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Shai Hope helps West Indies to level the series…..

Did Alastair ‘Cook’ the bowlers? Was Gautam always so ‘Gambhir’? Did Mark ‘Butcher’ his opponents? Was Yuvraj indeed the Prince of Indian cricket? Were Kohli’s achievements ‘Virat’ enough? Did Shai provide ‘Hope’ to the West Indian unit?

The downfall of the West Indian cricketing glory is a tale long known. From menacing bowlers and fiercer batsmen, the side today wears a despairing look – bits and pieces cricketers, who have grown up with the dream of playing for the national side, but who will leave behind the services of West Indies for a T20 franchise, where fame and wealth will follow by the dozens. In such a pitiful state, questions have long risen as to who the player will be that will provide a beaming flashlight; a glimmer of hope to the now faltering unit.

Thus, when a player with a similar title rose the ranks, in an almost cliched manner, the glares of the cricket world were directed towards him. Would he be the one who could take the West Indian cricket to newer heights? Would he live up to his name’s billing and extort wins from ‘hopeless’ situations? One could only ‘hope’.

After 43 ODI matches with an average of 44.40, Shai has emerged as a talented cricketer, taking over the reins of controlling a new-face West Indian team. He made his debut in 2016, impressing straightaway with innings’ of 47 and 101 in his first two matches. His initial impact made him a regular player in the side and though he would pitch in with good starts, it was only after his 123 against India at Visakhapatnam, which was followed by a 95 at Pune, which brought him into the limelight.

Performances against a side like India is always able to capture the audiences, and with a good showing in the 5-match ODI series, Hope managed to achieve just that. Hence, a lot of expectations were riding on him when Windies locked horns with Bangladesh and all attention was on him after the home side had trumped the visitors convincingly in the first match of the three-match series.

Also read: Hitting every delivery and then defending every ball – the strange approach that West Indies adopted

Desperate to stay alive, the opener started off cautiously in the pursuit of 256 in the second match. Nudges, flicks, punches, defending balls off the back foot and straight drives in the first ten balls showed his intent and the confidence with which he had taken the field. He started off sedately, punching the short of a length deliveries outside off and broke the shackles when he smashed Mustafizur Rahman for a brilliant six, a hit that can be described as the shot of the day. A short of a length delivery was punched away by the batter, who effortlessly got under the ball and timed it so well that it literally flew over the cover boundary.

He was on a rampage from then on, hitting Mehidy Hasan for a four after judging the line of the ball to perfection and then a few balls later sent another delivery over the boundary ropes – charging down the track till he got the length he wanted. As Hope was on a mission at one end, the other batters at the other were playing just as expected – Chanderpaul Hemraj was off a dubious LBW decision, Darren Bravo played a slow innings again, losing himself to a delivery that played with his legs before scalping the timber and Marlon Samuels perishing to Fizz after being troubled by him throughout, but not before piling on an important 62-run partnership for the third wicket.

With the scorecard reading 132 for 3, hopes were ignited but as is the norm, Windies perished after stirring up a good case for themselves. From 155 to 3, the scorecard was reduced to 185 for 6, and it was now up to Hope and Keemo Paul to take the side within touching distance.

Paul, who had scored only 85 in 9 innings before the match stuck it around and helped Hope, who had picked up momentum by then. A classy four off Shakib, a perfect boundary off a slower ball, fours smashed through the gaps and a brilliant backfoot punch after he crossed his 50 were some of the hits on display and as he raced to his third ODI ton off a punch through cover-point, it became clear that this player would emerge as West Indies’ Messiah in the years to follow.

Getting to a hundred is one thing and carrying on to shoulder the responsibility till the very end is what differentiates champions with ordinary players, and as Shai slowed himself down after the landmark to play for the team, one was aware that he would be the architect for many more memorable triumphs for his team in the future. Carrying his bat through to score 146 off 144 deliveries not only produced a series-levelling win, but it also gave glimpses of a cricketer who might well be the beacon West Indies were looking for.

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