World cricket needs a strong West Indies! But how will that be achieved?
Could it be that what’s actually needed is a collection of resilient cricketers who can drive the future of a team that’s still very much called a once-mighty force?
A team whose best days belong to the past?
If you are a cricketing lunatic, who believes in saying just anything that comes to mind, you couldn’t care less about what happens to West Indies’ future.
If you happen to be an obsessed fan for whom the respected IPL and much of Indian cricket means cricket, on the whole, you’d perhaps not give a darn in the first place.
But if you were a certain Shai Hope, you’d be focused on one thing and one thing alone.
And it’s to ensure that under your watch, West Indies cricket can no longer shy away from hoping for better things.
Hope for a future, where more than worrying about the halcyon days being long gone, emphasis is put on the present.
For that’s where the glory lies.
Moreover, that’s where stands Shai Hope, on occasions amid a crumbling scorecard, while on others, besides anxious faces that seem disturbed finding the team not moving forwards.
But each time he hops or puts one through to the cover boundary and each time he ducks to avoid a bouncer or pulls one to the on-side boundary, there’s this Hope that Shai will soldier on.
For that is what he does and believes in.
Importantly, that is what he did immediately upon arriving for national duties, scoring a watchful 47 (off 81) versus Sri Lanka in the 2016 tri-series, soon after which he’d strike a maiden ton versus Zimbabwe (101).
But at a time where the fist-pumping, overzealous, wham-bam style of T20 cricket (prevalent at the time of his debut as much as it’s popular today) could so easily have hijacked his more cautious approach, Shai Hope distanced himself from shenanigans and instead chose to do the basics right.
This is why where you see a certain band of Windies cricketers eschewing the idea of taking singles, converting 1s into 2s, putting the pressure back on the bowler by stealing runs, Shai Hope does exactly the same, albeit with more classiness.
Is that the reason why those who swear by this rising force- no beast operating with thumping strike rates- call him a bat in the classical mould?
Some have even called the Barbados-born the exact opposite of a power hitter?
Not that Hope can’t hit and hasn’t. When England came to the Caribbean in the pre-Covid era, the opening ODI at Barbados saw Hope (64 off 65) launch into a 98 meter six.
A shot Sir Sobers and the Universe Boss Gayle would’ve been proud of.
For someone typified as a Test batsman, that Hope once crushed a Shakib, Mahmadullah, Mustafizur-led Bangladesh of all bowling attack with a 23-ball-55 is testimony to the fact that undermining any good batsman is a fool’s errand.
Yet the narrative that play Hope, not in T20Is, where 156 of his 238 runs have come by way of boundaries, seems as persistent as soap operas on Indian TV channels.
If Roston Chase can be fit into a side since he can double up as an off-spinner, can’t Hope, who’s an agile and unrelenting keeper, not be accommodated when necessary?
Since whenever he’s been asked to pad up in T20Is, the opportunities being far too brief than he’d have liked, Hope delivered. Think the 52 on a slow track at Lucknow’s Ekana Stadium versus the top quality Afghan attack in 2019.
Though in all fine careers that need some fine-tuning, Shai Hope’s one that has its fair share of troubles. Most belonging to the very format where the right-hander proved himself as a 24-year-old and that too, nearly half-a-decade back.
When against a Broad and Anderson-powered attack, and a Root-led side, Hope left doubters silenced and critics in sheer awe, he did so by doing something more than firing two centuries in as many innings at Leeds’ 2017 Test; he added more strokes to the paintbrush that viewers use to frequently paints a Windies batsman.
One who can’t keep cool and can only power hit.
This was Hope at his vintage best, whipping, cutting, cover driving, lunging forwards and backing off, doing it all with a poise that would certainly have put a Brian Lara to hold the bat and coyly break into one of his famous strokes.
For such was his class and importantly, level-headedness that even as Broad persevered and Anderson went all guns blazing, the unrelenting batsman ducked under screamers fired by the duo much like Keanu’s Neo dodging bullets in the Matrix.
Hope’s best, which one hopes is truly yet to come for he’s all of 28, would still yield in the years that followed that magical run in 2019, his most productive ODI year.
It’ll forever be remembered as the milestone year where Her Majesty’s men ruled the game’s most glorious stage after years of mishits.
But there was more to 2019 than Proteas’ struggles, India’s semis heartbreak and Pakistan’s early capitulation; it would be the year where Shai Hope would compile a whopping 1,345 runs, topping them with 4 hundreds and 8 fifties at a strike rate of 78.
He’s since then taken his ODI century mark to 10, an enviable position for any young player who has the makings to be great. And at the same time, he’s floundered on one occasion too many, in Tests where he can truly become a force to reckon with.
How he’s gonna get there is something no gaming app has an answer for as only practice maketh any man under the sun perfect.
But where Shai Hope is concerned, there’s reason to believe- not just hope- that the Bajan is doing just that. And again with a sense of simplicity and truthfulness that makes him what he is.
A man like few others, a power that can truly drive the West Indies forwards.