In almost every decade and a half long era since the West Indies played its very first Test Match in 1928, the Caribbean has produced at least one noted batsman of such undeniable world class as to be the envy of all other cricketing countries. Initially in the 30’s and 40’s before the loss of the war years, there was the mighty George “Atlas”Headley. His batting talents having been so colossal as to have earned him the twin nickname of Atlas and global cricketing regard as “the black Bradman!”
Headley’s exploits were followed by the 1958 world record breaking arrival of Garfield St Aubyn Sobers, who for the next decade and half would conquer the cricket world in such a manner as to be subsequently, indisputably regarded as the greatest cricketer that has ever lived. Sobers became the very first batsman to score in excess of 5,000 Test runs, eventually ending with what was then an unbelievable aggregate of 8,032 at an average of 57.78. In the 160 Innings he batted in Tests, he also scored 26 hundreds and 30 fifties.
No sooner had Sobers played his last Test in 1974, than the cricketing world was introduced to Vivian Isaac Richards. Like the heavy weight world champion fighter “Smoking Joe” Frazier he eventually became named after, Richards simply bullied opposition bowlers into abject submission with his extraordinary batting skills.
After bestriding the cricket world for almost twenty years with his over powering batting, Richards retired in the early nineties. His departure paved the way for Brian Charles Lara’s arrival. By the end of the decade and a half he spent as a West Indies cricketer, Lara had already established two world batting Test records. First there was his initial 375, scored against England in 1994 to break Gray Sobers’ sixteen year old 365 record as Test Cricket’s highest score. Lara’s 375 was then followed, some ten years later, by his 400 not out against England at the very same ground in St John’s Antigua in 2004. In between Lara had also back in 1994 scored 500 not out for Warwickshire to establish the world record for the highest ever individual score in first Class cricket, By the time he retired in 2007, Lara had scored 11,953 Test runs at an average of 52.88 with 34 centuries and 48 fifties.
In the decade since Lara’s 2007 retirement the West Indies have struggled to produce a batsman of similar class of any of the aforementioned greats. Until the August 29, 2017 emergence of Barbados’s Shai Hope during the England West Indies second Test at Headingley, as perhaps the next Caribbean batting great. Hope came of age with twin century scores of 147 and 118 not out in the Test to lead the West Indies to a remarkable, historical victory.
Many who had seen Hope bat before for Barbados in the West Indies domestic competitions, including the former West Indies wicket-keeper batsman Jeffrey Dujon, had predicted Hope’s rise to stardom, but his emergence was nevertheless a joy to behold.
As Jarrod Kimber wrote of his batting in the Headingley Test “Hope looked regal. There was a back-foot drive so good, oh, so good, so so, so good. Until you see it, you don’t truly know what love is. It went through mid-off; it was as if it was too extraordinary to travel via cover, this one had to go straight.
And that is what Shai Hope does, plays shots of such aesthetic and cricket quality that you burst with high-pitched squeals, orgasmic sighs and nonsensical giggles. In this innings the youngest man in the match batted like it was his birthright to succeed in Tests, maybe even this Test. For the longest time it looked like the only time there was a chance he’d get out was if his team mate drilled a drive and the ball was fumbled onto his stumps at the non-striker’s end, as had befallen his brother!”
The cricketing world will now watch with wonder to witness Hope’s further exploits and to determine whether he will indeed become the West Indies next great!