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Carlos Brathwaite has an enviable wardrobe of cricketing memorabilia and sitting in pride of place is the shirt worn by Ben Stokes in the 2016 World Twenty20 final.
Brathwaite managed to persuade Stokes to give him his shirt just moments after blasting him for four sixes to win the title in front of 80,000 fans at Kolkatta’s Eden Gardens.
“His shirt is in my wardrobe alongside ones from MS Dhoni, AB De Villiers and Virat Kohli so he’s in big company,” says Brathwaite. “It has Stokes 55 on it. One day I want to get a massive house with a big man cave where I can put it alongside the bat from the final in a big frame.”
Brathwaite is a white-ball specialist so will not be playing against Stokes this summer, but he will become a familiar sight to television viewers as a pundit on the BBC’s highlights programme, their first Test cricket content for 22 years. He will combine television with working on radio as a summariser for Test Match Special, offering insight of a West Indies side he knows well with nine fellow Bajans in the squad and one, Jofra Archer, in England’s.
“A few years ago there was a hunt for fast bowlers in the Caribbean. Before that we had years and years when the pitches were low and slow and the spinners were always in the game,” he tells Telegraph Sport.
“Sometimes teams opened with spin, but then they made it an incentive to get fast bowlers in the game by giving added points for wickets fast bowlers took. That made a difference. This is now our time to have a good crop of fast bowlers, but what has made it better is the three at the top - (Shannon) Gabriel, (Kemar) Roach and (Jason) Holder - have done so well over the past couple of years that others are not getting a look in so the guys below have to fight a lot harder to become even the fourth or fifth bowler.
“The series will be decided by which team bats better. In the Caribbean both bowling units were pretty even. We outbowled England but in England they have the potential to outbowl us with knowledge of the atmosphere and surroundings. The West Indies batting line up is not fragile but it tends to collapse on occasions, similar to England’s. Whoever can get to 300-350 will win games.
“Situations like this give opportunities as well. It is added pressure but it allows for a (Shamarh) Brooks, (Shai) Hope, (Kraigg) Brathwaite or (John) Campbell to set their careers up. Roston Chase mentioned if you score runs in England you are automatically acclaimed as a Test cricketer so there is an opportunity for that top order to do likewise and put their careers on the map.”
England have played 11 Tests since losing to West Indies 2-1 last year. Over the same period West Indies have played only three, one of which was against Afghanistan. It is this disparity caused by the financial losses poorer nations suffer when staging Test cricket that makes Brathwaite fear for the future of the format in the Caribbean.
“I don’t know how we get more in because financially it is more valuable for the smaller nations to play short-form cricket so looking at the bottom line it will make more sense for boards to organise itineraries of five ODIs and one Test as opposed to a three-Test series and three ODIs,” he says.
“Unless financially the boards can benefit and then by extension the players benefit then I don’t know how we can squeeze more cricket in the calendar for smaller nations.
“Players are not expecting to play Test cricket and then not need to earn money in franchise cricket but you still want the dedication you put into the five-day game to be rewarded with decent compensation so that at 32 you don’t have to give it up and play franchise cricket to make a living for your family. From the boards’ standpoint it costs as much per day whether T20, 50-over or a day of Test cricket. When you’re getting fewer people in the stands for Test cricket, but still paying the same amount to run an event times by five, it does not make much sense for the bottom line.
“I share dressing rooms with players who still believe Test cricket is the ultimate test of their ability, resilience and skillset. But you have to marry that test, fight, belief and dream with the financial side of things. Finding a way to get it viable is the most important thing otherwise how long will it stay the pinnacle?”
If it rains and there is airtime to fill, Jonathan Agnew will not have too much trouble engaging Brathwaite on topics away from cricket. He knows this country well. His wife works at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford and he lives here when not on the road playing franchise cricket or home fixtures for the West Indies and Barbados.
He has been in Oxford since leaving the Pakistan Super League when it was shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic in March. It has given him an opportunity to go on two marches for the Black Lives Matter movement, speaking at one in Oxford.
“It was very important because I am very active on social media when it comes to reposting the injustices that black persons in America face in regards to police brutality,” he says. “I think with the advent of social media videos from camera phones people are now getting to see what black people live through on a daily basis. It does not always culminate in the death of someone but it also being trailed in a supermarket, or getting prejudiced looks when walking in a designer store or on a plane.
“These are ingrained in society and when powers such as the police use abusive unnecessary force that can take the lives of innocent black men. It is not about denying other lives matter but it says black lives have not mattered to legislators or persons in power. We just want to stand up and be heard. It was time for me to put my energy and go out and show up for the movement and support it.”
Brathwaite has also recently launched a charity in Barbados, Project Ricky, to raise money to help people pay for treatment for breast cancer, after his mother contracted the disease at the start of his international career. He also runs his own successful sports equipment business, Trident Sports, which he started when he was a young cricketer. He is off to Harvard in December to complete a business studies course.
“I have some projects in the pipeline to benefit the community back home. I’ve been lucky enough to live in India, Australia and the United States, and the Caribbean is way behind in technology and financial services. It would be remiss of me to come overseas, experience this way of living and not try to take some of it back home. I am in the process of trying to get a few projects off the ground to benefit the community at home.”
What about punditry? This is his first job and he has a high ambition. “The hardest part of it will be sharing a dressing room with these guys not long ago and having to do it in the future but potentially having to speak badly of their performances. But look how powerful Ian Bishop’s words were for me. If I can come close to replicating that for another young person that will be brilliant.”
As the fourth six off Stokes sailed over the boundary in Kolkata, Bishop shouted “Carlos Brathwaite. Remember the name.” Unforgettable. And we are about to get to know him much better.
Highlights from the England v West Indies Test series will begin on 8th July on BBC Two from 7pm