Hooper wastes special talent

Times of London
March 24, 1998

There cannot be a more irritating batsman in the world than Carl Hooper. Indeed, one can push the boat out further. There cannot have been many more irritating batsmen in the game's history than the languid Guyanese. With talent bursting out of his boots, he should have been a great player. Instead, he is Mr Dozy, the greatest wastrel of his generation.

The fact that such a description upsets so many people in his own country reveals the utter parochialism of West Indian cricket. Hooper's refusal to offer a full account of his gifts during a Test career that is entering its second decade is a gross abdication of duty. In other teams - Australia is the one that springs most readily to mind - he wouldn't sniff a place in the batting order with his record.

In 73 Tests, he has made nine centuries, a respectable performance, though not exactly an outstanding one. His average of 34 is thin when it is set beside some of the players who have bolstered the West Indian middle order in the past. Hooper will probably end up with more than 100 Test appearances - more than Sobers, more than Kanhai, more than Richie Richardson - and his record will not show that he deserved that degree of trust.

Robin Smith, whose Test record towers above Hooper's, was released from England's care two years ago. Dean Jones, who won matches for Australia with his dashing batting, was eased to one side before then. Yet not-so-super-duper Hooper rolls on like the Mississippi, apparently guaranteed a place for life.

One might think that a man who owes his team-mates so much would have acquired a touch of humility down the years. Not Hooper. Last year, he declined to join the touring party for a one-day competition, and last month he refused to play for Guyana against England in the game before the Test in Georgetown, despite the selectors' request that he should declare himself. Not even the fact that he is now vice-captain to Brian Lara for West Indies, and therefore a man supposed to set an example, could budge him.

Yet, when he bothers, how well he can play. West Indies owed their crucial win in Trinidad almost entirely to his unbeaten 94, which carried the game away from England. Had West Indies surrendered that match, they would have lost four successive Tests, after the 3-0 whitewash in Pakistan before Christmas, and the mutual suspicion that is never far away would have resurfaced. At a stroke, their morale was restored.

Yesterday morning, Hooper completed his hundred, an innings distinguished by his customary grace and, occasionally, ferocious power. When he walks down the pitch to greet the slow bowlers, it is not with a handshake in mind. He makes the straight boundaries very small indeed when he lines up his sights and the effect is thrilling.

When he comes off, as he has done so often for Kent, there is a rare brilliance about his batting that one can only applaud. The trouble is, he has not done it anywhere near often enough for West Indies.

Greatly to their benefit, he is starting to fulfil the role of batting all-rounder. With 14 wickets in this series, at a shade over 21, he has bowled his finger spin pretty effectively and he may eventually be regarded as a bona fide bowler, rather than a filler-in - not that spin figures prominently in their approach. In the years left to him, this handsome underachiever may even rouse himself to bump up his record, though his public manner suggests nothing could be further from his thoughts.

What a wastrel.