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Why Isn’t Shai Hope Better?

Ben Jones analyses the technical issues behind the Caribbean batsman’s poor Test record.

Shai Hope is a confusing cricketer. To watch him three years ago, making two centuries in that famous Headingley Test and carrying the West Indies to victory, was to watch a man with the world at his feet. Flamboyant and aggressive, assured and confident in defence, this was a young man destined for greatness.

And yet, since Headingley, Shai Hope has been bad. He’s played on tough pitches, against good teams, in an era of top class bowling, but still – only two players in the world have been less effective with the bat in Test cricket, since that week in Leeds. 

To rise so high then fall so low is extremely unusual. It’s almost unique. Only about 80 players have made two centuries in the same Test; only five of those players have never scored another ton outside of that match. Hope is one of them.

Yet all those thoughts that ran through our minds watching him in 2017 are still there today, even if the averages try to distract us. To watch Hope, even in these ever-shortening stays at the crease, is to watch an elite player – surely? Everything we have come to know about the game – the brooding intensity, the long sleeves, the unmistakable smell of star quality – tells us that this is a man with the class and temperament to succeed in Test cricket. The only thing that doesn’t tell us that, is the scorecard.

PROOF OF ABILITY

There is clear evidence, even if you ignore the swagger and the popped collar, that Hope is a batsman of substance and skill. 

In West Indies’ domestic first-class competition, Hope averages just over 48, and since his debut in that competition only Devon Smith averages more than him. Hope would hardly be the first batsman to find the step up to international cricket too great, but that record stands as evidence that he can perform in long-form cricket. 

In ODI cricket, Hope plays a very particular role, a classic anchor, and he plays it superbly. In a team of T20 hitters and rapid scorers, Hope is the glue which holds the West Indies ODI line-up together, and he is mightily effective at doing so. In the last two years, only a handful of players – Kohli, Rohit, Du Plessis and Taylor – have averaged more than him in ODIs. In that time, Hope is dismissed only every 80 balls he faces; only Kohli gets out more rarely. When it comes to white ball cricket, Hope is a model of control and restraint.

TROUBLE SHIFTING FORMATS

Of course, having success in white ball but struggling in red ball is hardly a situation unique to just Hope. Plenty of modern batsmen have the same problem, unable to translate their destructive limited overs ability into the longer formats. What is curious about Hope’s situation is that the players who have that problem – an inability to transfer ODI form into Test form- don’t tend to be players like him. 

Hope doesn’t play like Jason Roy, charging away at the top of the innings, nor is he Aaron Finch. He isn’t Glenn Maxwell, Jos Buttler or Hardik Pandya. Hope is an ODI anchor. Players who have success in that role, anecdotally if nothing else, do tend to have similar success in Tests. Root, Babar, Kohli, Williamson, each with a different technique but each, in essence, interpreting the same role in gently different ways, red ball or white ball. They accumulate runs in Test cricket, and in ODIs they do the same, but just turn up the heat a little. Players with records like Hope are rare. KL Rahul is the only man in the last few years, established in both Tests and ODIs, to play with more control than Hope in ODI cricket, and less control in Test cricket. There are differences between them (Rahul is a genuinely three-format player who, arguably, would be in a T20 World XI as it stands, while Hope’s T20 credentials are barely worth mentioning), but the point remains that these are the only men in the world who, for the last two years, have consistently played with more control than the average in ODI cricket, and less control than the average in Tests.

LEAKY DEFENCE

Hope does not appear to have an issue with intent, and doesn’t seem to be too reckless to have success in Test cricket. Just 22% of his dismissals have come from attacking strokes, well below the average of 43% for top order players worldwide.

The issue appears to be that Hope’s defence is simply not up to it. Of all the batsmen in the world to play as often as Hope since his debut, not one of them has a worse dismissal rate for defensive strokes. For the best players, the likes of Kohli, Smith, Pujara, their defence is breached around every 130 defensive strokes. For Hope, it’s every 37.

The way that translates into his game more broadly is that Hope cannot play good length bowling. Since he last toured England, he averages 4.00 against good length balls (those pitching 6.25-8m from the batting stumps) from seamers, with a combined score of 32-8 against all the good length bowling he’s faced. That sounds awful, and it really is – no other player in the world averages less against those deliveries in that timeframe.

He can’t play balls on a good line either. Seamers bowling balls that reach Hope in line with the stumps average just 10.46. That simply isn’t good enough, and suggests there is something technically wrong. He does have issues against spin, but to play in the home conditions he does and have such a gaping flaw against seam bowling is a huge, huge problem. What’s causing it?

TECHNICAL CHOICES

On the latest edition of the ‘Sky Sports Cricket Podcast’, Nasser Hussain commented on Hope’s issues. “I think with Hope…from what I’ve seen and analysed, it’s a technical thing”, the former Test captain asserted. “Hope [since Headingley] has averaged over 50 in white ball cricket, because a little bit like Jonny Bairstow, his technique has developed to being slightly legside of the ball which suits his white ball game, but in Test match cricket leaves him vulnerable. Look at Bairstow’s stats in ODIs and Test match – I see the same thing in Hope. When I saw Hope at Headingley, he was a little bit more back and across, covering his stumps. It’ll be interesting to see…if he’s gone back to that, or if he’s stuck with his white ball technique.”

Hussain is right in his observation that Hope is standing more legside of the ball. As you can see below, Hope is covering his stumps far more against James Anderson in that Headingley Test, compared to his set-up against the same bowler 18 months later.

For Bairstow, that legside technique has seen him get bowled a lot – 35% of his dismissals against pace over the last few years have been bowled, among the highest in the world. However for Hope, it’s not had that effect at all. Just 20% of his dismissals in that time have been bowled, and only 27% have been LBW or bowled. For Hope, the most obvious effect of this technical change is the drop in his performance against those good length balls. Up until the end of that England tour, he averaged 39 against good lengths, and as we’ve seen, it’s plummeted since. Accessing the offside has come at a price.

The other very noticeable element of Hope’s set-up at the crease these days is less about how far he stands towards leg, but rather how far down the track. Since he debuted, Hope’s average impact point is around 2.02 metres from his own stumps, further down the pitch than any other West Indian batsman. On a global scale, the only established players to bat further down since Hope’s debut are Virat Kohli and Quinton de Kock.

When someone bats so far down the track, you would expect them to struggle against very quick bowling, and Hope does just that. Facing deliveries over 140kph in Test cricket, Hope averages just 13. The positive interpretation is that batting outside of your crease can have the effect of negating lateral movement, by effectively ‘smothering’ the swing. Hope’s approach does not need to be a flaw, as long as the focus is on playing the ball under his eyes, starting down the track but in effect playing it ‘late’. There’s a reason Kohli can have success with such a method in England – batting 2.3m away from his stumps during the 2018 tour – but he generally combined it with a slightly more offside stance, like the ones below.

Hope stands alongside Kohli in ODIs in terms of security. He would be well served to take a hint from the great man himself when it comes to red ball batting.

***

If he’s going to improve substantially, Hope doesn’t just need one silver bullet – he needs two. We have focused on his issues against pace, but he does only average 30 against spin. At some point, that will also need to be addressed. However, the first thing he needs to do is address this weakness against good length and good line deliveries. He can be as strong or weak as he likes against everything else, but trying to score runs while struggling so much against such a simple stock ball is like filling a bucket with a hole in the bottom.

Nail the basics, stop the bleeding, build a solid base – whatever you want to call it, if Shai Hope is going to recapture even the slightest bit of that Headingley glory, he needs to fix his problems against good length bowling. And he needs to do it quickly.

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.

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