West Indies needed two to win and Jermaine Blackwood had taken off his helmet, ready to pounce on Moeen Ali and send his teammates into a fit of joy. It was unfair. Unfair on Shai Hope, who had gritted out for more than five hours to take West Indies to the cusp of victory. Unfair to Kraigg Brathwaite, who had amassed 229 runs in the Test. God probably felt so too, for two balls later, Blackwood missed a slog off Ali to be stumped. He has played his role. Now, the winning hit had to come from Shai Hope, that hero who scripted West Indies’ dream comeback.
He glanced Chris Woakes off his hips to steal a couple and seal West Indies’ victory. They had done the impossible. Chasing 322 looked downright improbable for this lineup which had lost 19 wickets in a day only a week back. Surely they couldn’t do it against James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Ben Stokes, Chris Woakes and Moeen Ali. They did.
The fourth innings was completely un-West Indian like. They battled, fought as a unit, looked determined and eventually nailed down a win to level the series. It wouldn’t have been possible without Hope. He became the first batsman to hit two hundreds in a First-class match in Headingley but seemed least bothered about it when Ian Ward pointed it out to him after the match.
“Yeah? Thanks for the news” was all he replied.
Records did not bother him on this historic day. His 265 runs in the Test match mattered much more. Only two West Indian batsmen had scored twin hundreds in Tests since 1976 (Brian Lara in SSC, 2001 against Sri Lanka and Kieron Powell in Mirpur, 2012 against Bangladesh).
This was a story of redemption. This West Indian team had looked down and out before this Test match. They stood little chance according to the very many cricket experts. But none of that mattered as Hope and his men went about rewriting history.
Brathwaite and Hope put on 144 on a day 5 wicket. It was worth its weight in gold. The same pair had amassed 246 in the first innings to give the Windies a 169 run lead. Hope had stamped his presence quite well in the first innings as well. Even then he pressed on after Brathwaite’s dismissal to make 147 and take West Indies into the lead.
But somehow, this 144 seemed more valuable. Probably because it gave them the belief.
Even when Moeen Ali got rid of Brathwaite for 95 shortly before the tea break on the final day, Shai Hope appeared confident and determined. He wanted to win this one for his country. After all, he had battled out 253 balls in the first innings and a further 126 by the time the tea break arrived on the final day.
Even as Roston Chase miscued a loft and Blackwood almost made a comical error with a run, Hope stood firm, composed and gritty. As twilight set in at Headingley, Hope inside edged Broad to reach a fine hundred, his second in the Test.
Few overs later, he would celebrate a stunning victory. There is blend of Caribbean flavour in Hope’s batting yet he is so un-West Indian. West Indian cricketers of today are supposed to be all about the glam of T20. It hasn’t touched Hope. This lad has a sound defence, knows where his off-stump is and possesses some pristine strokes up his sleeve.
He ensured that Joe Root and his men were on their toes, leather hunting all day long. Even when batting within his shell, Hope rarely appeared stuck in his bubble. He was always looking out for scoring opportunities and this imparted pressure on England, which eventually paved way for their fourth successive loss in the second Test match of a series.
If it were not for a plethora of dropped chances by the Windies fielders, they would have been chasing something close to 200. But with 322 to chase down, Hope had the leeway to rewrite history, which he did in emphatic style with his unbeaten 118.
The 322 chased was the second-highest successful run-chase at Headingley behind Australia’s 1948 win. “I feel elated. We’ve worked hard as a team and we’re pleased to get over the line. I am a professional cricketer for a reason so I always believe in myself. We fought hard throughout the game, so we needed to do well with the bat”, Hope exclaimed in the post-match presentation ceremony.
As he said, “somebody had to put his hand up“. West Indies needed one among them to lift them up from the ruins and Hope has done it. Hopefully, he has imparted enough momentum to West Indies’ renaissance which will resume next week at Lord’s as they take in England in the series decider.