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Hope floats for the Windies' ODI fortunes

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Shai_Hope_West_Indies_ODI_CricketIt has been over four years since the West Indies won a bilateral ODI series. Their most recent win was back in 2014 against Bangladesh at home, while their latest win away from home was in 2011-12, also against Bangladesh. The Windies have now failed to emerge victorious in their last 13 bilateral series, the latest of which ended in a 2-1 defeat in Bangladesh. Bangladesh had also won the series between the two teams in the Caribbean earlier in the year, by the same margin.

There was little to cheer about for the West Indies on the ODI front in 2018. Inconsistency continued to bog their progress, and had it not been for a fortunate escape against Scotland in a crunch Qualifier game, they would have missed out on a spot at the 2019 World Cup in England. However, the performance of Shai Hope at the top of the order was a silver lining – the 25-year-old Barbadian accumulated 875 runs from 18 innings in the year, at a healthy average of 67.30.

Interestingly, Hope endured a forgettable year in Test cricket, with his return of 344 runs at 20.23, highlighted by a torrid time against spin in India and Bangladesh, being a far cry from the highs of 2017, when he wowed the Headingley crowd with two centuries in a famous West Indian victory. At the same time, he gained in confidence in the 50-over format as the year went on, and following a fine display in Bangladesh, has climbed up to eighth in the batting rankings.

Hope’s increasing value to the West Indian ODI set-up is emphasised by the fact that he top-scored for the West Indies in each of their three matches in the recently-concluded series in Bangladesh. His best effort came in a winning cause, and was instrumental in keeping his team alive until the last game. In what was certainly one of the best innings of the year, Hope single-handedly spearheaded the Windies to a four-wicket win at the Shere Bangla National Stadium.

At 185/6 after 39 overs, the West Indies still needed 71 runs to win, and the Dhaka faithful were sensing a series wrap for Bangladesh with a game to spare. But Hope, who was on 95 at this stage, remained undeterred and calmly milked the bowling in the company of Keemo Paul, while hitting the occasional four to ensure that the asking rate did not get out of hand. He reached his third ODI hundred from 118 balls, but the job was far from done yet. He had to stay till the end.

With the equation reading 32 from the last three overs, Bangladesh appeared to be holding the edge. All hopes now lay on Hope, who began the 48th over with intent, slamming Rubel Hossain for a straight six off the first ball. He was very much in the zone by now, and with 18 runs required from nine balls, he let loose against Mustafizur Rahman, carting him for three fours in four balls to put the Windies on the brink of victory, which was sealed with two balls to spare.

Hope remained unbeaten on 146 off 144 balls, with 12 fours and three sixes. The next best score in the innings was 27. It was an incredible innings by all means, especially when one considers the fact that he is also the designated wicketkeeper of the team and had to open the innings in a tricky chase. Importantly, he changed tack as per the demands of the situation, and proved that he is able to keep up with a rising rate while indulging in some pleasing strokeplay.

Hope added another hundred in the decider at Sylhet, but this time he could not neutralise the lack of support from his teammates by himself. In a second consecutive one-man show, he struck an unbeaten 108 from 131 balls – no one else crossed 20. The West Indies’ total of 198/9 was never going to be enough, and not surprisingly, their series drought was extended with an eight-wicket defeat. Hope was deservedly named man of the series for his tally of 297 runs at 297.00.

Three days later, Sylhet was the scene of yet another gem from Hope, this time a record-breaking knock that gave the West Indies a vital 1-0 lead in the three-match T20I series through a thumping eight-wicket win. After Sheldon Cottrell’s 4/28 kept Bangladesh to 129, Hope combined his customary flair with savagery to thrash a 16-ball fifty – the fastest by a West Indian in T20Is and the third-fastest overall – en route to a 23-ball 55 that included six sixes.

Hope made his ODI debut against Sri Lanka in a tri-nation series in Zimbabwe in 2016-17, considerably later than his Test debut. His first century came in his second ODI, a tie against Zimbabwe at Bulawayo. Rather bizarrely, his second century was also in a tied game – an unbeaten 123 against India at Vizag earlier this year. His ODI average of 47.48 holds promise for the West Indies, and his low strike rate of 71.63 points to the anchoring role he often has to play.

Hope’s finesse provides much-needed stability to a batting line-up prone to regular implosions. While there is no denying that the likes of Shimron Hetmyer and Rovman Powell too have produced impactful innings this year, Hope will be the key player if the West Indies are to make a mark in next year’s World Cup, where only the four most consistent teams will advance to the semifinals. Consistency is the need of the hour for the Windies, and Hope is their best bet.

Given his unquestionable talent, Hope can be expected to revive his Test form sooner than later, and that can only benefit the West Indies in the long run. As of now, he has become an indispensable part of the West Indies’ ODI side, and his rise as a multi-faceted and dependable batsman might just play a pivotal role in his team’s 50-over renaissance. As long as Hope keeps the scoreboard ticking, hope floats for the West Indies as they head into the big World Cup year.



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Rustom Deboo is a cricket aficionado and freelance writer from Mumbai. He is an ardent devotee of T...

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