Kraigg Brathwaite is the opposite of orthodox as a batsman. He makes Shiv Chanderpaul look technically correct, and Alastair Cook look stylish. Just like many other limited Test batsman in the past, he’s embarked on a quest to crack the one day game.
Look at his List A figures on Cricinfo and it looks like he has. 1434 runs at 42.17, with two hundreds and nine fifties. But a cursory glance at his strike rate and it’s clear he hasn’t. In the recent Regional Super 50 tournament, he scored at 65.40, look at his seven ODIs to date, and it drops to 57.86.
Compare that to Geoffrey Boycott, a notoriously slow scorer who played his last ODI in the considerably less run heavy environment of 1981, and Brathwaite only just comes out on top. This can’t just be interpreted as a young player getting used to ODIs. Whilst his steady hand may be useful at the top of the order for Barbados, a player whose strike rate, if multiplied across all the other batsmen in the team, would leave the West Indies with 174 from their 50 overs, is not good enough to play ODI cricket.
Yet, with England jetting in for a three match series, due to begin on Friday, Brathwaite remains in the ODI squad and is a good bet to open the batting, as he did against Pakistan in the UAE. Whatever stat you look at, it doesn’t look good for Brathwaite. Twelve fours and no sixes in his seven ODIs. His highest score so far is 78 off 117 against Zimbabwe in a match West Indies tied. In that match, no other West Indies player to play more than ten balls scored at a strike rate under 80.
Compare Brathwaite to Alastair Cook. England’s former captain had periods of heavy scoring in the ODI team, and periods where he managed to hang on to the sort of strike rate required. But his selection was symptomatic of a negative approach to the one day game – something West Indies are rarely accused of. It even damaged his Test game. Playing some domestic one day cricket may open up Brathwaite’s scoring a little and help his Test game, but playing ODI cricket – a step too far for Brathwaite as it stands – will start to damage it.
Cook even has a reasonable domestic T20 record, whilst Brathwaite is yet to make his senior T20 debut, and has not even entered the CPL draft this year. As the 50 over and 20 over forms begin to more closely converge, Brathwaite’s style is even further out of pace with ODI batting. His selection is indicative of a team who feel they will struggle to bat out 50 overs without a Test style batsman at the top of the order.
I write all this as a fan of Brathwaite. His crabby, bottom hand dominant, right handed Graeme Smith but without the strength, batting looks unlikely to be able to sustain a Test average of over 20. Brathwaite averages 37.52. His last Test match saw him carry his bat in the first innings for 142, then remain not out for 60 in seeing a tricky chase home in the second innings. He became the first ever Test opener to remain not out in both innings. It was a masterpiece of concentration, self-denial, and knowing your scoring areas.
Boycott would have been proud, and he also may have given some advice to the young grinder: Know your limitations. Kraigg Brathwaite has the temperament to become the next great West Indies run scorer. He would change his style at his own peril.