Shimron Hetmyer scored 139 off 106 balls — the fourth-fastest 100+ score while chasing for any batsman in an ODI against India in India. Shai Hope scored 102* off 151 balls — the slowest 100+ score in any ODI involving full-member nations this century.
They were, in isolation, knocks that probably belonged to two different games. Together, as they came on Sunday at the Chepauk, they delivered a rare West Indian win on Indian soil.
How rare? Coming into the ODI series opener, across formats, the men from the Caribbean had won six out of 31 games against India in India this decade — and lost 23. Counting only ODIs, the figures read four wins and 12 losses out of 17.
But now, on their last two visits to India (over the last 14 months), West Indies have tasted defeat thrice in six games — winning twice, and tying one game. And there is a common thread to that upswing in fortunes. Two common threads, rather.
In Visakhapatnam last year, the visitors were able to level India's score of 321; Hope hit 123, Hetmyer 94. In the very next game, which they won by 43 runs at Pune, Hope made 95 and Hetmyer 37 in a West Indies total of 283. This time around, in Chennai, the duo between them tallied 241 runs in a chase off 288. In these three games, Hope and Hetmyer's partnership tally reads 417 in 60.4 overs.
Neither of the two favourable results for West Indies from the last tour were expected — it isn't often that India fail to win after scoring 300+ batting first, and it is even rarer for them to fail when chasing sub-300 totals at home. This, on Sunday, was quite unexpected too, keeping in mind both the recent past at Chepauk and Virat Kohli's remarks at the toss.
Kohli claimed to be very surprised by West Indies' decision to bowl first, and the Indian captain wasn't really off the mark in his early assessment. The 300-run mark hadn't been touched once in four ODIs at the MA Chidambaram Stadium since the 2011 World Cup, and the average first innings score was 268/7; India had taken first strike in each of these four games, and their only defeat came in the only game where they failed to reach 250 (against Pakistan, in 2012).
Simply put: The odds were stacked heavily against the West Indians, especially once India had put 287 on the board.
Hetmyer: Hitting his way into the IPL auctions, again
There isn't an awful lot to write home about Hetmyer's nascent international career. Take away the six games he has played against India in India, and the soon-to-be 23-year-old has an ODI average of 33.69 and a strike rate of 98.49. In those six games, however, he boasts 398 runs at an average of 66.33 and a strike rate of 136.76 — numbers good enough to stand out against any team anywhere, leave alone against one of the top teams in the format in their own fortress.
Stranger still, Hetmyer has had few happy memories in any other format of the game even when playing in India, evidenced by a total of 50 runs from four Test innings, 171 from six T20I innings, and a highly forgettable maiden IPL season with Royal Challengers Bangalore earlier in 2019.
That IPL contract — worth INR 4.2 crore no less — came on the back of the first two ODI innings he played in this country: a cracking 78-ball 106 in defeat at Guwahati, and a smashing 64-ball 94 in the tied game at Pune. But the brilliance of Sunday's effort was that it was no hell-for-leather display, despite the 130+ strike rate.
After coming in at 11/1 in the fifth over, the left-hander didn't immediately go for the spectacular, taking 24 from his first 29 balls. He also didn't look to get after every one coming at him.
Unlike the rampant knocks of last year, this was a calculated assault: Deepak Chahar's 20 balls to Hetmyer went for only 14 runs, and Kuldeep Yadav gave 23 from 22 — but Hetmyer tonked Mohammed Shami, Shivam Dube, Ravindra Jadeja and Kedar Jadhav for a combined total of 102 runs from 64 balls.
The timing, all evening long, was sweet; that it came right at the cusp of another IPL auction, this time after having been released by his franchise following a stint of only five games, could yet make it sweeter in the week ahead.
Hope at home in Asia with '90s template
While Hetmyer sailed along — taking 48 off 48 before belting his next 91 runs from just 58 balls — Hope, at the other end, was only crawling his way to his slow-burner. In no 10-over stretch of the innings barring the last did Hope's strike rate reach 70; the Windies opener ended his unbeaten ton with a strike rate of 67.57, only touching an overall strike rate of 60 for the first time in the 45th over of the chase. It tells you something that is the 13th-slowest ODI hundred of all-time.
Yet, if you had to guess a batsman from this age to find his way to an ODI hundred while striking at less than 70, Hope would be a safe bet. Of the 63 batsmen with over 2500 ODI runs this decade, only five have scored their runs at a rate slower than Hope's 73.81; of the 61 to have scored at least 1000 ODI runs since his debut in November 2016, only two fall below Hope's mark.
That mark of 73.81, on the face of it, belongs back in the 1990s, when 250 was par-for-course in the 50-over game. It even sticks out like a sore thumb in most present-day West Indian lineups of T20 dashers. But in one-dayers in this part of the world, Hope is making things click, for himself and his team.
In 12 ODI innings in Asia, with his strike rate still a quite below-par 76.68, Hope has amassed 878 runs — with five hundreds and two fifties. His last six innings in the continent read 146*, 108*, 77*, 43, 109* and 102*. West Indies have won five of these six games.
A majority of the games in this recent sample may have come against Bangladesh and Afghanistan, but let's not forget that West Indies haven't had particularly good track records against those teams either.
Yin and yang, blunt and bang
Together, Hetmyer and Hope combined for a quite supreme mix of yin and yang, enabling West Indies to coast to the finish line.
Hetmyer did the giant part of the scoring through the 218-run partnership — 139 off 106, compared to Hope's 69 off 102 balls. But the effect of the association was felt in its unison.
The records, too, will remain collectively with both — and there were a few. The highest stand for any West Indian pair while chasing in an ODI; the second-highest for any pair while chasing against India; the third-highest for the second-wicket against India in India; the fifth-highest for any wicket against India in India.
More imperatively, Hetmyer, Hope and their heroics at the Chepauk allow West Indies to be in a position they've rarely held in more than a decade; for only the second time in the last 10 bilateral ODI contests between these sides since 2006 (the last time WI won a series against India) do West Indies hold the series lead.
A lesson or two for India
That, in turn, puts the pressure squarely on India in their quest to end the year — and the decade — on a high. India have lost only three out of 19 bilateral ODI series at home through the 2010s, and only one since October 2015. They've also won the last nine ODI series against West Indies since 2006. For that to stay intact, something will have to change at Visakhapatnam and Cuttack in the two remaining fixtures.
On Sunday evening, India, hopefully, will have learned that you can't defend totals without any 'attack' in your bowling attack.
Deepak Chahar isn't a proven quantity in the 50-over game yet; Mohammed Shami has returned nine wickets in eight home games since 2017, striking once in 52 balls while leaking 6.05 runs an over; Ravindra Jadeja has picked up more than one wicket only once in 13 ODIs this year.
That left Kuldeep Yadav as the only 'strike' bowling option in the Indian XI — and he, too, is completing the toughest year of his relatively nascent career, and has claimed more than one strike only twice in his last 12 appearances.
Those four men made up the frontline bowlers, tasked with delivering 40 of India's overs. But arguably as big an error as not being attack-heavy with the ball was the idea that Shivam Dube and Kedar Jadhav, between them, could be handed the responsibility of the 10 remaining overs.
Dube isn't Hardik Pandya, and Jadhav has been seen enough by batsmen around the world for the charm to still exist — so that tactic will have to be shelved if India are to make their way back into this series.
A possible way of going about it? Bench Jadhav, push Dube and Jadeja a spot higher in the batting lineup, and bring in Yuzvendra Chahal. At once, it provides a sterner examination of Dube's credentials as a back-up for Pandya, accords the respect and responsibility Jadeja perhaps deserves for his matured batting outside of T20 cricket, and provides options around the park with the ball — and this Indian ODI unit needs its back-ups and its options when they take the park in the absence of Jasprit Bumrah.
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