These days, there is a fearful apprehension whenever Shai Hope bats in a Test match. The clutching fear of a bright young batting talent crushed as much as by self-expectations as by a dread of failure.
The experience of watching him is more realistic, and frustrating, than skimming through his string of wretched scores (57 runs in four innings of this series and an average of 19.41 in 34 innings since the New Zealand series in December 2017). Such listless figures could convey the impression of a woefully out-of-touch, out-of-sync batsman. But on the contrary, he looks surprisingly assured in the middle. He strides in confidently, his defence is resolute and stroke-play masterful, his footwork decisive and balance imperious.
Yet he contrives to perish. Not to an extravagant stroke or a striking technical glitch. There is no definitive pattern to dismissals. He gets out in different fashions, or to put it differently, there is no one way to dismiss him, but several. At one moment, he seems flawless, yet in the next seems full of flaws. He has an outstanding judgement outside the off-stump, leaves reassuringly, yet he pokes at deliveries he has no business to. He is an excellent player of spin, but sometimes concedes the impression that he’s a nervous novice.
He has a terrific back-foot defence, but at times he concedes a fear of short-pitch bowling. It’s as if he’s a Pakistani batsman who had accidentally wandered into the Caribbean dressing room.
None as instructive of the volatility of his batting as his 25 in the first innings in Old Trafford. He passed the tough Stuart Broad examination, but failed the relatively easier Sam Curran test. It was neither a great ball nor a poor stroke —— a routine off-cutter that gripped off the dry surface, which he tried to defend. In hindsight, he could have left it, or maybe he could have played it closer to his body, but there was nothing to admonish him about that shot.
— Windies Cricket (@windiescricket) July 23, 2020
It was at the most a basic error in judgment, which many batsmen make. Only that, Hope is erring far too frequently, and time is fast running out to prove that he is indeed a jewel. He needs to unlock the mystery that he is.
What’s exactly eating him, only he can reveal one day. Several young batsmen endure such indifferent times, when nothing seems to happen despite everything falling into place theoretically. It could be the burden of expectations he has been shouldering since the Headingley heist, where he made 147 and 118 not out.
Some are convinced that he has lost his temperament, that limited-over methods have crept into his game and impeded his growth as a Test batsman. To solidify their argument, they point out his exceptional numbers in ODIs, wherein he averages 52.20, twice as much as his corresponding Test numbers.
It’s almost a Rohit Sharma quandary. You expect limited-over success to seamlessly translate into Tests but it doesn’t. His sustained failures have not gone unnoticed in the Caribbean, where criticisms have only grown louder with each passing game. Even coach Phil Simmons admitted that Hope is no longer an automatic pick for the decider. “He’s gone four innings without a score, in contrast to how he played over the last five, six months in the other formats. I am concerned about his form. We’ll have to think about that very, very seriously,” he said.
There wouldn’t be a better time to arrest the drought than in the decider and for Hope to prove that he is a precious jewel after all.
Live on Sony Six: 3rd Test, Manchester, 3:30 pm onwards