Top 3 Cricket Memories of 2017 — #3-Test Match of the year

“I kind of felt like the old movements were back”, said Cook talking about his epic 244* at the ‘G, “They probably weren’t that different to where they were in the other games. If I could put my finger on exactly what it is, it could save me a lot of strife”. With this and yet another match-saving fidgety Smith hundred being my last memories of 2017, I thought at least one out of these two quality knocks would definitely be in the list of my top 3 in 2017, but so much happened in cricket this year that they don’t find a place. So I present you the list of moments I enjoyed witnessing live on Television this year and still cherish so deeply because of the manner in which it was accomplished by the player or the team, the circumstances on & off the field, the broken stereotypes & pre-match predictions and the afterglow. This blog story is about Memory #3- Test match of the year and the subsequent stories will have the second and the first.

When I say cricket, I mean cricket, not IPL, BBL, PSL, BPL, CPL, RamSlamT20, SuperSmashT20 or NatWestT20 Blast.

#3. Shai Hope, West Indies and the miracle at Headingley:

“What we have seen so far has been pathetic. I don’t know what will happen next but I’m not optimistic about the immediate future.”
-Sir Curtly Ambrose, after the first Test

“This West Indies lot are the worst Test match team I have seen in more than 50 years of watching, playing and commentating on cricket. They can’t bat and can’t bowl.”
- Geoffrey Boycott

Shai Hope’s batting average over 11 Tests was 18.62 with one half-century, that’s a poor average even for a bowling all-rounder batting at 7 or 8. For a top-order batter like Hope, totally unacceptable. But that’s the state of West Indies cricket at the moment. Sadly, only T20s and cash-rich leagues lure the youngsters at the caribbean, and turn up for the test matches in West Indies is constantly decreasing. No one would want to see their country losing at home. So, the state of affairs as it was, no one expected West Indies to compete in England. The Poms had top class bowlers in Jimmy & Broad and quality all-rounders in Stokes & Moeen Ali. So, the series was supposed to allow Root to get into the groove as a captain before the Ashes, know what works for him and what doesn’t. A callow West Indies team had been blown away by a plainly superior England in the first Test (and would be again in the third Test) but in-between, we witnessed a performance as great as it was unexpected.

West Indies weren’t just written off after Edgbaston, they were mocked, pilloried, ridiculed and this beautiful thing called test cricket must have crawled its way to the Windies dressing room in despair & cried to them to show some character. But, as it turned out, truly, unbelievably and amazingly out of nowhere and much to the excitement of cricket fans all over the world, we had a magnificent test match cricket played between these two nations at Headingley.

Joe Root won the toss and chose to bat on a reasonably good pitch at Headingley. Despite England’s top order failure, a stroke-filled hundred from Stokes, customary fifty from Root and Windies dropping catches regularly ensured England got to a decent, yet a below-par 258. 21 overs into WI batting and the scorecard read 35–3. 258 now seemed like a big score, with Jimmy & Broad making the most of huge cloud cover present, I never thought Windies would get anywhere close to 200.

A couple of close calls and reviews kept England on top early on day 2, but as soon as the sun came out, batting became relatively easier, a partnership of 50 and things got interesting. Brathwaite cut and drove well off the back foot, punishing loose deliveries on offer and he was not afraid to come down the track and whack the spinner over long-on. Shai Hope’s assured drives through cover and mid-off made bowlers think twice before bowling full to him. Probably for the first time in the series, Root was feeling the heat. His bowling attack looked ineffective, field placements and strategies were not working and he realized that the poor batting display from his batters on day 1 was hurting him. Brathwaite got to his hundred with a six off Moeen Ali’s bowling and soon after, career saving maiden hundred came as a relief for Shai Hope. This partnership and a handy 40 from the skipper Holder swelled the first innings lead of Windies to 169.

In Second Innings, A much better batting effort from the batsmen saw England achieve their biggest ever score in an innings without an individual hundred. With just 100 overs left in the game and a big lead of 322, Root’s declaration didn’t come as a surprise. Any good captain in world cricket would’ve declared without a second thought, which makes this test match even more special. I agree, the catching was bad, ground fielding was just okay, but there were no big tactical blunders from either side, bowling was not bad, it was just sheer brilliance from Shai Hope and Kraig Brathwaite.

Day 5. 10 wickets in hand. WI need 317 more to win. Still a good wicket to bat. One of those days of test match cricket when every cricket fan prays not to have any rain interruptions. Brathwaite came good once again. But it was Hope’s day and he knew it.

Hope soaked up the pressure, Hope sucked the oxygen out of England, Hope drove through the covers, cut, clipped and pulled with beauty and clarity, but above all, Hope played defence strokes with the same vigour and determination. For all the mighty power and generous flair that highlighted the game played by those two fellows, the point was you couldn’t get them out. Neither could Anderson or Broad get rid of Hope. Brathwaite fell just before tea. Now, Hope was the hope for Windies.

Final session, Day 5. 123 to get for West Indies, 7 wickets to win for England. All 3 results possible. I know, I’ve seen, what final session can do to even the greatest of players, a lapse in concentration, a ridiculous rash shot, a brain fade leading to a reverse sweep out caught at short third-man, anything can happen, so it was game on. A good catch at mid-on sent Roston Chase back to the pavilion, and with second new ball just 4 overs away, It was the final chance for England to push for victory but Jermaine Blackwood had other ideas. Jimmy Anderson, England’s leading wicket taker in tests, one of the finest to have played the game, ran in to bowl with the second new ball, giving everything he could. That’s when the unthinkable happened. That was not a bad ball by any stretch of the imagination, but Blackwood cleared his front leg, made room to free his arms and tonked the new cherry with utter disdain down the ground for six. That was the shot that really stood out for me. But, it was zen batting at the other end from Shai Hope. It was batting that gave assurance, just his defensive forward push spoke volumes about the confidence of the man, you just know he’s watching the ball like a hawk and he’s not gonna get out anytime soon. With 10 to win, he was offered the bait of a wide half-volley and he shouldered arms as if to say “Uh-uh, you not catching me boy, I shall be here when night closes in and the party has begun”. After that he chose singles as his route to the summit, the glory.

Two shots will be remembered by Hope for a long, long time. First a tuck to fine-leg to get to his maiden hundred in 1st innings, the next one, a tuck through square, to seal the historic win for his team, their first win away from home after five long years, first test win in England since 2000. What a moment for Hope, for all in the dressing room and all over the islands of the Caribbean. Headingley has seen some remarkable final days and now West Indies create their own extraordinary tale. Shai Hope became the first ever player to score centuries in both innings of a test match at Headingley. 390 runs added by Brathwaite and Hope as a pair in this Test is the third-most by a West Indies pair in a test match. As a cricket zealot, It was great to witness one of the most unexpected redemption stories in the game’s history. The moment of victory stands with any in West Indies cricket’s glorious history and reminded us — as if we needed it — that the more one thinks about this wondrous game of ours, the less one knows. Thank you, Test cricket. Thank you, Shai Hope.

Scorecard Summary — WI vs Eng, Second Test, Headingley
“I say this with no malice and sarcasm as I think the astonishing performance of the young and inexperienced West Indies team in Headingley would have been applauded in every county in England. If there is one team that all of England wants to do well is the West Indies. A former England cricketer said that this is the worst team he has seen in 50 years of seeing, playing and commentating on cricket, it wasn’t warranted but he said it, and everyone wanted the West Indies cricket team to stand up and be counted for and that’s what they did and I want to congratulate them for the effort.”
- Brian Lara, after the remarkable victory at Headingley.