The West Indies we are seeing today is drawing much of its strength from a potentially threatening and effective bowling trinity as seen in Shanon Gabriel, Kemar Roach and, Jason Holder.
Add Miguel Cummins to it and you have a quartet of high-class competitive bowling. There’s a spin force in Devendra Bishoo, who’s had to do little work in front of a hostile spell of fast bowling produced by his compatriots.
But what about the Windies batting department?
An occasional fifty here and there by the likes of Devon Smith, still battling to save his career and Kieran Powell doesn’t add the weight needed to compile a hefty team score.
Or does it?
If you were to remove Kraigg Brathwaite, the centurion at Antigua, also responsible for vital scores versus Sri Lanka, just how good does would the current batting unit look?
That Dowrich and Holder have only grown in strength and in batting averages (where recent records stand) augurs well for a side ever reliant on a star, match-winning batsman.
But on current form is that man Shai Hope?
If you were a witness to the stunning scenes at The Headingley in England last summer- you saw a very different Shai Hope. Was he even the same bloke who bludgeoned a pull off Anderson in front of square on the front foot?
No other batsman managed what a relatively unknown West Indian cricketer amassed in an enormous 127 years of playing history: striking back-to-back hundreds in the same Test.
Lara didn’t scale that peak. Neither did Shiv Chanderpaul. Strangely, not even Sir Viv or Sir Sobers. We all thought a star was born and dare one could doubt the conjecture.
Hope’s runs came at, mind you, terse, swingy English conditions at The Headingley, a stark contrast to the Caribbean pitches stifled by the uneven bounce offering little reverse swing.
The Shai Hope one saw in England wasn’t just a reliable middle-order batsman. He appeared as a consummate competitor, driven to tackle the troika of Anderson, Broad and, Stokes. And boy, did he succeed?
Few others and you can count a handful illustrious names- Dravid, Ganguly, Graeme Smith, Mark Waugh- have stamped a signature of authority in their very first outing in Her Majesty’s dominion the way Hope- then 22- did.
But does the Hope we see today mirror the conqueror of England?
Let’s engulf ourselves in a bit of a Test breakdown of the Barbadian batsman. From 10 Tests he played in 2017, Hope compiled a bagful of 773 runs in 2017. In so doing, he’d struck both his Test hundreds, under unfavorable playing conditions. But what has he managed thereafter?
It may not mightily please the supporters of the gritty right-hander to note that of the 4 Tests he’s played in 2018, he’s managed 181 runs. In hindsight, while it may falsely point to an average of 40 a Test, you’d be ignoring the fact that Hope took 7 innings to compile under 200 runs.
That’s underwhelming of a batsman who’s monk-like powers of concentration at England arrested the attention of a world that usually extends an olive branch to Hope’s team.
It wasn’t that the boundaries had stopped coming. It wasn’t that Hope forgot, all of a sudden do dance down the track to hoist the bad ball.
It was none of that.
What irked believers in Shai Hope was an absolute botched up shot-selection
Any altruist interested in the Windies cricket or self-described commentator who’s seen the peaks a Lara and Chanderpaul have scaled would attribute Hope’s plummeting form to poor shot selection. Perhaps, it unfailingly stems from an urgency to play attacking strokes.
How many times has a Lara lost his stump attempting a cover drive on an in-swinging McGrath delivery? Have you not seen a Chanderpaul holding out to the third slip, playing away from the off stump, perhaps probing a soft spot toward the third man?
It’s happened to all of them. But importantly, that’s happened to greats.
Shai Hope, has a long way to go
There’s little doubt about the talent of a man who held on to his own against a Mohd. Amir thudded 90 at an unplayable Barbados belter where most others, barring partner in crime, Roston Chase, lost their head.
It appears Shai Hope’s downfall has been self-devised. It points perceptibly to signs of nervousness to get off the mark. There’s an urgency to get an early start and with that comes the loss of vigour, fondling with the wrong balls.
When you stitch together the random dots of Hope’s dismissals against Sri Lanka, you put the pieces of the puzzle together. At Port of Spain, there was no reason why Hope would’ve interacted with a widish delivery going well outside the legs, only to be caught by Dickwella. He had got off to a start with 44. Later, he would play well outside off, only to offer catching practice to Mendis at the second slip. He compiled 1.
In the latter Tests, barring the one instance where the Bajan lost his stumps to a peach of a delivery by Lakmal at Gros Islet, having battled for 115 deliveries for a well-fought 39, he’d strangely hop off the crease whilst edging again to the slips.
What was going on?
That Hope failed to fire a single fifty from 6 attempts exacerbated his woes. Something somewhere was amiss but was in front of everyone. A brashness to consider shot-making where he’d be rather safe in letting go of the unruly emotion to burst with energy seemed very much the downfall.
Thankfully, after playing 10 Tests since having reached any personal milestone, the signs of old Shai Hope resumed. He cracked a pivotal 67, in Windies’ pillaging of Bangladesh in their 1st innings.
That he attempted the strokes only off bad balls was evident by the number of deliveries Hope stayed on for. Facing 127 balls to raise his 4th fifty, meant he’d battled on for 21 overs.
And that’s what fighters do. They march on. They soldier on despite the odds heavily stacked against their favour. Against a montage of beautifully timed straight drives and familiar chips down the legs, Hope may even have reached a befitting third Test ton.
No one would’ve stopped him from doing so. That’s precisely when he miscalculated a shorter delivery from Abu Jayed and held onto Tamim in the outfield. Again an undoing.
What this promising batsman brings to the table at Jamaica rests in the ebb of time
But surely, having gotten off to a start in the series, you’d expect him to analyze his game alongside a very watchful Stuart Law. You’d expect him to introspect and reflect.
For in Shai- there’s huge Hope for Windies, one that Jason Holder and his men could mightily use for optimists would say, given the spurts of a Caribbean resurgence, a bright future awaits the side.