Every shot looks a bit off. The straight drive isn’t often played with a straight bat. The cover drive is played rarely, and with a lot of bottom hand. Balls are defended in varying ways. He flicks through the leg-side with a curtain-railing bat, bottom hand pulling it around. He doesn’t look like a Test match batsman.
What Brathwaite is good at however; is not getting out. That means that if he hangs around for long enough he scores runs.
At one point today, he had 9 runs off 47 balls, each one a painstakingly compiled single. Then he showed something he hadn’t previously managed to muster as a Test batsman, and rarely as a First-class one: Acceleration.
It started with a push for three down the ground, somehow managing to play it wristily through mid-off. That was off Trent Boult, but it was Mark Craig’s introduction to the attack that paid dividends for the young Bajan batsman. The off-spin of Craig, turning onto the bat of the leg-side preferring bottom hand dominant opener, was just what he needed, and a few drag downs helped even more, as 41 of his runs came off him.
You see more awkward looking shots watching Brathwaite that any other batsman outside Chanderpaul. That man is a good comparison for Brathwaite. Both are slender men who rely on touch more than anything else. Neither are beholden to the textbook, Chanderpaul in a more obvious way.
His previous innings was against Bangladesh A, and it exhibited quicker scoring than Brathwaite had ever managed before, a tally of 164 made at an impressive strike rate of 69.19. The Bangladesh bowling attack was not a threatening one, but beyond Boult and Southee, neither is New Zealand’s. Brathwaite’s new dimension is punishing the mediocre.
He identified the good, the bad and the mediocre and treated them accordingly. Boult offered the most threat, so he was neutralised for 15 runs in 49 balls, and no boundaries. Craig was dominated, and when the ball stopped swinging, Southee was attacked. Sodhi was afforded some respect, but Neesham milked like the medium pacer he is.
Brathwaite is known for his concentration, but he had a little lapse of that on 89, going into the 90s with a nick over the slips, then next ball inside-edging an expansive drive into his pads. All talk is of his mental balance, but this nervousness speaks of something else, as does a low conversion rate of 21 fifties to 7 hundreds. Does Brathwaite have a problem with the nervous nineties? Wouldn’t you if your first Test century was at hand?
Kraigg Brathwaite now had 93. A ball outside off stump guided through the slips for four… 97.
Short of a length ball from Neesham nudged down to square leg for a single. Looks composed enough... 98
Bouncer from Neesham, ducked under. Could I have had a go at that? Brathwaite refocuses… 98
Length ball pushed at, a thick edge goes through the covers. Brathwaite retains the strike. One away… 99
An impending milestone forces a change of bowler. Kane Williamson gets his first over of the day. Easy runs? That’s what McCullum wants him to think. First one… defended. Second one… defended, half a step down the track, no run there. Chat between captain and bowler, time slows down. Third one… guides one down to point, it’s there… NO! Fourth one… same shot, it is there, the tension releases as Brathwaite charges down the tack a bit quicker than he needed to. That is a Test century. Even as he should be celebrating he touched his bat in and waited for the throw, on the prospect of an unlikely second run.
He celebrated it in a low key way. Raised bat and helmet, a grin which said, “Good for a start” then back on with the game. He managed another 29 before getting caught and bowled by Trent Boult.
Kraigg Brathwaite is low key, his batting is ugly, but he has a thirst for runs, and a hunger for time at the crease. The next Shiv? Very possibly.