Hooper's unexpected exit

by Orin Davidson's Eye on Sport
Stabroek News
May 2, 1999

He will no longer be around to thrill, perplex and enrich the cricketing lives of all West Indians who have a desire for artistic excellence.

But his memory will live on. Carl Llewelyn Hooper ended his international cricketing career one week ago, and threw his extensive fan support into deep gloom, which is still aroused whenever the mention of his name or the sight of his picture is brought into focus.

Hooper's accomplishments may not have reached the levels associated with the greats but his quiet disposition and the elegance in which he accomplished his feats has endeared him to the heats of many around the world and Guyana.

Blessed with the ability to execute most of the game's strokes, all with equal levels of high excellence, Hooper was expected to be one of the main attraction at this year's World Cup. But being the unpredictable person he is, Hooper threw in the towel in the midst of the one of the best periods in his career.

It may be surprising to many, but Hooper is not the first professional cricketer or sportsman for that matter, to quit suddenly when seemingly in their prime. West Indians can go back to as recent as 1996, when Windies captain Richie Richardson quit suddenly after the last World Cup after his team had done reasonably well in reaching the semi-finals.

Richardson was 34 years of age and still considered a class batsman at the time. More recently, this year, Australian captain Mark Taylor opted out of the sport with his team at the pinnacle of World Test cricket and his batting enjoying one of its best periods ever. Less that four months after he played his last Test, Taylor was challenging Brian Lara's world record 375 Test innings score. Taylor was 334 not out and passed up the opportunity to become the highest Australian Test innings scorer by declaring his team's innings with him undefeated.

West Indian fans have also had to endure the early retirement of bowling greats Michael Holding and Malcolm Marshall in their early 30's when seemingly capable of giving more years of service to the sport.

Tennis phenomenon Bjorn Borg shocked the tennis world even more than Hooper when he quit the glamorous game at the relatively tender age of 26 years of age, while basketball superstar Michael Jordan was just 31 when he announced his first retirement and Florence "Flo Jo" Griffith only 29 when she cut ties with competitive athletics.

All of these high achievers worked extremely hard to attain world class status, but at some time or the other, energy levels run low and it becomes difficult to withstand the physical and mental pressures required to maintain world class standards. As Hooper explained, once the motivation diminishes, it becomes very difficult to get to the gym for training and practice and at grounds for competition.

Not everyone has the capacity to withstand it for long periods as some others might, thus many succumb earlier than others. In Hooper's case it would be difficult for many to comprehend his decision as the last great Guyanese batsman Clive Lloyd carried his bat at Test level into his 40's. Others before him including Rohan Kanhai Basil Butcher, Roy Fredericks and Alvin Kallicharran were older when their international careers ceased.

Yet none failed to live up to expectations as Hooper did. Nevertheless his absence will be avoid in the WEst Indies team which badly needs his all-round skill in their bid to win an unprecedented third World Cup title.

His exquisite batting shaped by near perfect technique which averaged him in the early 40's in Test competition in the last three years, will be difficult to replace especially in difficult English conditions. So would be his off spin bowling which has improved leaps and bounds within the last three years, and which has grudgingly forced the critics to acclaim him as an all-rounder, a recognition that does not deserve its belated acceptance.

Guyana and the rest of the West Indies will miss Hooper and should he stick to his promise of giving back something to Guyana's cricket, by donning his whites for next year's Busta Cup or the Red Stripe Bowl later this year, it will be imperative that he be given all the accolades he desires.

A farewell benefit competition would be the ideal send off after 12 successful years.