Let’s get the facts out of the way first. Windies are currently ranked ninth in ODIs, perched two rating points above Afghanistan. In 2017, they managed just three wins from 23 matches played in bilaterals, and have not won a series in close to four years. Their record against India is even more damning — having failed to defeat them in an ODI series in 12 years. Having such a skewed recent record does not inspire much confidence if you’re a Windies supporter. And when they’re pitted against Virat Kohli’s Indian team in their backyard without the likes of Chris Gayle, Sunil Narine or Dwayne Bravo, the writing is pretty much on the wall.
After getting steamrolled by India inside six days in the two Tests, most expected the tourists to wilt without an ounce of fight in the subsequent limited overs leg of the tour. But Jason Holder, the eternally optimistic Windies captain, exuded hope. He said the primary reason for his team’s dismal performances in ODIs in the recent past was their inability to register scores of 300-plus consistently. “We have not really been able to get consistent scores in excess of 300, which is pretty much a par score and a benchmark in ODIs of late. We have spoken about this in great detail in the dressing room. We need to be hitting the 300-mark more often,” he said.
In the absence of some of the more experienced players in the line-up, the onus of scoring runs at the top of the order fell on their opener Kieran Powell, who with more than four years of international cricket, was touted as the next big hope. Apart from Powell, there are others like Shai Hope and Shimron Hetmyer. Despite their obvious talent, the sheer inexperience at the top of the order was hurting Windies cricket.
On Sunday, West Indies, after being asked to take first strike on a perfect batting pitch at Guwahati’s Barsapara Cricket Stadium, notched up a seemingly competitive 322/8 in 50 overs, before Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma made a mockery of the chase. Fuelling them to this score was Powell’s belligerent 39-ball 51, who gave the much- needed impetus upfront.
His efforts were supplemented by an emphatic flourish in the middle overs, provided by 21-year-old Hetmyer, who stroked this third century in just his 13th ODI. The 76-ball 106 from the southpaw from Berbice, Guyana, was the fourth-quickest ODI hundred for the Windies against India. He helped his team to just their fifth 300-plus score since the 2015 World Cup.
Walking in at No.5 with West Indies in a spot of bother at 86/3, Hetmyer orchestrated a chanceless knock. He was ultra-aggressive from the start, muscling with glee through his preferred leg-side where he scored more than 80 per cent of his runs. He also looked fairly assured against spinners Ravindra Jadeja and Yuzvendra Chahal, using his feet with confidence. His knock was punctuated with six sixes, the last of which he smoked to reach his three-figure mark. By the time Hetmyer departed — in the 39th over — Windies had raced to 248 and were poised to overhaul the 300-run mark.
His coaches back home in Cumberland, Berbice, are not too surprised at Hetmyer’s exploits on Sunday. Those who saw him take his first tentative steps in the game at the Young Warriors Cricket Club, swear by his big-hitting prowess. However, he had an inauspicious initiation into the spotlight during the 2014 U-19 World Cup, getting dismissed for a duck in three of his five innings.
Not surprisingly, his confidence took a beating. It took him a while to clear his head and get back into his groove. When he did, runs began to flow from his blade in domestic cricket. Destiny handed him another chance two years later, when he was selected to lead the West Indies team for the 2016 U-19 World Cup in Bangladesh. He made the most of this rare second chance, playing a key role with the bat and leading the teens to the summit. His exploits opened the doors to the senior team a year later.
He has not looked back since, easing his way into the Test, ODIs and finally the T20 squads. His performances in the eight Tests suggest that his batting is still a work-in-progress. It’s in the ODIs that he has shown his potential. Like at the Providence ground earlier this year, when he scored a majestic 125 to eke out a tense win against Bangladesh. His batting style has already made him an instant hit with some of the present and former West Indies cricketers. Chris Gayle calls Hetmyer his favourite from the younger crop of cricketers. “Quality knock by Shimron Hetmyer. He is going to be some player. 3 centuries in his first 13 games. Best start by any West Indian batsman after so few matches,” tweeted former West Indies fast bowler Ian Bishop. Who knows, this knock could just ignite a bidding war amongst IPL franchises next year.