Earlier this year, a couple of former West Indian cricketers got into a rather vocal debate in the commentary box over their respective views on Shai Hope and Ashley Nurse. According to the one not in favour of the two Bajan cricketers in the ODI setup, Hope’s strike-rate with the bat and Nurse’s strike-rate with the ball were both equally unfit for this level.
He believed it was time that the West Indian selectors went back to a couple of more high-profile names instead. His more illustrious commentary colleague though wasn’t having any of it.
“From those who make themselves available to play for us, I think they’re doing quite well,” he said stressing intentionally on the “those who make themselves available” part. It was a pointed statement made at all the routine dissenting voices across the Caribbean who keep lamenting about the absconding luminaries rather than focus on the developing talents who have been consistent within their own limitations. It was basically a call to move on.
On Saturday at the MCA Stadium in Pune, it was the former great’s argument that was proven right. And it was incidentally, Hope and Nurse combined to orchestrate West Indies’ first win on tour to level the ODI series 1-1 with two matches to go.
The 43-run win, though significantly convincing in the end, came despite Virat Kohli doing what he seems to do whenever he feels like a bat these days — score a century. Hope, his team’s highest run-getter by far in 50-over cricket over the last two years, shepherded the visitors’ innings despite wickets falling around him regularly with a breezy 113-ball 95. The big, burly Nurse then showed his highly-billed but oft-flattering-to-deceive ability to strike the ball by smashing a brisk 22-ball 40 to take the total to a respectable 283/9.
The 29-year-old off-spinner, the West Indies’ most economical bowler and second highest wicket-taker over the last two years, then came back with the ball to stifle the Indians. He also knocked over two important wickets in Shikhar Dhawan and Rishabh Pant—when both looked set to be the partner that Kohli was looking for to take India home.It was Nurse’s tight spell, aided with the clever fields that Jason Holder seems to have designed for each Indian batsmen, that tightened the screws when it was most required. Kohli and Dhawan seemed to have got things moving when Nurse came on. India’s run-rate at that point was nearly on par with what they required.
Nurse though gave away only 11 runs in his first five overs, trapping Dhawan along the way, and by the time he was taken of, he’d ensured India needed more than run-a-ball—not an insurmountable for Kohli in particular but still a challenge.
“Every day is a fishing day, but every day’s not a catching day,” is how Nurse describes his bowling and the role in the team. He is on key with the description. It’s minimalistic at best, right from the action—two steps and a little hop—to the limited set of variations. His off-break does take spin, but rarely too far off the perpendicular.
What he does possess though is the ability to hit the same spot over and over again—a modern-day Carl Hooper with slightly better control. And it’s the reason why his “catch” isn’t always too weighty—he’s going at just over a wicket-a-match—but it isn’t due to a lack of effort in the “fishing”.
Hope on the other hand is considered the “poster-boy” of giving “attention-to-detail” within the West Indies camp, at times almost to a fault—with some even likening him to Shivnarine Chanderpaul in this regard. He’s invariably the first to arrive and last to leave during practice sessions. And though there were signs of his batting form reflecting in his numbers during the Tests, it’s coming through in the ODIs. He got a start in Guwahati, led West Indies to a tie with a ton in Vizag, and looked set for an encore in Pune. Shimron Hetmyer, meanwhile, produced another exhibition of his power-hitting though this proved to be a cameo.
But it was Hope who kept the West Indies in the game, and eventually set it up.Just like Kohli seemed to be in the run-chase. But for once—actually only the third time in 23 times he’s scored a ton while batting second—the Indian captain couldn’t see his team home. It was a customarily flawless and risk-free ODI knock. But by the time Marlon Samuels was brought on, the run-chase had reached a point where Kohli had to win it on his own. And in a way, he perished to the first risk he attempted, a cross-batted hoick, which resulted in him being bowled.It was a loss that highlighted a couple of worrying concerns for India’s ODI team.
And this was by far the strongest playing XI they’d put out during the series. While Jasprit Bumrah made an impressive return, snaring four wickets, Bhuvneshwar Kumar was off colour and very expensive in the death—not for the first time in recent months. Khaleel Ahmed, though still only young, also doesn’t look the part yet.Then there was the middle-order.
Pant was too flashy, even if some might argue that “he was just playing his game”, and though there were a couple of hefty blows, he perhaps would have served his team’s cause better by mixing it with some caution, especially with Kohli on cruise-mode at the other end. And MS Dhoni’s batting has certainly seen better days. A day after he was omitted from the squads for India’s next two T20I series, the former India captain will find it difficult to not incite the umpteenth debate about his ODI future.It was a strange match in a way, with India seemingly in control for the first 35-odd overs during both innings.
But courtesy Hope and Nurse, the West Indies didn’t let the game slip away, and made stunning comebacks in the final stretch both times to ensure a famous win.“We know we’re No.9, and we know why we are No.9. So why not, give these guys who are giving their all a go?” is how the former great had summed up his argument earlier this year. And on Saturday, he seemed to have been proven right, once again.