It isn’t often that the current West Indies outfit get to idolize on a Test batsman from their own side. But 2017 has opened doors for one such talent, the composed, matured Shai Hope.
The young Barbados batsman earned a call-up to the West Indian team on the back of a spectacular double hundred he scored against the Windward Islands in the regional competition in 2014-15. Although he made his debut in 2015, it wasn’t until 2017, that Hope finally cemented his place in the side.
With none of the exorbitant stroke play or extravagant hoicks that modern West Indian T20-like players are known for, Hope carved a niche for himself, especially in the longer format. A movement which Roston Chase had begun in 2016, Hope took forward with tremendous success the following year.
While he gained immense popularity in England following his twin hundreds at Headingley, Sussex knows quite well what he is capable of. He attended two years at St Bede’s school in East Sussex on scholarship, scoring almost thousand runs in two seasons and guiding the school to two national finals.
The school’s head of cricket, Alan Wells, has glowing words to describe the Windies batsman.
“He would have intense net sessions and one story that sticks in my mind is when I asked him, walking into the nets once, what he wanted that day. He said ‘same as every net. I never want to get out’. For a 16-year-old to have that approach gives you an idea of how willing he was to work hard”
What sets him apart from his contemporaries in the West Indian batting line-up is his ability to maintain temperament and composure in the face of danger. While the T20 soaked Caribbeans are used to slogging out of trouble irrespective of the format, Hope has started a trend that surrounds sensible stroke play with resolute and patient defence.
He was at the forefront of another firefighting innings, against a rejuvenated Zimbabwean line-up at Bulawayo on Saturday. Whilst his teammates collapsed to clueless defensive prods all around the wicket, Hope stood tall among the ruins, remaining unbeaten on 90.
Great to see Shai Hope doing so well recently. He has really matured as a batsman. He is the future of WI batting line-up.
— Ethan R. Gilson???? (@gilsonethan04) October 22, 2017
It is interesting to note that most of the Windies batsmen who fell to spin, couldn’t quite keep the ball down from the fielders in and around the bat. Hope, on the other hand, nurdled, tickled, nudged and tapped to display exceptional vigilance and temperament. Two months ago, he was fighting out World-class seamers in James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Chris Woakes, Toby Roland-Jones and Ben Stokes. Now against a troop of spinners, he once again played a lone hand for the Windies.
Unlike another beautiful batsman at the top, Kraigg Brathwaite, Hope has a wide array of strokes and knows when to switch from defence to attack. This quality stands him in good stead to remain in the plans for ODIs as well. There is an aura around his cover driving, pull strokes and back-foot punches, a kind of faith that West Indians last derived from Shivnarine Chanderpaul. The safety net that Hope provides when he is at the crease is West Indies’ biggest boon.
“History is history, You can’t change it. You have to look to build on the future. We have to be confident. We are Test cricketers for a reason and we know we have the ability. We have got to make sure we put that almost perfect performance together because we know it’s very hard to play the perfect game. We’ve got to try and put together as many good, consistent performances together in one game”, Hope had said after his sensational knock at Headingley. That he accepts and sees himself as a Test cricketer is in itself a huge achievement for the Windies.
The road ahead is not easy for the West Indies. From the scary, intimidating force they were before the turn of the century, West Indies have succumbed to unforeseen lows and are now slowly rebuilding themselves. Their biggest hope of reaching half the heights of their predecessors rests on the shoulders of the young 23-year old.
Shai Hope in Tests:
Last 5 inns – 446 runs @ 148.66, 4 50+ scores
First 21 inns – 391 runs @ 18.61, 1 50+ score#ZimvWI
— Bharath Seervi (@SeerviBharath) October 21, 2017
Not that West Indies are short of Test style batsmen. They have the likes of Kraigg Brathwaite, Roston Chase and Kieron Powell. But none of them have shown the tenacity and ability to churn out tough-nut knocks in every condition. So far, Hope fits the bill.
He is by no means a Chanderpaul or a Brian Charles Lara but amongst a crowd of players who adore franchise cricket, he is a proud International cricketer, one to preserved, cherished, enjoyed and wrapped in cotton wool.
The kids in the beaches of the Caribbean Islands now have a young hero to adore and look up to in the longest format of the game. They might now be inspired to practise more of the sturdy defensive strokes rather than the wild slog sweeps into the seas.