At the height of the all-night party at the West Indies team hotel in Kolkata a man with the cricketing world at his feet took time out to text some old team-mates in Dublin.
Former colleagues at Leinster Cricket Club remember Carlos Brathwaite as an affable giant of a man who dressed up to impress them in his first meeting and soon started hitting Irish bowlers as far as he blasted Ben Stokes at Eden Gardens on Sunday.
“When we first met him, he turned up in all his finery,” recalled Mark Jones, who opened the batting with Brathwaite. “He was wearing shirt and tie and trousers and we said, ‘What the hell are you doing wearing that stuff for?’ He was a very nice fella. Part of his job with us was to coach the kids. He is 6ft 8in so coaching little nine or 10-year-olds he could have been quite intimidating but he was such a lovely pleasant fella all the kids loved him and they would be chanting his name on the side of the pitch whenever the first team was playing.
“He put the ball out of many grounds in Dublin and up north. He had a special old bat he brought over with him and, when it broke, he was in tears. It was like he had lost his first-born. We got hold of the bat and unfortunately it was damaged beyond repair but we got it cut into a key shape and gave it to him as a 21st birthday present. His face lit up when he saw the bat but when he realised it was not fixed he was a bit down again.”
Brathwaite’s rise to hero of the World Twenty20 final has been a long journey with many setbacks. For years the 27-year-old has run his own sports shop in Barbados to make a living while he pursued a career in a cricket world that is poorly paid in the Caribbean unless a player becomes an international.
He used his own brand of bat, Trident, in the final and some of his old mates in Leinster still use the gear he gave them in 2010. But now he does not need to worry about selling another cricket bat. This week he joins up with the Delhi Daredevils on a £630,000 contract for his first taste of the Indian Premier League having been picked up in the auction in January for 13 times his base price. He will have the advertising giants of India queuing up for his endorsement of their products after his heroics against England, which sparked a Caribbean party in Kolkata that lasted until dawn.
West Indies captain Darren Sammy could barely talk at the champions’ press conference in Kolkata , saying he had “no voice, no sleep. I partied all night”. Brathwaite was no different. “He is on our WhatsApp group and he was messaging the lads in Ireland,” said Jones. “He got back to me at midnight in the throes of celebrating so fair play to him. He said ‘thanks man’ but I can’t tell you the rest.”
Brathwaite played for two seasons with Leinster from 2009 and, two years later, he made his West Indies debut in one-day cricket only to drop out of the picture. Not until he performed well in the Caribbean Premier League Twenty20 competition did the selectors notice him again. A breakthrough tour to Australia this winter followed and he was added to the West Indies World Twenty20 squad when Kieron Pollard dropped out injured.
The CPL is in its third season this year and is set to expand into the United States with six matches in Fort Lauderdale. It is giving a new platform to young talented West Indian cricketers such as Brathwaite, which could lead to IPL deals.
West Indies players posted pictures on Twitter of them celebrating with the CPL hierarchy after the England game, a stark contrast to their relationship with their own board, which Sammy targeted with an eloquent attack during the post-match presentation.
“Yesterday was probably one of the biggest days in the history of Caribbean cricket and I think it is absolutely massive,” said Damien O’Donohoe, the chief executive of the CPL. “There has been a lot of negative talk around West Indies cricket over the last few years but what was amazing was to see the players really doing it for each other and the region.
“He [Brathwaite] is a CPL success story. He was largely unknown but through the CPL he was put on to a stage he might never have had. On Sunday he became a global sensation in the space of three minutes. He is a very humble guy and talking to him after the game he said he had to pinch himself about going from playing in the CPL and not being paid very much money to being picked up by the Delhi Daredevils for a nice sum in the IPL auction to what he did against England, which was Roy of the Rovers stuff.”
Like most Twenty20 leagues, the CPL is based on a franchise system that the first-class domestic tournament has recently copied, which means islands can select players from across the region.
“It was not a great surprise to us West Indies winning the World Twenty20 because we had 300,000 [in total] coming to our games to watch them live and the stadiums were rocking,” said Pete Russell, chief operating officer of the CPL. “We know the cricket heartbeat is there. You read articles about the demise of West Indies cricket but the structure is being put in place. The whole franchise-cricket scenario has paved the way to what they were able to achieve yesterday and, hopefully, in the future to build their Test and ODI team as well.”