About a year back, the West Indies fielded a relatively young but excruciatingly B-grade cricket side on their tour to Zimbabwe. It would also feature Sri Lanka. But even before setting afoot in Africa, Windies would lose their most premier batsman: Darren Bravo. Apparently, he was claimed by a less than 140-character outrage against Dave Cameron on Twitter. November 2016 didn’t exactly prove too fruitful for what their administrators would’ve hoped to be a revelatory decision in choosing to yet again overlook a Pollard, Narine, and Samuels.
Soon, the results were on the cards. Apart from a big heave here and there by Rovman Powell and a merciless depiction of pinch-hitting by Evin Lewis, apparently West Indies’ new batting sensation (in the briefest format) the side would fail to win a game.
In presence of Jason Holder and Carlos Brathwaite, two of their most experienced campaigners in that tour runs dried up and wickets began to fall like ninepins. Bishoo lurked somewhere in the background without much difference.
But in their only consolation on that tour- if a tie could be called so, one West Indies batsman came to the party against Zimbabwe. Demonstrating strong backfoot punches to the covers and ably bisecting the mid-off and cover region, a young right-hander by the name of Shai Hope struck a fine hundred, thus far, the only ODI ton of his career: that 101 at the Queens Sports Club.
In taking the attack to Zimbabwe’s Sean Williams and Graeme Creamer, Shai Hope, then playing only his second ODI game, battled some tense moments, negotiated Zimbabwean bowlers on a rather unfriendly, slow wicket to compile a valuable 162-run stand with Kraigg Brathwaite. But even as the Barbadian remained unable to make his West Indies win, who contended with a tie, he didn’t fail in the middle. Striking 4 huge sixes and collecting some precious runs at a vital strike rate of 81, Hope announced he was no mean pushover.
Some months down the line, as cricket returned to the Caribbean, with Pakistan finding themselves playing a swansong series for Misbah and Younis, Shai Hope was once again back in the news.
In one of West Indies’ most famous victories ever at Barbados, not just a cricket ground rather, a fortress that has often risen to defend West Indian prestige when their cricket has gone to the dumps- Hope was in the middle again. This time, though, the challenge was much bigger; his task much harder.
In negotiating against a Mohd Amir, Yasir Shah and, Hasan Ali, bowlers you’d find assisting batsmen just as a hailstorm aggrieves a traveler caught off guard, Shai Hope presented the bold defense of that SS blade.
Come what may, in his 90, a pivotal score, perhaps even more meatier than any briskly struck hundred in a Test session, Hope came in between a rising Pakistani onslaught and what may have been a West Indies defeat. Come to Barbados they said, and thus came runs from Hope’s optimistic blade.
Some months down the line, the sincere, mild-mannered wicket-keeping batsman would set afoot in England in what would be his maiden tour to Alistair Cook-land.
Even as Shai arrived with his West Indies to tackle England in a 3-match Test series, a side that had finally shown some indications- if not a recurring phenomenon-toward winning, none had predicted the outcome that followed.
At Headingly, post an embarrassing defeat in the First Test at Birmingham, even as one wasn’t sure of captain Holder’s train of thought, one man, it seemed, had his task cut out: once again.
Keen to better his scores of 4 and 15, Shai Hope seemed determined to make the climb out of a pit of hell that his West Indies had already been pushed to, with quite some vehemence by an attack that had it all- swinging conditions, a fired-up Ben Stokes, Stuart Broad and, above all- James Anderson.
But what transpired at Headingly would serve up any Englishman enough reason to chug down a few beers extra over the course of the incredible 5-day contest.
For the first time, in over a decade did the West Indies manage to tame their familiar opponents, despite having nothing special from Roston Chase, clearly their man of the year and a half in the longest format.
If a fighting 147 served up some early gushes to Jimmy and company, a second-inning 118 broke down the English spirit. No dampness on the track. No disconsolation whatsoever this time around: it was all-optimistic with a lot of Hope for West Indies at Headingly. In teaming up with close friend and fellow Barbadian, Kraigg Brathwaite, who also struck a memorable first inning hundred, the grit and resilience demonstrated by Shai Hope would be second to none in taking the English bowling attack to the cleaners.
They don’t often conjure a sight to behold do they, the West Indies? But this time around, heads were turning at Headingly, with Anderson and Broad being sent past backward point and the cover boundary with a grace you’d liken to an artist finishing an enigmatic mural; something to lay a lasting gaze.
Moreover, in batting session upon session, combining temerity with fluency, Shai Hope proved an essential: that for withstanding the onslaught of a 5-day contest the West Indies need more than just a good batsman, rather someone who can hold on to an end. The runs come about automatically don’t they when you play patiently? In etching his name in history books for being the only man in the 127-year old history of Test cricket at Headingly to score a hundred in both innings of a Test, the Barbadian proved that one shouldn’t be shy to Hope.
Now the only thing the right-hander would want would be to go from strength to strength. Having already begun his Zimbabwean campaign with a gritty unbeaten 90, even critics know that Hope is no lame pushover.
But to go from strength to strength, he’ll require complete backing of captain Jason Holder and a cricket board that’s decisively reconfigured the dynamics of a youthful team; evidently opting to overlook experience in crafting what’s been touted as a new Caribbean wagon for the future.