Hope: WI 'trying everything' to turn around ODI fortunes
"I've got to keep embracing the responsibility and when the time comes to shine, I'll do so"
A career-defining century by a cricket captain should be enough to win a game of cricket, according to Shai Hope. And he wasn't talking about himself.
"Temba Bavuma - an innings like that deserves to be a victorious innings but it just so happened that we came out on top at the end. I must give him credit for the way he controlled the innings. He played the situation well and he really deserved to win the game but there can only be one winner," Hope said after West Indies successfully defended 335 runs - their highest score against South Africa - in East London.
Bavuma slammed a career-best 144, exactly a week after his Test best of 172 last and less than two months after he hit a series-winning 109 in South Africa's World Cup Super League victory over England in Bloemfontein. He is a player transformed from the one who struggled to score runs during South Africa's season-opening white-ball tour of India, where he made 11 runs in four innings, and the leader who oversaw their T20I World Cup campaign, which ended in defeat to the Netherlands. Bavuma attributes the change to the simple truth of having more fun.
"I'm enjoying my cricket at this point in time," Bavuma said. "My mind is just a lot clearer as to what we're trying to do and how we're trying to do that; feeding off the confidence that I am getting from the players as well as the new coaches."
After his 172 in the Wanderers Test, Bavuma said he felt more backed by red-ball coach Shukri Conrad than he had since he was under the wing of his domestic coach at the Lions, Enoch Nkwe (who also served as South Africa's interim coach for a trip to India in 2019) and that's despite being captain in two formats in the interim. In May 2021, Bavuma was put in charge of South Africa's white-ball sides, albeit with only six ODI and eight T20I caps to his name. While 50-over cricket is clearly his forte, the shortest format proved to be tricky, particularly from a strike-rate perspective and since being relieved of that role, and put in charge of the Test team while keeping the 50-over gig, Bavuma has flourished.
His recent innings have shown us a batter who is strong on the sweep and the slog, who has opened up scoring areas both in front of and behind square and who is able to rotate strike well. While it may look like a revelation to those looking in from the outside, for Bavuma, it's merely a demonstration of "what was always there," that is now coming through.
"It's just a confidence thing. Confidence is a big thing for any sportsman," he said. "I am just trying to carry on the form and the momentum I got in the England series. I am hitting the ball quite nicely. I am managing to find gaps, which is a big thing for me as a stroke player. I can only hope that lasts."
Despite his best efforts on Saturday evening, South Africa fell 48 runs short of beating West Indies, a side who are after a new start of their own. After losing 16 of the 20 ODIs they played last year, West Indies are all-but-certain to miss out on automatic qualification to the 2023 World Cup, and need to start winning. Victory in South Africa - their first on the road against a team other then Netherlands and Ireland since they beat Bangladesh in Mirpur in 2018 - "means a lot," as Hope put it.
"It's something we speak about in the meetings. We are just trying to win more cricket games. We didn't have a successful 2022 and we are trying everything to turn it around," he said.
It also marks a successful start for new leadership. Hope is now in charge of the ODI team, with 105 matches under his belt, and a lot on his plate. Though he did not open the batting in this match - as he has done since 2019 - he batted from the 10th over, kept wicket and captained and described the fixture as a "tiring game for me."
So how will he manage the many roles he has to play in what is a big ODI year for West Indies? "I am definitely going to take it on full speed. It's about giving my all to the team," Hope said. "I am getting support from all ends. I have got support from guys off the field and on the field. I've got to keep embracing the responsibility and when the time comes to shine, I'll do so."
And he intends to apply that in all formats. As the ODI series opener played out, shortly after West Indies' batting let them down in the Test series, there was some talk about whether players like Hope and former captain Nicholas Pooran should be considered for the red-ball team as well. On the evidence of the East London ODI, West Indies could do worse, but there's also some interesting context to Hope's exclusion.
Like his opposite number Bavuma, Hope only has two Test centuries to his name - and they came in the same match. Hope has not played Test cricket since December 2021. Asked if the longest format is something he'd like to get back to, Hope indicated that hope will win out.
"Something that I always preach in the camp: control what you can control. I can't control what the selectors do, I can't control things behind the scenes, all I can control is the way I prep, the way I play and the performance I put in on the field," he said. "If the chance and the opportunity arises, I will take it with both hands."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's correspondent for South Africa and women's cricket