2018 was yet another year where the West Indies proved themselves worthy of being at the bottom of the ODI rankings, holding a similar position in Tests, albeit with minuscule improvements.
After they’d whitewash the visiting Bangladesh by a margin of 2-0, including registering a thumping innings win at Antigua, Bangladesh would return the compliment when the side, minus Holder would come visiting in November 2018.
In the middle, the West Indies would draw level with Sri Lanka in a 3-match series in the Caribbean, with both sides winning a game each.
Guys like Dowrich and Holder would contribute with the bat and in both departments of the game. While Gabriel and Roach would be among the wickets, playing well the part of fast-bowling tearaways, there was an absolute lack of application from the likes of vice-captain, Kraigg Brathwaite, middle order specialist Roston Chase, and arguably, West Indies’ best number three in close to a decade or two: Shai Hope.
What truly highlighted the West Indian plight regardless of a series win, albeit not fetched against the strongest side, would be their total capitulation in India.
What was going on?
You wondered where were the runs from the top order, even as it didn’t seem the strongest with Kieran Powell playing a role that only he’d know the significance of.
What irked the side the most, apart from Brathwaite’s absolute failure with the bat in the sub-continent was that Shai Hope didn’t seem like scoring.
While there were some glowing cover drives and straight drives on offer in the Hyderabad Test, the only occasion where Hope went beyond 30 in his maiden India outing, offering the meat of the blade to Umesh Yadav, there wasn’t much on offer.
You do not expect a batsman who seems and is labelled ‘world class’ to construct 36 as a personal best when the opposition are India.
What hurt the team, even more, was that on the same pitch that offered assistance to bowlers but also aided batsmen (once set), the Windies couldn’t put bat to ball to reach even 200 while India plundered 649.
If you saw a batting performance that was unacceptable, then this was it.
The West Indies won the Grammy for poor batting with the stumps’ clattering at Rajkot. Another Test, another disaster on the third day.
Poor form in Tests in 2018
But while the fans were feeling the plight, what were the players’ going through, one wondered?
The biggest worry was Shai Hope’s indifferent form, as seen on both occasions; in his failure to score versus Sri Lanka and Bangladesh at home and later, in the dry run at Virat Kohli land.
Those who follow the game in the Caribbean closely may certainly have dreaded the sight of a personal best of 67, that came against Bangladesh, the best Hope would manage all year in 2018.
Moreover, faulty shot selection and the abject surrender of the ability to handle bounce on bowling surfaces cold-shouldered Hope, a man responsible for firing 2 back-to-back hundreds in as many Test innings in England, 2017.
Thankfully, like most accomplished batsmen whose game seems to mirror the old virtue- form is temporary, class is permanent- Hope would live up to this name by bouncing back in the shorter format for the year.
While failures against Bangladesh- a potent mix of pace and spin, with Shakib, Mehidy, Rubin attacking in tandem- mirrored familiar troubles against India- Kuldeep, Ashwin, Shami- Hope would snub his dismal Test run for 2018 and begin answering back in style.
Struggle in Tests
Did we give enough credit to a change in format, playing Tests first up with hardly any experience (of batting in Asia), followed by ODIs, by which time Hope could guard his fragilities better?
While debaters of this great game may put his emphatic recovery, as seen in the last three months of the year, to Hope’s inherent hunger to score, it, in the end, boiled down to how he shifted his mental approach to the game.
How did the same batsman, who struggled against the same bowlers, facing Bangladesh twice- first in the Caribbean, later in the sub-continent- was able to score also points to the passion Hope brings to his batting.
Maybe it also highlights his ability to dwell in the present.
Principal in this great change- 344 runs from 17 innings at 20 in Tests brightened by 875 runs from 18 innings, including 3 hundreds, 3 fifties, 5 not outs in ODIs- was Hope’s willingness to take the attack to the opposition.
We saw that each time he danced down to Shakib and whipped Rubel, Mashrafe off his hips toward the square leg region.
We saw that in his bathing in sweat, an unforgiving part of sub-continental humidity, a phenomenon that’d reflect in the hammering Shai Hope would subject the trinity of Mahmadullah, Shakib, and Mehidy to.
Good batsmen, we are told, like to score everywhere.
Great batsmen, we have come to learn, as seen in Hope’s 2018 ODI form, like to bounce back.
You know where to put Shai, who remains keen on intent, and performance, without burdening the viewer through shenanigans such as lip-service, wearing funky jewellery etc, so much of a part of his contemporary era’s charade.
Much of 2018, for Shai Hope, may have been about returning to scoring freely toward the end of the year having struggled all throughout.
Where a solitary fifty in Tests didn’t present much, 3 sensational ODI hundreds, 3 ODI fifties, and an appetite to put on a fight come what may explain the hype Hope’s done well to justify in the end.
A lot of the credit regarding those fluent and ballsy hundreds at Sylhet and Dhaka, both innings seeing the man carry his bat, goes to the Bajan.
In an age that fancies big muscles, typically stern behaviour, and casual regard for anything that looks away from popcorn journalism, Shai Hope’s cricket points to the cerebral nature of his game, upholds the dignity of batting well for a side instead of thinking of cricket from the view of a league.
It basically exhibits a passion for scoring for his West Indies, a task that mightily rests on him,
Sir Viv’s might have walked back long ago.
Lara must have raised the bat to that 400th run ages ago.
But Shai Hope- who’s yet to face Starc and Steyn’s express pace and fend off Rabada- seems here to stay.
That he bounced back strongly enough from what had been a modest Test run in 2018, to star in 2018’s most emphatic ODI tie on Virat’s domicile indicates the weight Hope’s talent commands.
It appears the pressure won’t weary him.
It seems, his opponents won’t overwhelm him.
Can anyone of Evin Lewis or Darren Bravo or even, Shimron Hetmyer willingly battle alongside Shai Hope in 2019? One wonders, there’s nothing else that the Windies would want.