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Hope for the best

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Shai_Hope_West_Indies_CricketIt’s May 3rd, 2017 and the Barbados sun is shining unforgivingly.

Pakistan are playing the 2nd Test on their tour of the West Indies.

Mohammad Amir, Yasir Shah and newbie Mohammad Abbas are cutting loose, unforgiving.

The day after Brian Lara’s birthday, a young batsman demonstrates grit – something of a yesteryear phenomenon – in compiling a valuable 90. A vital hundred hasn’t been reached. But that’s okay; the bloke doesn’t seem to mind. He has held onto an end as chaos loomed large on the other.

Amidst the staccato of constantly falling wickets, this young Barbadian bats on for 209 minutes, eases the tension with courtesy some fluently struck cover drives and back-foot punches through square, and has almost returned the favor of vicious glares through a sublime sense of composure.

Bouncers are hurled at him, verbal assaults follow from behind the stumps, but the right-hander remains unmoved.

The West Indies breathe for a while even as their total reads just 268, something you might consider handy in a 50-over contest.

Then, on the final day, Barbados transforms into some sort of a fortress. Pakistan are bundled out cheaply, Gabriel and Holder mow down Misbah and Younis’ side, and the West Indies are jumping with joy.

Cut to Headingley, Leeds, in August 2017.

The word “frustrating” is often associated with the West Indies. This is due to ordinary bowling and a lackluster and an almost purposeless demonstration of batting.

But on that memorable August afternoon, familiar concerns of the past were wiped away like water off a windscreen.

It’s that man in the middle again.

The sad part, though, is that Windies are 3 down for 35 and staring at England’s 1st innings score of 258.

That looks miles away.

But worry does not seem to preoccupy this West Indian batsman for the next 3 sessions as England try it all- Stokes’ crooked smile, Anderson’s punishing pace and Broad with his barrage of bouncers.

Shai Hope is unmovable at the crease.

In compiling a very handy century, not only his first in Tests, but resulting in a match-winning cause, the mild-mannered bloke stitches a marathon 246 run partnership with Kraigg Brathwaite, also a fellow Barbadian.

Cricket’s beauty doesn’t rest alone in surprise victories won at the back of merciless hitting. Nor in an ecstatic pace bowling battery that can run down an opposition on a flat Delhi pitch or a somnolent Adelaide.

It’s the ability to rise to the occasion when, not only the spectators but perhaps the losing team itself, sitting haplessly in the dugout, has given up.

In doing precisely that, and mightily well so, in just a space of 3 months (during Pakistan’s visit to the Caribbean and the Calypso kings’ memorable tour to England) Shai Hope has proved that a West Indian redemption is no longer a forgone conclusion.

Not by any stretch of imagination are the 23-year-old’s figures intimidating. Nor do they seem threatening to world’s best bowlers, some of whom he has already squared up against, including England’s Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad, Pakistan’s Hasan Ali and Mohammad Amir and India’s Ishant Sharma and Mohammad Shami.

But what lies behind those 747 Test runs, 624 ODI runs and 2 Test hundreds and 3 fifties is the heart to fight.

A reminder of a yesteryear phenomenon- the quintessential West Indian grit that many seem to have either forgotten thanks to the team’s cavalier approach to playing modern cricket.

Hope isn’t a dazzler but he is a useful grinder who believes in going the extra yard, a must for the 5-day contest.

With the Windies still tottering at 8 in the ICC Test rankings and a dismal 9 on the ODI rankings, one would reckon that Shai Hope has his task cut out already.

Whether the West Indies get to qualify for the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 is, truth be told, increasingly unlikely.

But whether that makes their game lackadaisical or induce something extra, something magical like the famous Headingley triumph, solely rests on Jason Holder’s young, inexperienced but capable team.

In batsmen like Jermaine Blackwood- sadly never played out in the ODIs when his natural talent seems to warrant just that- the Windies have the flair to develop a potentially big hitting bloke into an able 50-over marksman.

There’s Roston Chase- whose credentials no longer need certification, whether from fans or critics.

An ideal situation would see Jason Holder undergo some grind at the nets to improve his potent batting talent. Should he emerge only as a front-line medium pacer, the West Indies would feel like they were missing out.

With Hope and Brathwaite having ably demonstrated grit and patience, essential to success at the highest level, victories would keep coming.

However, it is sudden failings with the bat, on pitches where runs are as freely found as mangoes next to a mango tree, that have hurt their fortunes.

But with Darren Bravo now slated to return to the Test side, the middle order seems well equipped, as it once were, when the likes of Samuels played useful knocks in the pre-Shai Hope period.

So with as many as 5 frontline batsmen, Shai Hope would feel change is on the horizon.

This could well translate to a continuous surge for finding bright spots, whether it is their tour to New Zealand in November or the important ODI series in England.

But before any of that starts, it might not be a bad idea for Shai Hope to revisit his grizzly triumphs in the recent times. As they say, a man is often his own source of motivation. And for West Indies, there now seems to be Hope, both emotional and brimming with talent.

 

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