If there was a year where the West Indies showed both- signs of massive improvement and total capitulation- then 2017 will have to be that year. Playing tons of cricket against England, Pakistan, India, Zimbabwe and New Zealand- the West Indies were given a handsome opportunity to pick themselves up from their shambolic state in both Test and ODI Cricket.
But little did they impress.
While most seniors continued to pocket money from representing mercenary T20 leagues around the world, devoid of the opportunity to serve national side, it was up to youngsters to save the day. Truth be told, apart from Kraigg Brathwaite and Roston Chase, a third Barbadian in the form of Shai Hope rose to the opportunity and made it count.
Well before he flew to New Zealand.
He struck two of his finest Test hundreds in a single Test match, by hurling England in a well he had dug with precise stroke-play, unmatched levels of focus and utmost resilience at Headingley. Hope’s 147 and 118 at Leeds offered a fitting example of his tenacity and a natural keenness to battle against the best in business: considering Anderson and Broad at home are nearly as dangerous as a lion inside its territory.
West Indies’ defeating England in England would have to be inarguably their best moment of 2017, a year where they incurred a Test whitewash against New Zealand, lost 2-1 to Pakistan at home and somehow found a way to wrap up a nicely-contested Test victory against Zimbabwe. At all these times, Shai Hope’s blade showed fight even in the shorter format of the game. Those who would’ve touted his patience and watchful batting to be an ideal fit only for the 5-day contest had to reorient their opinion as Shai Hope stroked a gutsy 71 against Pakistan in the Guyana ODI and a 72 at Southampton against England.
Even though the knocks came in a losing cause, it was nothing shy of phenomenal to see a West Indian fighting it out instead of crumbling like ninepins under pressure. It isn’t too complicated to note why an inexperienced 25-year-old cricketer is being hailed in the Caribbean while there are plenty more of about the same age waiting to get a call-up for national duties. After all, in a very brief career, of only about 17 Tests and 26 ODIs, Hope has demonstrated a promising technique and a hunger to score runs.
But all of it went somewhat astray as West Indies’ ill-fated tour of New Zealand came about.
It was one of those nightmare scenarios that could be compared to the whitewash that a Brian Lara-led outfit earned against a Donald, Pollock, Kirsten and Kallis powered unit of the 1998-99 series. In all three formats of the game, the West Indies were belted; nearly horse-whipped as if they were a pony, unable to jog to the finishing line, falling behind others haplessly. And in almost every contest- save the two T20s wherein he didn’t get a bat- Shai Hope failed. It was hard to see why Hope struggled so incessantly with the bat on pitches that offered plenty of runs, sadly only picked by New Zealand’s leading lights: Colin de Grandhome, Tom Latham and, Colin Munro.
While an immediate prognosis of Shai Hope’s failure with the bat in the two tests would point to poor shot selection, in actuality, it indicated at a mental-conditioning issue.
You felt that he wasn’t quite sure what to offer: whether a full face of the bat or slither away from offering a stroke to straightened full-length deliveries. No batsman likes to begin a series with a duck, but Hope managed just that in the first inning at Wellington. Failing to read the delivery pitched outside wide, turning at an odd angle meant that Tom Blundell would be offered catching practice, and Wagner one among his seven wickets in the first innings. But in the second innings, when it appeared that Hope had rediscovered his love to bat on, staying for around 125 deliveries- no mean achievement considering that West Indies were following on- Hope edged a simple one to the slips.
The fact that there was total misjudgement by a bright batsman of his calibre in reading the one from Boult that had hit the deck hard and forced the batsman to poke a gentle nudge tentatively highlighted that he was perhaps muddle-headed in whether to play that one or not. Hope’s Wellington Test efforts paved the way to abject failure at Hamilton. But what stood out was that nearly in both innings, Hope got off to a start and threw his wicket away in trying to play airy strokes.
Just why would a stable, level-headed batsman do that with his team in dire straits would give Sherlock a run for his money
But if you were to reflect on Shai Hope’s tender age- well, tender where cricketing experience stands- then you’d understand that a 25-year-old cannot always stop the sky from falling. Can he? That he would do well to be under the tutelage of experienced men like Marlon Samuels or Chris Gayle would do his game a world of good.
Also, fans mustn’t lose hope even if one would’ve wanted Shai Hope to end 2017 with a high. Good batsmen, who like a sharp contest often make inroads with failure early on their lives. It’s happened to them all- Ganguly, Inzimam, Mark Waugh and, even Jack Kallis. But to persevere is the key.
So in Shai Hope’s lair; a side where one has to set an example of inspiration instead of finding some instantaneously; he would be expected to fight off this slump.
Wisdom suggests it’s no contagion and that he should be able to fight it out. Shai Hope has only played for a year and a half. Optimists would want him to continue for several cricketing summers. But what Jason Holder and his side will have to take stock of would be to examine whether they’re exerting overwhelming amounts of responsibility on the likes of Chase and Hope and that seems to be the case.
That vice-captain Kraigg Brathwaite has been around for a while helps him to fine-tune his game accordingly and has, of late, aided him in converting lacklustre opportunities into chances of fashioning measured innings. Take that 91 at Wellington as an example. Maybe, it’s time for the two Bajans to interact? How well and quickly can Shai Hope prepare to reorient his focus so as to take on Pakistan series from a clean slate totally depends on the ability of his captain to engage his asset and rests equally with the Barbadian to sort out in the nets.
But while one isn’t hearing a great deal about Holder’s captaincy these-days, one’s sure about Shai Hope’s tenacity to do the rigours in the nets? After all, retrospecting about his Leeds heroics might offer some guiding light. No?