Sam Wells, Michael Bracewell’s former teammate at Otago, dubbed him “Beast” because of his ferocity during gym sessions, and the moniker has stayed. His function, on the other hand, has evolved with time. Michael Bracewell used to hold wicket and bat at the top for Otago, but after venturing out of his comfort zone and moving to Wellington, he was able to roll his arm over more often. He isn’t a huge ball turner and doesn’t have a lot of variations, but his precise offspin has propelled him to the third tier of New Zealand’s spin assault, behind Mitchell Santner and Ish Sodhi.
Michael Bracewell handed allowed only 117 runs in 30 overs for four wickets in the recent ODI leg of the Pakistan trip, which New Zealand won 2-1, his economy rate of 3.90 the best among all bowlers in the series. Bracewell has contributed with the ball on flat surfaces in New Zealand, but it is his amazing control in Pakistan that has prompted New Zealand to play three spinners, including part-timer Glenn Phillips, in the lead-up to the ODI World Cup in India later this year.
Michael Bracewell learned to bowl spin
It’s been an intriguing journey,” Michael Bracewell says before of the first ODI against India. “I got to bowl a lot more in Wellington when Jeetan Patel retired, and I put in a lot of work with him while he was there, and suddenly I was getting more opportunities to bowl because though we had some really good spinners, they were all turning the ball away from the right-hander and turning it into the left-hander. So having the chance to bowl in Wellington was fantastic, and obviously now for New Zealand my position is predominantly as a bowler and batting down at No.7.
So it’s been an odd shift, but I’m having a great time, and learning a lot along the way. It’s one of those situations where you’re surrounded by folks like Mitchell Santner, Ajaz Patel, and Ish Sodhi… I’m learning a lot about spin bowling and putting it into practice as soon as possible.” While Sodhi often gets the ball to rip and Santner persistently assaults the stumps with minor variations, Michael Bracewell adds a new dimension to New Zealand’s spin attack: drift.
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He is accustomed to working with the wind for Wellington at the Basin Reserve and has achieved worldwide success by using the breeze. Michael Bracewell deceived Babar Azam with drift and dip in the series decider last Friday in Karachi, stumping him for 4 off 13 balls. “The prevailing wind is particularly wonderful to bowl into there,” Bracewell says of Wellington’s home field. “It’s certainly a little more difficult for me when there’s no wind. Then I have to put forth more effort to get the ball to drift. But [drift] is something I’ve had to cope with quite fast in Wellington, and it’s something I try to use.”
In Pakistan, Michael Bracewell also batted in the powerplay and bowled into the pitch, shackling the hitters. He believes that bowling in the power play is easier than bowling in the middle overs. “I imagine hitters attempting to attack spinners on the powerplay,” he adds. “It makes things pleasant and easy. You know the hitter is going to come up and attempt to hit you, so you can bowl defensively. It becomes a little harder in the middle when you attempt to gauge when they’re going to take a risk and read it as much as you can.
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In the powerplay, international batsmen strive to put pressure on spinners, so you should anticipate how a batsman will try to attack you and defend from there. Whereas via the middle, you constantly have to balance attacking and protecting. So I believe it simplifies things when you’re bowling in the powerplay and you have to try to throw your best ball as often as possible while not giving a hitter too much width. Fast bowlers have always been plentiful in New Zealand. They challenged Pakistan in Pakistan despite the absence of Kyle Jamieson, Adam Milne, Matt Henry, and Adam Milne.
They are also gaining depth in the spin department. Aside from Santner, Sodhi, and Michael Bracewell, left-arm wrist spinner Michael Rippon and left-arm finger spinner Rachin Ravindra have recently been part of the team’s white-ball six. Michael Bracewell attributed New Zealand’s spinners’ international success to their accuracy on the country’s easy-paced bash-through-the-line courses. It’s difficult to bowl spin in New Zealand. “I believe you have to be incredibly precise on grounds that don’t help spin bowlers a lot, and the size of the boundaries [is lower],” Michael Bracewell adds.
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“You have to be super-accurate and incredibly adaptive, and I believe it puts you in good stead when you move across the globe because you can’t depend on the pitch to give you the support. You definitely have to attempt to beat batters in the air, and if the circumstances do alter a little bit, you’ll probably have to bowl a new approach. To get anything out of it, you’ll probably have to bowl a little faster and deeper into the surface.
Michael Bracewell’s ball-striking skill was again on display last year when he drove New Zealand’s triumphant chase of 301 from 120 for 5 with an unbeaten 127 off 82 balls against Ireland in Malahide. He has dropped his stance from standing tall in the crease to produce more power and reach more parts of the field. He believes in his ability to be adaptable and develop in his batting role as he is given more opportunities. When you bat in the bottom order, you kind of come out and confront a mix of deliveries – sometimes spin, sometimes speed,” he explains.
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“You have to learn to be adaptive and emerge out of any scenario and try to be productive. I try to make things as basic as possible and to keep my head steady while watching the ball. Then attempt to respond. Hopefully, the matter will be resolved on its own. It is, without a doubt, a challenge. I’m definitely accustomed to batting at the top of the order and opening against speed for Wellington, but [batting down the order] is something you have to master fast and try to understand what your job requires at the moment.
I believe I’m progressively learning how to bat down the order a little more and I feel it’s something I can contribute a lot of value to the New Zealand side [with] if I get my mind around it a little bit more and understand the job a little better. But I’m really loving the job I’ve been given right now, and I appreciate being out there at the end of the game, trying to bring us to a solid total or over the line while chasing.” Michael isn’t the only Michael Bracewell vying for a place in the World Cup.
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Doug, the Central Districts’ quick, is also on tour in India, replacing the injured Henry. With Tim Southee resting for the series in India and Trent Boult playing in the ILT20 in the UAE, Doug might have a chance to play for New Zealand at some stage. Michael Bracewell is excited at the idea of playing with his cousin. We didn’t spend a lot of time growing up together since I lived up in the South Island’s bottom and he grew up in the North Island, so we used to visit one other a couple of times a year and we played both rugby and cricket,” he adds.
“But it’s more so in recent years that we’ve been playing domestic cricket together, and now we’ve spent more time together at international cricket. So it was an honor to get my first [ODI] cap from Doug, and it’s always a pleasure to share the field with him. This India trip is a warm-up for the country’s ODI World Cup later this year. “With the World Cup on the subcontinent, these trips [Pakistan and India] are tremendously useful for us and people who haven’t played much in the subcontinent,” Michael Bracewell adds.
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“For the men that have played more, it’s a chance to improve their skills and get back to what actually works in the subcontinent. Playing against a very good Pakistan team has been really useful, and it will be no different against India. They [India] are undoubtedly a tremendously powerful team coming off a fantastic performance against Sri Lanka.
But it’s simply a matter of continuing to study and trying to do better on the side. With the World Cup on our minds, we’re looking forward to the challenge of playing against India in India and growing as a group. It is something for which we will continue to strive.” Michael Bracewell was demoted to the bench for last year’s T20 World Cup in Australia, but he might play a greater part, both with the ball and with the bat, in the World Cup in India – and possibly before that.