit out from the start, absolving himself of blame with easy talk of aggression or counter-attacks. He calmly, authoritatively, took the burden of the whole game, the whole campaign, on his broad Bajan shoulders, and waited.
Brathwaite attacked only 18 of the first 60 deliveries he faced in Manchester today. He gave himself the option to sit, to assess the situation, to gather information about the pitch and the bowlers, knowing he had firepower to come. He knew that, for all the runs required and all the balls remaining, this was essentially in hand.
In his hand, of course. From the moment he arrived at the crease, another 137 runs came from the bats of the West Indian side; 101 came from Brathwaite’s.
And so he bided his time. He waited, stealing from over to over, getting closer to the desired target in tiny increments, nothing more. He knew the end could be emphatic, he’s always had it in him.
He waited, and waited, until he was within striking distance – and then he struck. After those first 60 deliveries, he attacked 18 of the next 22. He made a break for it, and it was sustained. The 36 attacking shots Brathwaite played was the most he’s ever played in an ODI innings. It was twice as many as he’s ever played before in a single match.
But he picked his deliveries. This wasn’t indiscriminate slogging, in the slightest. Brathwaite knows his strengths and weaknesses all too well, and approached this task appropriately.
Brathwaite is a big man. He’s more than that, of course; few cricketers in the world are as intelligent in terms of using their skills as efficiently. But he is, fundamentally, a big strong man who can hit the ball a long way if you put the ball in his half. His scoring today was clinical, his attacking strokes destructive, but they came against full pitched bowling.
Terrifyingly, out of nowhere, Williamson suddenly clocked what was going on. He tuned into the destruction, and knew what he had to do to get his side over the line.
The last eight balls Brathwaite faced were all short. New Zealand had realised as a collective what was happening. Anything in the slot, or near it, was going the distance, but plenty else was causing Brathwaite issues. This was their in, their last chance to save face.
Ferguson, the short ball specialist – no Black Caps seamers has sent down more bouncers in this World Cup – had bowled out. So Williamson turned to Neesham, a man always willing to do a job, and from what we can tell from the sidelines, told him to bowl short every ball.
He was dismissed by a short ball. The only type of bowling he never got hold of. Williamson had sussed him, just in time.
Brathwaite was left, on his own, on the floor in a moment that called to mind those other great valiant defeats. Lee in 2005, particularly, was at the forefront, the sense of a player so close to snatching unlikely victory, denied it at the last minute. This was a man who had walked all the way up to the mirror, the emphatic binary of win and lose, and fallen short with his nose touching glass.
Far too many people are ready to attack this West Indian side, when they make errors that plenty of other sides have been guilty of. Too much T20, they cry; no pride; no thought. It is fair in a number of instances, and should certainly burn the ears of few talents in the middle order. But it’s not true of Carlos. This is a man who thought his way through this problem, who plotted his route out of trouble and fell short by a matter of metres.
No other innings this World Cup has had a higher impact on their side, in any given game. No other individual can walk back into the dressing room, look their teammates in the eye, and say that they did more.
It’s frustrating, but we can’t talk about this innings, without talking about that innings. Kolkata, April 3rd, 2016. Brathwaite does what we all know he did, hitting four consecutive sixes off Ben Stokes in the most remarkable end to a cricket match ever seen. We remember the way it all unfolded, the thrill, the shock, the name. The game was England’s, and then it was gone.
Briefly, on Friday night, Stokes saw his own shot at redemption, his own opportunity to wrestle a victory out of the jaws of defeat with his hands only. It slipped away. Mark Wood was unable to play his part with the bat, and Stokes’ latest redemptive shot was struck out. It could be his last. These moments come along ever so rarely.
That’s the beauty of days like today. It’s not in the tumult of the back and forth, the fortunes of two sides thrown from side to side, sparing only one. It’s that performances like Brathwaite’s are so rare, and for one man to produce two in a lifetime – no, in three years – is nothing short of astonishing.
Don’t let anyone convince you that history only remembers the winners. Holland in 1974. New Zealand in 2015. We remember those that made us feel things, those that defined moments and tournaments with performances that will never fall into line with others.
Carlos Brathwaite – we’ll remember the name.
Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.