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Especially now there is no other domestic cricket going in this plague-ridden world outside Britain, it is nice to hear the West Indies Test captain Kraigg Brathwaite say he “cherishes” county cricket.
Brathwaite would even prefer to be in England, playing for Gloucestershire against Middlesex at Lord’s on Thursday, to being home in his native Barbados. The instinctive reaction is to opt for the other way round, but Brathwaite reminds us: “the volcanic eruption in St Vincent spread ash over Barbados. It was like snow from the photographs, but there was rain yesterday and the day before which helped.”
“I’m looking forward to playing at the home of cricket and I cherish county cricket a lot. I fully agree it helps your game and I’m very thankful to be here. I’m learning a lot from these guys,” added Brathwaite, in spite of clocking 4,000 Test runs, as he nodded towards the Gloucestershire players - “they are like family” - outside the pavilion at Nevil Road.
A top-order batsman was what Gloucestershire wanted for this season of conferences, and they have made their best start to a season since 1948, by winning three of their four games and drawing the other in epic style. In doing so they have been propelled to the top of Group 2, ahead of counties more fancied for the championship such as Hampshire and Somerset.
Lanyards - it’s all the lanyards hanging down from Brathwaite’s backpack which proclaim he is an international cricketer in the covid era. In times past a Test player’s face was his passport. Now they have lanyards hanging off them to enter their bio-bubbles.
Brathwaite said “it feels like I’ve done a 1,000 lateral flow tests” before revising that down to 50. He must be as experienced as any in comparing bio-bubbles - the first of them almost a year ago, when the arrival of the West Indian cricket team (the first international sports team after the start of lockdown) was an important moment in British life, signifying the country was still open.
He can compare England, New Zealand, Bangladesh, West Indies and now county cricket. “All the bubbles have had their challenges and the key is to find things to do. In England at Old Trafford we had an enormous team room which had games like a golf-simulator - not that I play golf - and a basketball net. Bangladesh was very well-organised but you couldn’t go out of the hotel grounds. In Antigua (for the Test series against Sri Lanka) we stayed at a beach-resort and could swim in the sea or pool.” A cut above, then.
It was in Bangladesh - his first assignment after replacing Jason Holder as Test captain - that Brathwaite led West Indies in one of the all-time run-chases, as they reached their target of 395 with three wickets to spare. Kyle Mayers scored an unbeaten 210 off 310 balls, only the sixth batsman to score a double-hundred on Test debut.
“West Indies is heading in a good direction. We’ve always had the talent but the guys in Bangladesh had the attitude, to show they could win in tough conditions, and they have the belief,” he said.
While delighted, Brathwaite was not surprised about Mayers as they had played cricket against or with each other since primary school.
We forget what a small yet unique flower Barbados cricket is: more than half the West Indies team stem from there. Indeed several of them come from one school, Combermere, such as Brathwaite, Roston Chase, Shane Dowrich and Carlos Brathwaite (no relation), all of them steeped in the school tradition extending back to Sir Clyde Walcott and Sir Frank Worrell, the first black captain of West Indies on a full-time basis.
Unbeaten in his four Tests to date as Worrell’s successor, Brathwaite has his immediate focus on Gloucestershire, after brief stints with Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire and Glamorgan.
“The standard has always amazed me, like the discipline of the bowlers throughout the day, and the set-up each county has, like there are two nets for each side on the morning of a game, where you can face any bowling you want.”
From one who has batted around the world for a dozen years since his first-class debut aged 16 for Barbados, it is quite a tribute to county cricket.