Shai Hope is a history maker – but has had times when he wondered whether he would make it at all.
The West Indies star, 26, became the first man in the game to score two centuries in the same first-class match at Headingley as he inspired his side to a win over England on their 2017 tour.
But those tons were Hope’s first in international cricket’s longest form and when he went into that Leeds clash he averaged under 19 from 11 games and had struck just a solitary fifty.
England vs W Indies
July 8, 2020, 10:30am
“If I said no, I’d be lying,” the right-hander told Sky Sports when asked whether he ever had fears he would not succeed at Test level.
“If you are not getting those big scores that you know you can get there is going to be some level of doubt.
“But it’s all about self-belief, believing you can do it at this level. I think it’s about sticking to it as long as you can and something will happen for you.”
Hope’s perseverance paid off in Yorkshire three years ago – an initial 147 helped West Indies carve out a lead of 169 on first innings, while his unbeaten 118 then steered them to their target of 322 as they rallied from their innings thrashing in the series opener at Edgbaston a week earlier.
“Honestly, it’s still sinking in,” said Hope, part of the West Indies side that will take on England again in the three-Test #raisethebat series, which begins at The Ageas Bowl on Wednesday.
“I was just focused on the team. Yes, it’s a record, yes, it’s history but at the end of the day I was more pleased with the win than my own performance.”
The frustration for Hope is that those Headingley hundreds remain his only tons in Test cricket – an average of 25.51 in 19 Tests since his superb showing at Leeds not doing justice to his talent.
We’re trying to bring back memories of Headingley and get the psychology right. We are drawing on that. The Test match before Headingley we were horrible and that seems to be like that most times we go on tour.
West Indies head coach Phil Simmons
The Barbadian cannot put his finger on his recent Test struggles but has been boosted by his form in one-day internationals, with his average of 52.20 an all-time record for a West Indies batsman.
“I can’t say yes as if I knew the answer then I’d be scoring a lot more runs!” added Hope when quizzed on his recent lack of Test runs.
Has the expectation now on him played on his mind? “Yes and no. There is always going to be pressure when you are playing for the entire region and people look up to you and want to see you do well.
“I don’t think it is a bad thing, I think it’s something you have to relish. I try to use it to my advantage out in the middle.
“It just so happens that I have been a lot more successful in one-day cricket but I want to transfer that into the longest format. Hopefully I can do that in this series.”
Hope is confident that if he and his fellow batsmen can provide the runs, then the West Indies bowlers have the pace to rattle England, naming one member of the squad as one of the quickest bowlers he has encountered in his career and another as a tremendous prospect.
Shannon Gabriel is the fastest I’ve faced, along with Oshane Thomas [who is in England as one of West Indies’ reserves for the series],” said Hope.
“Our guys all bowl over 90mph, all have the fireworks. Shannon looks pretty sharp, back to his normal self, which is nice to see. I think his break [after ankle surgery last year] was a positive for him.
“Chemar Holder, too, is an exciting young fast bowler,” Hope added of his 22-year-old Barbados team-mate, the most prolific seamer in last season’s West Indies Championship with 36 wickets at 18.91.
“Very skilful, knows what he is looking to do – he has the smarts to go along with his fast bowling and can really work up some steam.
“I am happy to see him here and hope he can continue. He has a very bright future ahead of him.”
We actually played at the same club for a few games, Pickwick – we know each other pretty well. We have a good relationship and I am looking forward to facing him. He chose to play for England – that is his choice and I am happy for him as a friend.
Shai Hope on fellow Barbadian Jofra Archer
West Indies have headed to England as Wisden Trophy holders for the first time since 2009 by dint of their 2-1 victory over Joe Root’s men in the Caribbean in early 2019.
Hope feels the impending series is a “perfect opportunity” for his side to end a run of 32 years without a series win in England – the tourists recording two draws and then six straight series defeats since the Viv Richards-captained side trounced the hosts 4-0 in 1988 – despite batsmen Shimron Hetmyer and Darren Bravo and all-rounder Keemo Paul opting out of the tour over coronavirus concerns.
“Everyone in the group is excited to be playing high-intensity cricket again – we are raring to go and showcase our skills and win the series,” added Hope. “It’s 32 years since we won a series here and that added motivation will push us even more. This is a perfect opportunity for us.
“Everyone is improving. We have gelled as a team and Jason [Holder] has done a very good job as captain. We want to continue that. We want to move up the rankings but there is only one way you can do that.
“We will miss [Hetmyer, Bravo and Paul] and what they bring on and off the field but it’s all about West Indies winning and not a particular player winning. We need to do whatever we can to make the team win.”
I love the crowd and the atmosphere the fans bring so it is going to take some getting used to. But it’s the same for both teams. The first day of that first Test is going to have a different vibe and be a bit of challenge but I don’t think it will make motivation harder.
Shai Hope on playing a Test series behind closed doors
England have proved formidable at home over recent years, going unbeaten in Test series on their own turf since Sri Lanka won 1-0 in 2014.
Hope said: “We know England are very difficult to beat, especially at home. We acknowledge that, we have done our research and made sure we have got everything in place to combat what they throw at us.
“I think our win at home in 2019 will play a big part, England will come at us a lot more. That win in the Caribbean was a big boost for us but [trying to win here] is going to give us an extra push.”
West Indies had been holed up at Emirates Old Trafford since arriving in England in June but are now at The Ageas Bowl – and Hope cannot wait for top-level international cricket to resume.
“It has been pretty smooth. From the time we got off the aircraft in Manchester everything has been put in place for us to be as safe as and secure as possible, so I must definitely commend the work the ECB has done,” said Hope about staying in a biosecure environment amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“We have been together a lot, played a bit of dominoes, listened to music and had a laugh – but it’s only a matter of time before we get out and do what we really came to do.”
And what they really came to do is beat England.
Watch West Indies’ #raisethebat Test series against England – named in tribute to key workers who have been on the frontline during the coronavirus outbreak – live on Sky Sports Cricket from Wednesday.