It's not yet substantial, but West Indies seem to be in the early stages of a solid ODI plan. At every media gathering, West Indies have stressed on the realisation that a score of 300 is a must-have to win ODIs these days. Two matches in and it feels like they're trying to convince themselves of it by saying it over and over again, because two consecutive 320+ scores still haven't translated into victories. However, they have two elements of that ethos nailed down so far.
The first is longevity. You don't get 300 without batting long. In Guwahati and in Visakhapatnam, West Indies have batted the full 50 overs, a big task for a line-up that lacks an allrounder after Jason Holder at No. 7. The onus has been on Marlon Samuels, but he's yet to find form on the tour and the visitors have benefited from Shai Hope stepping up as the anchor.
The second is run-scoring. On that front, Shimron Hetmyer has delivered with no attempt at subtlety. The 21-year-old is yet to make a 60-plus score (four of them) in ODIs where he's struck at under a strike-rate of 134.
In combination, West Indies' best batsmen on the tour nearly pulled off their biggest ODI chase. "It's pretty easy to bat with him [Hetmyer] because he likes to keep the scoreboard ticking over. More than ticking over, " Hope said after the tied game. "You've just got to get to the other end and try to keep him going as much as possible. I knew that as long as we take it down to the last five or ten overs, we had it covered."
As it turned out, only one of them made it to that phase, and that is perhaps where this new plan is not quite foolproof. Hetmyer has become a No. 5 at possibly the best time in ODI history. Cricket has long moved past boring middle-overs foraging and players of his hitting ability are encouraged to do just as he has been doing. With the power he manages to generate on horizontal-batted shots, medium-pacers barely stand a chance when the ball isn't new or moving about, what with his ability to hit through the line of length deliveries.
He uses similar mechanics against spinners, although the feet movement is a big addition there. He hit seven sixes in Visakhapatnam and they were all against spinners, including Kuldeep Yadav, who had made Hetmyer look ordinary during the Tests and whose return to the XI didn't make a difference. In both games, Hetmyer played high-impact innings that made India panic for the duration of his stay. But his dismissals before the 40th over cost West Indies runs in both cases.
Hope has been West Indies' most rated young batsman since debuting in 2015. As such, he has often been frustrating to back in Tests, where pleasing 30s seem to be all he has to show on either side of the twin centuries in last year's Headingley Test win against England. In ODIs, Hope has found things a bit easier. Despite his solid technique, Hope is inherently a strokemaker and enjoys showing it off, especially his grace off the front foot.
Such players are often rewarded on Indian pitches which offer so little in terms of deviation for seamers that bowling cross-seam and hitting one line consistently can be considered innovative, if not revolutionary. And if you have the back-foot game against spin that Hope does, ticking away runs is less of a challenge.
Hope's century was a well-paced innings of pure class, coming attached with a splendid collection of cover drives that suckerpunched India every now and then as they were busy dueling Hetmyer. His shot selection and penchant to play with the full face of the bat was comparable to Virat Kohli, who remains a rare modern-day great that doesn't prefer finding runs behind the stumps. A full face offers a greater chance at full control, and Hope's decision to go with that method ensured he was there - like he said - to keep Hetmyer going.
But you cannot make that comparison to Kohli's innings without also observing how Kohli finished. An innings that hovered about at a strike rate in the 80s was put into overdrive by the end when Kohli went past 150. Hope couldn't do the same when it was needed, and by his own admission, was struggling to get bat on ball during some crucial stages towards the end of the chase, missing out on several full tosses and overpitched balls.
"I was actually struggling to get bat on ball at one point and Nurse is known for big hitting, so the key was to get bat on ball and we kept getting as many twos as we can and then get the odd boundary," Hope said. "The guys were bowling pretty big yorkers so it wasn't easy to get underneath them, so I tried to make sure I get those runs, twos and the the odd boundary in between."
An unbeaten century at 91.79 is a good one-day innings, but is rarely one that wins you games during a chase. Hope will learn that, now that both his centuries have come in chases and West Indies have tied on both occasions. Whereas the lesson for Hetmyer is probably the art of applying brakes every now and then to temper his innings. Presumably, these two will carry the West Indies' batting during the World Cup and for some years after that. At some point in that journey, they might realise that they have quite a bit to learn from each other.