Shai Hope (FILE)
It’s been a long time tsince the people of the Caribbean held out so much hope that a world-class batsman was in the making.
Yet, at the beginning of the year, there were hardly any signs to suggest that a star was imminent.
By the end, however, Shai Hope was on the lips of everyone, having emerged from an uncertain start to his international cricket career into a player growing in stature.
In the space of a mere five days, the 24-year-old Barbadian achieved a feat no one else had previously attained in 127 years and 534 matches of first-class cricket at one of England’s most revered grounds.
No words can aptly describe Hope’s twin centuries in the second Test against England in Headingley at the end of August. When you consider that this is a ground in the north of England that is usually uncomfortably chilly with the ball seaming and swinging amidst heavy cloud cover, the achievement is special. Added to the fact that West Indies had just come off an embarrassing defeat in three days in the opening Test, it makes it nothing short of colossal.
Hope’s 147 in the first innings in tandem with fellow Barbadian Kraigg Brathwaite’s 134 allowed West Indies to build a significant first innings lead of 169 but when England fought back to set the Caribbean side a target of 322, anything but a Windies victory looked to be on the cards.
The two Bajans again combined in a match-winning partnership that clinched Hope’s place in history. While Brathwaite fell five short of a second ton in the match, Hope saw West Indies home with an unbeaten 118 and the Caribbean team celebrated their first Test win on English soil in 17 years.
It was unquestionably the highlight of Hope’s year and efforts before and after, both in West Indies and Barbados colours were enough to convince us to name him the NATION’S Sports Personality Of The Year for 2017.
Before the Headingley heroics, Hope had started to put behind him an unimpressive start to his Test career in which he had been dropped more than once and found it difficult to cope with the demands of an unaccustomed position as opening batsman. After his first seven Tests, Hope’s average was a modest 17.15. In ten Tests during 2017, he averaged 45.47, emphatic evidence to confirm he had come of age.
A match-winning 90 against Pakistan in May on a challenging pitch at Kensington Oval could be identified as the turning point for Hope, and the twin hundreds were followed by an unbeaten 90 against Zimbabwe in October in another winning cause in Bulawayo.
Let’s not discount what Hope did at regional level at the beginning of the year when he probably took the opportunity to go back to the drawing boards to work on whatever deficiencies he identified at the start of his Test career.
First up was the regional Super50 in which he also etched his name in the record books with successive centuries in the semi-finals and final that helped Barbados Pride regain the title. The semi-final performance also included a record seven dismissals behind the stumps.
When the Digicel Professional Cricket League Regional 4-Day Championship resumed, Hope also made a favourable impression in his four matches, completing a second career first-class double century while averaging 75.40.
It was that kind of a year for Shai – and no doubt he’ll hope to do it again in 2018. (HG)