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Shai Hope Is Good. He Needs To Get Better
Why the Shai Hope strike-rate debate requires nuance....
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Shai Hope has an enviable 50-over record. In 104 matches he has scored 4308 runs at an average of 48.95. Only Lara (19), Gayle (25) and Haynes (17), has more than his 13 centuries, and they have all played more than twice as many matches. This means Hope churns out ODI runs and centuries at a higher rate than any previous West Indies player – higher even, than Sir Viv and Lara, probably the two best batsmen to play ODIs for West Indies.
Hope is also a highly attractive batsman. His cover drive, for instance, is not far behind those of Babar Azam, Virat Kohli and James Vince in terms of aesthetic appeal. Catch him in full flow and you’ll wonder why he’s not ranked amongst the world’s top batsmen.
In Tests he has been a disappointment. Hundreds in each innings in Headingly in 2017 seemed to signal his elevation to the top tier of world batsmanship. But he quickly returned to the ranks of the ordinary, eventually losing his place in the West Indies team.
He has remained a consistent ODI run-getter, however, an opening batsman who can be relied upon to see his team off to a solid start more often than not. Yet he has a seriously debilitating drawback as an ODI player: He sometimes scores his runs too slowly.
A look at his record shows a strike rate of 74.68. Not bad you might say, if you consider that Lara’s was 79.62, the highly rated Ramnaresh Sarwan’s was 75.74, and Hooper’s was 76.63. But the scoring rate for ODI’s has increased remarkably since Lara’s time, and scores under 300 nowadays are often considered inadequate. Contemporaries like Evin Lewis, Nicolas Pooran and Jason Holder all have superior strike rates, and even Shamarh Brooks, a player whose scoring rate is often less than sprightly, boasts a strike rate of 76.34, which is higher than Hope’s.
None of those mentioned, however, can match Hope’s high average. So while they make their runs more quickly than the West Indies opener, they make nowhere near as many. The obvious question therefore is this: Should Hope’s inadequate strike rate be tolerated because of his volume of runs?
The answer is clearly yes. It’s not as if the West Indies has a host of high producing run-scorers with strike rates of over a hundred. Hope is the best the Caribbean side has to offer, and is one of the first names on any ODI team sheet.
Yet he still needs to improve. This is not to suggest he adopts the methods of Pooran or Powell or Pollard. He is not a big hitter. His game is built more on precision and timing rather than power and might.
Run-scoring will always involve taking risks. But nobody is asking him to be reckless. It is not beyond his capabilities to improve his tempo without significantly increasing the level of risk. The need is for a better balance between run-making and risk-taking.
A few days ago (August 21st), New Zealand beat the West Indies by five wickets with 17 balls to spare in Barbados. It was the third and last game of the ODI series, which the visitors won 2-1. Batting first the West Indies made 301/8, with major contributions coming from Kyle Mayers, 105 from 110 balls and Nicolas Pooran, 91 from 55 balls. Hope made 51 from 100 balls. In reply, four New Zealand batsmen made over fifty. Devon Conway made 56 at a strike rate of 88.88, the slowest of the half centuries.
It is difficult to understand Hope’s slow scoring rate. The surface was far from troublesome, and so scoring, as a number of the other batsmen proved, was relatively straightforward. Hope’s was the slowest scoring rate of any batsman making more than four.
Say he had scored at a rate of 85, which every other batsman who made a substantial contribution managed to do, the visitors would probably have required another 30-odd runs to in order to win. That’d have been a significantly more difficult task, and the West Indies might have won, and not lost the game, and hence the series.
Had Pooran not turned on the pyrotechnics the West Indies would possibly not have gotten close to 300. The captain’s brutal knock partially made up for Hope’s pedestrian batting early in the innings. But even though his strike rate was a very brisk 165.45, it still wasn’t enough to overcome the early innings malaise. The West Indies’ first wicket fell with the score on 175. It was therefore not unreasonable to expect that they’d have ended up with a bigger total.
In this era when teams regularly get past 300 in ODIs without breaking sweat, a score of 301 was not that formidable, especially on a good wicket. For New Zealand to have won with 17 balls to spare made it a fairly comfortable victory. More urgency on Hope’s part could have made things much harder for the tourists.
Hope has been the West Indies best ODI batsman for some time. But the team still needs him to get better.
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