Under the SKanner: Shai Hope
Sometimes all your abilities wait for one fine day. Sometimes all that’s wrong with you suddenly decides to turn the tables and be in your favour. Sometimes you step out to make history and that is precisely what Shai Hope did when he batted England out of the game at Headingley.
Set 322 to win on a Headingley track known to unleash beasts on the final two days of a Test, it was never going to be a straightforward task. Faced with England’s leading wicket takers in the history of the game and a spinner who, it was said, the bowlers would easily run through the Windies lineup on the final day.
But two Barbadians stepped out to bat like they were men of God. Men with God. They came, they saw, they defended, they thwarted, they left and they won. Michael Holding, 'the whispering death’ as he was called, was on air, and it seemed that after ages, Mikey was seeing a spark in this side. A spark he could relate to.
A spark that he missed for long. It prompted him to say on air, although in almost a passing reference, one which is very tough to pick up, that a strong Bajan makes a strong Windies.
Kriagg Brathwaite and Hope were indeed strong Bajans and they almost on their own might, won the Windies a game they were never supposed to win. Especially after their defeat at Edgbaston.
Come Headingley, things were about to change. When Hope came out to bat in the Windies’ first innings, the score was 35 for 3 wickets. Similar times beckoned for the Windies. Save only for that they didn’t. Hope planted his feet and played an innings of his life only to replicate it in the second innings too.
Something was clicking in this man who came to this test match with a career average of 18.90. Someone with those numbers isn’t supposed to bat like he was born to torment bowlers. And yet it all unfolded. Here’s how Hope instilled hope in all of the West Indies and drove them to an unlikely victory.
Before you're taken aback by this seemingly denigrative use of an adjective for Hope, this is with reference to the kind of a batsman he is. Stubborn, ready to grind out tough periods of play. All in a hope to feast on good ones. And he did precisely that. Take this for an instance; needing 10 to win, he was offered a half-volley outside his off-stump. This could easily have been a glory moment. But Hope let it go. Like he didn’t want runs, like every ball he left was adding to his bank account. You need a character stronger than steel to be able to do that. To be able to stand in the middle and not lose concentration.
Magical in his back-foot
One conspicuous difference between Hope and all other Windies batsmen was his ability to wait for the ball till the very last moment. In England, a lot of batsmen get fooled by the pace some tracks -- like the one at Headingley -- have to offer and commit to playing early.
Sachin Tendulkar, when he struggled against pace in England in the early '90s, went to Sunny Gavaskar for advice. And the Little Master opined, in England, always wait for the ball to come to you. If you saw Hope bat, you’d assume he eavesdropped on that conversation because while others seemed hurried, Hope seemed to have enough time to have a three-course English breakfast and then play the shot.
Per a CricViz stat, Hope played 50 balls off his back foot and didn't miss a single one of them! How’s that for excellence? Quite fittingly, the Windies’ winning runs came in the form of a shot that he tucked onto the leg-side off his hips. Playing it as late as he could. And as well as he could.
Like a seasoned test batsman from the days of yore, Hope comes across as a calm and composed batsman. Someone who seems in no hurry. Someone who seems to always be in absolute control of his game regardless of what’s happening around him. He batted for 343 minutes in the first innings and 321 minutes in the second innings. There were, of course, shots he wasn’t in full control of during this time. But none of them were shots played by someone who was in a hurry.
Of course, there were flaws and loopholes in his technique. He struggled with anything short fired into his ribs. He struggled against the one that came in before shaping away from him. There were moments where Broad tested him with the one that reversed back in sharply. But none of them seemed to rattle the fighter that Hope emerged.
While working magic with his willow wand, he also became the first man in the 127-year-old history of the Headingley at Leeds to score centuries in each innings of a First Class game.
In Hope the Windies trust!