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Orville Higgins | The ICC got it wrong

Published:Friday | December 30, 2016 | 12:00 AM

A few days ago, the International Cricket Council (ICC) voted that the 20-20 performance of the year should go to Carlos Brathwaite for his breathtaking power-hitting in the World T20 final. Since the ICC's announcement, there has been debate as to whether Brathwaite's innings was better than that of Marlon Samuels, who scored a crucial 85 off 66 balls in the game. A lot of what I have read and heard on this subject completely defies logic. The thing is simple: Samuels' innings was by far the more outstanding of the two.

Lest we forget, Samuels virtually batted through the entire innings. We were 11 for 3 at one stage with Charles, Gayle, and Simmonds all gone. England at that stage were all over the West Indies.

If the West Indies has had one problem in cricket for the past two decades it is their inability to bat under pressure. Many a game has been lost by the West Indies in the past two decades because nobody could keep his head when the stakes are high.

Samuels' is one of the great innings of any type in the modern game. At 11 for 3, it's a delicate balancing act between attack and defence. To get too defensive means the run rate gets away from you. To go too hard is to risk getting out, and at that stage, if Samuels went early, we would have lost the game in all likelihood.

The most difficult art of batting is to score quickly over a sustained period while keeping your wicket in a high-pressure situation. No other challenge is greater than that for any batsman at any time. Samuels did brilliantly in keeping his team in the game. At times he might have wanted to go for it, but he realised that his presence at the crease was too vital.

None of this takes away from Brathwaite's heroics at the end. It was absolutely brilliant. His four consecutive sixes in the final over is the stuff of folklore, but for those who really understand the game, they will know that the pressure on Brathwaite was less. When you have the licence to just belt the ball in the final over, it somehow frees up the cobwebs in the brains.

One of the tricky things about a run chase when wickets are falling around a set batsman is that he always has to be assessing the risk versus reward situation. Samuels had to be calculating over by over, virtually ball by ball, what his game plan should be. He had to ask, 'which bowler do I take on? Which are the shots that will give me full value while eliminating my chance of dismissal? Which fielder do I take two to? Whose arm can I challenge?' He had to be in that cauldron for close to an hour and a half while the English cricketers were chipping away at him. For him to have kept his head in all that and blasted 85 from 66 is truly special.

 

Two options

 

When Brathwaite came out, he had no such gremlins to deal with. In that final over, the game was simplified. He had only two options: swing for the hills as hard as you can, or turn over the strike. At that stage, the game was more about brawn than brain. When a batsman's job is virtually to beat the leather off the ball, he faces less pressure, mentally, than one who has think about his approach.

It's human nature that we relax more when the nature of the task is less complex. The batsman who plays a match-winning innings when he has to keep thinking about his approach is always rated higher than one who simply blasts away over a short time. It's one of the reasons a match-winning test innings, spread over hours, has to be seen on a higher plane than a man who blasts away in a T20 game for a few overs.

I'm not suggesting for one minute that Brathwaite didn't bat under high pressure. He did. But if he batted high pressure for five minutes, then Samuels would have batted high pressure for an hour and a half.

Besides, let's face it! that final over by Ben Stokes wasn't great. All four deliveries were pitched up and allowed the burly Brathwaite to just swing through the line, something he is well equipped to do. The bowler didn't ask any other questions. No slower ball, no searing Yorker, no bouncer. Brathwaite didn't have to cut or hook or pull or glance. He simply picked up his bat and whacked some near half volleys out of the park.

The ICC got it wrong. Marlon's innings, not Brathwaite's, should have got the award.

- Orville Higgins is a sportscaster and talk-show host at KLAS ESPN Sports FM. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.