Most articles mention Nathan Bracken only as a support act to Glenn McGrath and Brett Lee in a world-dominating Australian ODI team. Interestingly, in the 116 ODIs Bracken played in his career, the three of them played together in only 18 matches. Bracken was an understudy to both of them during his initial playing days but once he became a regular in the side (2006), owing to McGrath’s selective ODI assignments, he hit top gear.
He is widely considered to be an underrated support bowler but the fact that Bracken is amongst the ten highest impact pacers in ODI history (min: 60 ODIs) throws that notion in the bin.
Bracken was naturally adept at swinging the new ball, picking up wickets and then bowling during the middle and death overs with his cleverly disguised cutters. His skill-set showed that his bowling was suitable for all conditions and his
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Since making his debut in 2001, Bracken played in only 23 ODIs in the first four years of his career (till 2005). It was a time-period in which he got chances as a Test bowler as well but failed to make a significant mark. In one of his post-career interviews, Bracken stressed that 2006 onwards, he concentrated much more in ODIs than in Tests. The numbers bear out this story magnificently.
From the start of 2006 till the end of his career in 2009, Bracken played in 90 completed ODIs and was the second-highest impact bowler in the world after Andrew Flintoff (min: 30 ODIs). Bracken’s failure rate of 27% made him the third-most consistent bowler in the world after Shaun Pollock and Muttiah Muralitharan. His impressive accuracy with the ball also puts him amongst the five highest
When it came to big-match prowess, Bracken produced as many as three series/
In limited-overs cricket, Indian conditions are considered to be the toughest to bowl in for overseas pacers but Bracken creates a solid mark here as well. Amongst all overseas bowlers who have bowled in atleast 10 ODIs in India, Nathan Bracken is the highest impact in ODI history – his crowning moment was finishing as the highest impact bowler against West Indies in the 2006/07 ICC Champions Trophy final.
All this shows that Bracken was not a support bowler but a leading act, by far, in the last three years of his career.
With McGrath retired and Lee no longer at his ferocious best, Bracken had a real chance to be the spearhead of the Australian ODI bowling attack leading into the 2011 World Cup and carve a niche for himself in the public eye. As fate would have it, though, Bracken suffered a series of knee injuries which led to him carrying a permanent limp and retiring from international cricket at the age of 32.
Matters took an even more unpleasant turn when Bracken filed a lawsuit against Cricket Australia in 2012 for their medical team’s incompetency in treating his injuries and for not arranging adequate injury cover options for their contracted players. After a well-detailed public fallout, the matter finally seems to have been put to bed with a mutual settlement that took more than three years to realise. It is safe to say that if Cricket Australia had actually viewed him as a marquee player, the issue would have been handled in a much more organized way as opposed to what transpired.
Unfortunately, for a limited-overs career where he could lay claim to be amongst the world’s best over a period close to four years, Bracken’s lasting impression might still be that of a player who was an afterthought in his own country’s bowling attack.
NOTE: This piece is up-to-date as of August 2016