Nine batsmen crossed the 25-run mark at Taunton in the World Cup 2019 match between West Indies and Bangladesh. Only three of them struck at a rate less than 100 and none scored at a rate lesser than Shai Hope's 79.34. The elegant West Indian batsman was in scintillating form in the build-up to the World Cup and Bangladesh bore a large brunt of that extended purple patch with seven out of his 10 ODIs against the Tigers yielding more than a half-century.
But on Monday, despite knocking off a good-looking 96, Hope's innings might have lost the game for West Indies. Yet again, the strike rate, a monkey on his back for a while now, came under scrutiny with Hope hogging 121 balls for less-than-effective returns.
The West Indian's ODI metamorphosis is a redemption tale that is still a work in progress. Till West Indies toured India in October 2018, Hope had been carried around in the limited-overs side for his potential. He was making runs but his scoring rate belied the Caribbean style. For two years, Hope struck at an appalling strike rate of 66.32.
When the runs started flowing more, the strike rate progressed. Since the beginning of that tour of India last year, Hope is the highest run-getter in ODIs — yes, this includes Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma — with 1318 runs at a blistering average of 73.22. In 21 outings to the crease, the batsman from Barbados made 11 scores of fifty or more.
He wasn't just making runs like before. He was scoring them quicker too. With a strike rate hovering around the mid-80s, Hope was developing into a more than handy anchor in a line-up thronged by big hitters.
In short, he was getting big runs, not pulling the team down and providing the cushion for those heavy wielders to come and do their thing.
But West Indies have been pegging themselves back by misusing the diamond they have among the rocks. There is an evident lack of understanding of what has been working for them with respect to Hope.
Scour Hope's ODI numbers and you see that his impact is multiplied manifold when he opens the innings, a role that has been gifted and taken away from him countless times since his debut.
Sample this if you aren't following the narrative.
West Indies played an ODI against India in 2017 at Port of Spain shortly after the Champions Trophy, a tournament they missed because of their despicable performances in the years prior to that. India won that game by a whopping 105 runs but three points that are relevant to the Windies now happened in that match.
1. Hope opened the batting for the first time in ODIs.
2. He top-scored for West Indies with 81.
3. For the first time in 13 ODI innings until then, Hope struck at a rate of 90 or more.
Ideally, Windies should have stuck with Hope as the opener for the remainder of the series. Instead, some unknown surge of adrenaline saw them blood his brother, Kyle Hope, at the top in the next three games. Shai Hope came in at the fall of the first wicket in all of those matches and scored at strike rates of 48, 64.1 and 52.04.
He was next used as an opener in ODIs one and a half years later in West Indies' ODI series against Bangladesh in December 2018. In this time frame, Hope, languishing below the openers, scored at a rate of 67.93, easily the worst for any batsman (from teams playing in this World Cup) with a filter of 400 runs.
West Indies openers were not feasting with massive runs in this time frame either. In fact, they had the worst average — 29.32 with eight scores of 50 or more in 50 individual innings — for any team in this period but it seemingly never crossed their mind that Hope could be tried in the position.
In that Bangladesh series in December 2018, when they did go with Hope in the opening slot, the Barbados-born player slammed scores of 43, 146* and 108*. But when England arrived for a series in the Caribbean in February this year, Hope was back to No 3. He struggled after a half-century in the first ODI and never really got going the entire series. It could perhaps be argued that West Indies wanted to try John Campbell as a potential back-up opening option for the World Cup in that series. But given what has unfolded later this year, this supposition is difficult to digest.
In the last leg of warm-up ODIs before the World Cup, Windies played in a tri-series involving Ireland and Bangladesh in Dublin. Hope was back opening and made two hundreds, including a career-best 170 from 152 balls against Ireland, and two other half-centuries in the five matches. Strikingly, all of them came at a strike rate of 80 or more with two of them coming comfortably over run-a-ball.
He started the World Cup campaign against Pakistan at the top and made 11 but was pushed down to No 3 after one failure for the remaining three matches the West Indies played. He has made two half-centuries — including the one on Monday — in the three games this tournament but they have come at underwhelming strike rates of 64.76 (vs Australia) and 79.33 (vs Bangladesh).
At Taunton, Hope never looked like stepping on the accelerator. In fact, in the death overs, he slowed down immensely. He was dismissed off the final ball of the 47th over but his last boundary came in the 35th over of the innings. From the 40th over till his eventual dismissal, West Indies made 54 runs in seven overs, a decent run rate nearly touching eight. Hope made 14 of those runs while consuming 19 balls.
Clearly, he isn't tailor-made for the kind of barbarity his mates are known for. He needn't be. With the Windies having plenty of big hitters, Hope is perfect as a sheet anchor and consistent top-order batsman. But his value and returns dwindle when he isn't facing the new ball. A career strike rate of 68.76 from the middle-order and 92.66 from the top-order should ideally speak volumes about how he needs to be used.
Can the Windies see it before it's too late?