SK Elite: In Hope the Windies trust
Destiny is a strange concept. It isn't something a lot of people believe in. Not something that seems to make sense to most prudent people. Honestly, why should it? It involves unprecedented events taking place at the most unlikely of times in order to conjure up something unimaginable. And yet, there are days when certain events can be described only in those terms and none other.
When the Windies came out to bat in their first innings at Headingley in Leeds, they were reduced to 35-3. Memories from England's first day-night Test at Edgbaston were still fresh. Memories of a meek West Indian side imploding before a puissant English side. Memories of a bunch of men who were, well, just trying to play this noble game. No fire, not an element of a fight, it seemed like they wanted it to end sooner than anyone else.
And it did. The first Test lasted only three days. The Windies were done and dusted before the ground staff at Edgbaston could pry the advertising carpets off the field.
So, when the Windies, trailing by over 200 runs, lost three for 35, memories from Edgbaston were bound to return. At the crease were the opener Kraigg Brathwaite and in at No. 5, Shai Hope. Hope averaged 18.90 before facing a ball at Headingley. As cheeky as it sounds, at that point, West Indies had no hope of even putting up a fight.
However, at that moment started a partnership that has no explanation anywhere but in the glossary of Destiny. Hope planted his feet and batted. Just batted. Batted like runs didn't matter, like every minute he spent at the crease added funds into his bank account exponentially. Stuart Broad, James Anderson, Chris Woakes, Ben Stokes, and Moeen Ali, all of them pestered him, intimidated him, but Hope seemed destined. Destined to make it big.
He stood tall and drove off his back-foot like he had grown up playing in English conditions. There were spells of play where he was happy to leave everything. So often in Test cricket bowlers rely on baiting the batsman. Drawing the batsman into a false shot by offering up seemingly innocuous scoring opportunities. There were so many offered to Hope in that first innings, but nothing seemed to permeate through that bubble of steel that he was batting inside.
The Barbadian batted for 343 minutes and by the time he eventually got out poking at one that nibbled away, he had steered the Windies past England's first innings score. Hope scored 147 runs in what was his maiden Test century. Someone who had averaged 18.90 entering the Leeds game had resurrected the team from 35-3 to 329-6. He had indeed given the Windies hope.
Over the next day-and-a-half, the Windies were topsy-turvy. They made things happen but then went through lulls. Meanwhile, England batted well, gathered a lead of 321 runs and declared. Only 29 times in the history of the game had a team chased down any total in excess of 300. Moreover, this was a team ranked 8th in the world. The opposition had Broad, Anderson, Stokes, Woakes and Moeen. Sure they batted well in the first innings, but lightning doesn't often strike twice.
Well, it did this time. At the end of Day 4, set 322 to chase, the Windies bowling coach Roddy Estwick said: "We're still looking to win this Test match. We've got nothing to lose". At the beginning of Day 5, they still needed 317. The Headingley track is known to aid pace bowlers as the game progresses. The odds were stacked massively against the Windies?
The odds, it seemed, didn't matter. 53-2 after 19.1 overs, with another 76.5 overs left in the day, Shai Hope walked out to bat alongside Brathwaite. What were the odds that these two would bat England out of the game? They had done it in the first innings. But this was Day 5 of a Test match. Two of England's highest wicket takers in the history of the game were bowling in tandem. The skies were overcast. What were the odds?
Hope and Brathwaite bat like they're unconcerned, like they're born to bat, like they know the result. Waiting for the ball, clipping it off their hips and driving off the back-foot through the covers. At 159, Brathwaite suffers a lapse in concentration and gives his wicket away. Hope, in despair, throws his bat, but not his temperament. He bats on.
Needing 10 to win, he is offered a juicy half-volley outside off-stump. Surely this is a glory moment. Especially for someone who is seeing the ball as well as him. And yet, he lets it go. His contract has a no-loose-shot clause.
He isn't batting to beat the odds, he is batting to prove that Destiny exists.
Out of nowhere, a young Windies batsman who is ranked below Jayant Yadav in the ICC rankings becomes the only batsman in history to score a century in either innings of a First Class game at Edgbaston. The only one in 127 years of Edgbaston's history. The only one in 543 First Class games.
The next time you're defending Destiny, take Hope's story along.
In Hope, the Windies trust!