West Indies will be hoping to build from their success against Zimbabwe when they face New Zealand in the first Test starting Friday at the Basin Reserve in Wellington.For much of it all, the Kiwis will come up against a young Windies outfit, who can surprise any team on a course of five days. The man expected to lead their baton is Shai Hope. The Jamaican born middle order batsman has what it takes to defy the New Zealand pacers and serves as the visitors’ best bet to lift them up at the Basin Reserve.
Hope has the characteristics of a proper Test cricket batsman and has shown that in recent times that he has the fire in his belly to make it count in the longest format of the game. The 24-year-old brings a lot into his strides, as the Windies will be looking to rally around the talented batsman in building a solid shape in conditions that will assist pace bowling.
Not long ago Hope was instrumental for his side against England at Lord’s scoring two centuries in a Test to hand Jason Holder’s men a special victory at the historic Headingly in Leeds. It was a moment to savour for fans all around in love with Test cricket as Hope came out blazing against a renowned English attack that bear the likes of James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Ben Stokes.
Hope struck an unbeaten 118 runs to win his side a rare Test match against one of the world’s best teams and that innings was followed by a majestic 141 in the first innings that gave them the momentum. For critics writing of West Indies given their struggles in the white dress format, Hope presents a ‘hope’ for the young brigade to make a mark slowly back among the elite.
Regarded as a shy player that looks to stay away from the limelight, Hope had his bat to do all the talk in Windies’ tour of England and Zimbabwe. It’s not only the runs that has got his name making the rounds, but also the vision he has blended with accuracy and smart decision making on the pitch that has seen him carve out a space for himself in modern day Test cricket.
Hope’s calm persona in the crucial No. 4 serves as a huge value of substance for the Windies to hold the line-up and give the rest a chance to bat alongside in a free space of mind. He had enormous success in Zimbabwe too and Holder’s team has a future great; a gem that they could build their team around for the future. The in-form batsman showed his brilliance ahead of the two-Test match series with a classy 110 runs against New Zealand A.
His century will help him build a much needed confidence after facing a decent bowling attack that will prepare him for what’s expected to come in the form of Trent Boult & Co. The hosts have a solid bowling line-up that will look to trouble the Windies in a stadium where runs are earned on basis of merit and nothing is easy. Boult will be backed by Tim Southee and Neil Wagner as the trio will be relishing the prospect to bowl against Hope and take off the shine from the Windies and hurt their confidence.
Windies last won a Test match in New Zealand back in 1995 and 22 years later they have an outside chance to show their character. Recently skipper Holder acknowledged the vitality Hope brings for the team and lauded the player for locking the No. 4 position. Hope had initially struggled to make his mark, but the classy 90 at home versus Pakistan set the tone.
The tour of England next changed him altogether and negotiating against swing and pace of English bowlers was a show of strength and grandeur. With 921 runs in 15 Tests, Hope knows he has a chance to build more reputation in world cricket.
For now, it is time to relish the challenge New Zealanders are set to provide at their own backyard. Onus will be on Kraigg Brathwaite, Kieran Powell and Roston Chase to support the batting for the visitors and a collective unity could pay the dividends Holder is looking for in his young brigade.