The Shai Hope conundrum
By Avenash Ramzan
How do you keep a guy like Shai Hope motivated?
The onerous task falls on the shoulders of Head Coach Phil Simmons.
His best ODI batsman by quite a distance is going through a horrible patch, his defence as weak as it has ever been, his confidence at an all-time low.
Hope arrived in England with fond memories- his only two Test hundreds came on the last trip in 2017 when in partnership with fellow Bajan Kraigg Brathwaite, West Indies pulled off a miraculous run-chase at Headingley.
Four innings into this series, Hope has scratched around for 57 runs, with a best of 25. What has transpired in England thus far is worrying, as it is an extension of a string of low scores dating back to October 2017.
After a superb 90 not out in the first innings against Zimbabwe in Bulawayo, less than two months after his Headingley heroics, Hope’s Test career has nose-dived, leading to questions over his continued selection for the longest format.
In 36 innings since then, the right-hander has managed just two fifties, small ones at that, with the highest being 67 against Bangladesh in Antigua in July 2018.
During this period, Hope has 13 single figure scores and 20 scores under 20, averaging a modest 20.51. In 19 of those innings, he was dismissed bowled, leg before or caught behind.
That his Test average is now 26.35 and his ODI average is 52.20 tells a story of a player struggling to find his feet in red-ball cricket.
Is he overwhelmed by the burden of expectation? Is he trying too hard?
Is his technique in question? Is it an issue of concentration?
Is it a lack of confidence? Or, is it that rut that all players must go through?
Simmons is concerned, and rightly so.
“…four innings without a score, which is in contrast to how he has played in the last sixth months in the other formats.”
“Yes, I’m concerned.”
Indeed, Hope has been a runs machine in ODI cricket over the last three seasons. So far in 2020 he averages 47 from six games with a hundred and two fifties.
In 2019, his most prolific year, he made four hundreds and eight fifties from 28 games and averaged 61.13, and in 2018, he averaged 67.30 from 18 matches with three centuries and a similar number of half-centuries.
Speaking to Sky Sports recently, former West Indies fast bowler Sir Curtly Ambrose said he believes “something has gone terribly wrong” with Hope since the spark of Headlingley.
“If you keep playing him and he keeps failing it will only get worse. You are going to destroy him if it continues like that. Something has gone terribly wrong for him since those two centuries at Headingley – he hasn’t done anything really in Test cricket since then,” Ambrose reasoned.
“I like Hope a lot. I think he is a fantastic player but this is not doing his confidence any good. Are West Indies going to go with him again? It’s a tough call. I am inclined to give him another go but by bringing someone else in he could get totally away from the game for a little bit and get his mind together.”
At 26, Hope represents the future of West Indies batting. The question is whether the team management would ‘risk’ him in the third Test, or take a long-term decision to allow him to rediscover his mojo.
In November 2006, Ramnaresh Sarwan was dropped for the first time in his career, six years after his debut, missing the third Test against Pakistan owing to poor form.
Then captain Brian Lara told the media: “It wasn’t designed as a drop. We just wanted to make him aware of the situation and come back stronger. We need him and we need him to take control.”
And came back stronger Sarwan did, racking up 1,539 runs in the remaining 35 innings of his career, including a career-best 291.
During this time, he scored six centuries and five fifties and averaged 43.97, better than his overall average of 40.01.
Maybe Hope needs time away from the middle to rediscover the hunger, confidence and game awareness that have brought him so much success in ODI cricket.
Truth be told, West Indies cricket would be better served by devising a plan for one of the region’s brightest prospects, rather than prolonging his current agony based on a hunch.