The Oxford English dictionary defines enigma as “a person or thing that is mysterious or difficult to understand”. For a lot of experts and cricket fans, Shai Hope's form, or the lack of it, in the red-ball format has truly been an enigma.
It is not that there haven’t been players that are good only in either the longer or shorter formats of the game. There is a general trait of players excelling majorly in the red ball version and failing to do so in the other formats. They tend to have a tight technique, don’t bother to score at an express pace and are more concerned with spending as much time as possible at the crease.
The white-ball players who have failed in the longer format generally have had a more colourful style of play and their attacking instincts have gained prominence over technical abilities or correctness. If you look at Shai Hope, he seems to be a red ball player by nature, who is among the top ranks in the limited-overs formats, but struggling to make any sort of impact in Test matches. This is what makes it rather difficult to understand his struggle.
Shai Hope's scoring has been prolific in ODIs over the last couple of years. He averaged over 60 both in 2018 and 2019, and is currently averaging just under 50 from 6 ODIs in 2020. The major criticism he has faced is his strike rate in ODIs hovering at around 75, which is considered quite low for a modern-day top-order batsman.
Anyone looking at these statistics is likely to assume him to be an excellent Test match batsman. However, he has had a horrible run of form in the longest format of the game. Either side of his heroics at Headingly in 2017 during the last tour of England, where he scored twin hundreds sealing a memorable victory for the West Indies, he has done little.
Those two hundreds remain the only ones in his Test career. In fact, at 18.46, he has the lowest average for top four batsmen of all international teams post 2018, with just two 50+ scores coming in the last two and a half years. And this is the second-worst average for any batsman batting in the top 7, only behind Moeen Ali.
Reliance on Shai Hope
One look at his performances in the first-class arena, and one would find that his struggles are not limited to Test cricket, but the red-ball game in general. He has just eight hundreds in over 107 innings, and averages around 35, which can be considered below par, at best, for your #3 batsman. The List A performances are much better with an average of just below 50 and 12 hundreds in 98 innings.
Considering all this, it may be quite puzzling to see Shai Hope continuing to be in the thick of things for so long, and one may ask why. One of the two prominent reasons for it could be his prolific form in the ODI format. It is easy to get deceived by the amount of runs one scores in a particular format, which gives hope that the next Test series would be a path breaker for the player.
This was reflected in the comment that Jason Holder made before the second Test of the ongoing series. When asked about Shai Hope's form, he responded, “His one-day form has been really good, so I have all confidence Shai will deliver.”
The other reason, and possibly the more important one, is that there hasn’t been a lot of alternatives for the West Indies team. There are no players who are knocking at the door, threatening the Hope's position at the top of the order.
If you look at the top run-getters in the first-class circuit for the last season, Jermaine Blackwood and Kyle Mayers are both middle-order batsmen who are ill-suited to replace Hope at the top of the order. And the only other batsman in the top 3 is the 38-year-old Devon Smith.
The mental and the technical side
So what exactly is the issue with Shai Hope and test matches? Hope thinks it is just a mental thing which he needs to overcome. However, it may also be something due to the amount of technical adjustments that he has made over the last couple of years; right from changing his guard to adjusting his backlift and opening up his stance.
Shai Hope has an apparent problem with moving balls pitched on length, which is not uncommon with batsmen. But 40% of his dismissals have either been bowled or LBW, which is unusually high for a top-order batsman. This clearly suggests that he might have to go back to the drawing board and work out what is causing his downfall.
Road Ahead for Shai Hope
With Darren Bravo and Shimron Hetmyer, who chose to skip the English tour owing to the Covid-19 pandemic, set to come back to the squad, and young Joshua da Silva, who impressed with a ton and a half-century in the intra-squad warm matches getting into the foray, it may not be long before the West Indies team management start to look beyond Shai Hope.
It is only so long that your talent and the memories of a phenomenal performance can take you. But even if he is dropped, it may not entirely be a bad thing for Shai Hope. Currently, his confidence looks shattered and having more failures won’t do him any good.
The last time Shai Hope played domestic matches for his home side, Barbados, was way back in 2017. It will be good to go back into the domestic tournaments and get into the habit of scoring runs.
With Shai Hope being just 26 years old, age is on his side, and he has a lot of time to contribute to West Indian cricket. It will be a shame if he cannot translate this talent into performances. Shai Hope has the quality; he just needs to score runs, and West Indies cricket could do with players like him.