The 2017 tour of England was a memorable one for West Indies. Although they lost all three of the Test, ODI and T20I series, what they would like to remember is their only victory over the hosts in the second Test of that tour at Headingley. It was their first Test win in six series in the country since the year 2000. What made it even more special was the fact that they won the match despite having a side which was relatively a lot lesser experienced as compared to their English counterparts. In fact, all of the Caribbean players performed to the best of their abilities in that series, but one player who stood out was Shai Hope.
Just like any other West Indies player of this era, Hope had immense potential but he was yet to convert that into numbers at that time. Before the series began, the 26-year-old had 10 Tests to his name and had accumulated just 372 runs in them at a dismal average of 19.57. Those 10 Tests comprised of three overseas tours to Australia, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe in which he amassed just 129 runs in 7 innings at a poor average of 18.42 once again. At home, he had accumulated 243 runs in 12 innings at a slightly better average of 20.25. But, if you consider a batsman good enough to play at the highest level, you expect him to average at least double of his numbers in home conditions. Clearly, Hope’s numbers didn’t inspire any confidence.
However, what prompted the West Indies selectors to keep their faith in Hope was probably the way he had performed in ODIs till then. In the 18 ODIs he had played before the tour of England, Hope had accumulated 624 runs at a fine average of 41.60. These runs included a century against Zimbabwe and three fifties against two top teams like India and Sri Lanka. So, the format might have been different, but Hope had shown that he had the ability to succeed at the highest level. Hence, he was given another chance and Hope didn’t disappoint as well.
After a tough start in the first Test at Edgbaston, Hope struck twin centuries — one was a classy knock of 147 in the first innings and another was a well calculated knock of 118* to chase down a daunting total of 322 — at Headingley to lead West Indies to a memorable win by 5 wickets. More than that, it helped them to level the series and put pressure on a team like England, and that too in their den.
The enormity of his performance could be understood from the fact that it was the first time in the ground’s history spanning over hundred years, that a player had scored centuries in each of the innings of a first-class match. Hope scored another fifty in the next match at Lord’s, a game in which the young Caribbean brigade put up a valiant fight once again. But the experience of the English side helped them to ace this match by 9 wickets and thus win the series by a 2-1 scoreline. They couldn’t, however, stop Hope from ending up as the highest run-getter in the series. He scored 375 runs during the course of his six outings at a superb average of 75 — a number which finally did justice to his potential.
Since then, Shai Hope has gone on to become one of the most recognisable faces among the current generation of Caribbean cricketers. As West Indies embark upon another testing tour of England with a three-match Test series starting July 8, all eyes will be on Hope once again.
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But things have been a lot different from what was expected of him after that successful stint in 2017. His recognition has mostly been built upon his success in the ODI format in which he has amassed 2665 runs since then at an outstanding average of 55.52. These runs include a total of 8 centuries and 14 fifties, which clearly leave no doubt about his talent whatsoever.
The runs he has amassed in ODIs since the 2017 Test series in England makes him the third-highest run-getter during this period after Rohit Sharma (3373 runs at 63.73) and Virat Kohli (3280 runs at 71.30). That sums up how good he has been.
In Tests, though, it has been a totally different story. When we watch Shai Hope bat, each of his shots seem like the exact replica of the ones depicted in the traditional cricket manual. His technique is sound and he has a good temperament too. But somehow he has still not been able to achieve the same success in the longest format of the game as he has done in ODIs during this timeframe.
Hope’s Test average, which read 19.57 before the beginning of the England series in 2017, rose to a decent figure of 31.12 when the series ended. But his numbers in the format since then have undergone a decline once again as he has accumulated just 751 runs at an average of 24.22 in the 18 Tests he has played since his memorable outing in England.
He did show some promise with the three fifties he scored during this period, two of which came against England and Bangladesh at home and another in away conditions against Zimbabwe. But, otherwise, he has always found ways to get dismissed after getting off to good starts in the rest of his outings.
In fact, Hope has the lowest batting average among the 48 players who have scored 500 or more runs while batting between positions 3 and 7 since the 2017 series between England and West Indies.
Not only that, his three scores of fifty or more is the joint least in this set of 48 players as well. That in itself sums up how insignificant his batting performances have been and how much of catching up he has to do in terms of his Test numbers.
But Hope is still hopeful of turning his Test career around. According to him, his problem is more psychological than being technical and he believes that he can get rid of it by working hard on his game like he has always done.
“Red-ball batting is definitely my favourite part of the game but the runs and the stats aren’t exactly where we want them to be, but I’m working towards that. I can’t pinpoint anything (wrong) at this stage, because I wouldn’t say my preparation has changed. I don’t think it’s anything major when it comes to my technical side of the game. There are certain things you can tweak, as you go along. I would probably say it’s more of a mental thing. Hopefully, I can turn it around and move on from there,” Hope told the media via video conference at Old Trafford where they are training ahead of the Test series starting on July 8.
“I just need to have the continued belief in myself, back my ability because I know I can get it done, it’s not like I haven’t done it before,” he added.
Hope definitely has the ability, technique and temperament required to succeed in Test cricket and it’s only a matter of time before he does that. His performances until now may not have been good but he has made it pretty clear that he is hungry for the same kind of success in Tests as he has had in ODIs till now.