When a little over 24 hours ago Shai Hope said that his West Indies team could become the first to reach 500 runs in the 2019 World Cup, some may have nodded their heads in approval. And only a few would’ve dared to raise an objection.
Because obviously, this is a team that has in its ranks the likes of Chris Gayle, Carlos Brathwaite, Evin Lewis, and who can forget “Dre Russ” Andre Russell.
Whether or not the West Indies, long-limbed hitters with an average hit of men easily over 6 feet can actually touch 500 or crumple like an endless piece of cotton, here’s what can be said for certain.
In Shai Hope, they’ve got a batsman who’s more than a rock-solid bat, someone in whose strength and capabilities the West Indies are no longer shy to hope.
A little over a year and a half ago, he visited England as a 24-year-old and immediately made an impact by breaking a 127-year-old record when he scored hundreds in both innings at Headingley. Who can forget that 147 and 118 not out, an effort that saw the Barbados-born bat for 664 minutes in the Test match?
Now that Shai Hope enters the arena where he first faced the red ball but from the likes of Broad and Anderson, one reckons that the West Indian will be ready to answer the white-ball challenges as posed by a troika that seems no less threatening than England’s Test greats: Mark Wood, Chris Woakes, Ben Stokes.
In a sport that sides with recent form, Hope, with 2 recent ODI hundreds, the 109 against Bangladesh and the 170 (his personal best) against Ireland respectively, Hope enters his maiden World-Cup game in prime form.
Even as his century versus New Zealand, at Bristol the other day came in a practice game, it seems, his batting doesn’t seem to have that many chinks- as of now- to exploit.
Moreover, here’s something else.
For a team whose spectators may be tired of hearing that- “World Cricket needs a strong West Indies team”- maybe it’s time to accept the fact that Shai Hope is the crucial engine in West Indian wagon that makes the West Indies a strong team.
At 25, Hope’s fired 6 hundreds having first taken guard in ODI cricket toward the end of 2016.
A little over two and a half years and he’s comfortably left a senior star batsman Darren Bravo behind (Lil Bravo took 103 innings to score 2800 ODI runs while Hope’s taken just 50 to reach nearly 2300), opened for West Indies in the absence of senior stalwart Gayle, been a part of a historic run-stand of 365, to which he contributed 170 finely-crafted runs.
Hope may not be the one who pummels bowlers from the word go, may not have the large biceps akin to a Gayle or those magnificent aerial strikes with which a Russell and Lewis take down bowlers ostentatiously. But he’s got the flair and the class you’d expect from someone who can both save a day and help you remember one fondly.
Make no mistake and let’s get real too. This ain’t no Dravid and Kallis yet. Shai Hope sits miles from that league of extraordinary gentlemen who forged iconic careers on the painfully correct tedium of rigor and the right technique.
That said, Hope, someone among the few who remains true to the poignant meaning of his surname doesn’t resist the call of duty. Maybe that is why, he keeps, opens, and also features among runs consistently from his stable number three spot.
Maybe that is why at a time where none gave an earnest young chap any chance to ward off England in England, the gritty right-hander stay put for 464 deliveries in all at Headingley, a Test few may forget given the sheer levitation it served fans who were tired of countless West Indian surrenders in the past.
And maybe that is why the batsman who featured on the Wisden cover in the past, a spot not many West Indians came to cohabit anytime in the past may want to go an extra yard ahead in this world cup in a bid to resuscitate a talented West Indian unit, now primed to rise again.