Guyana Chronicle
May 5, 2002

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AFTER all is said and done what is batting if not a beauty contest. Growing up in the Caribbean we all heard and read of, and nurtured a fascination about the style and incisive grace of the legendary Sir Frank Worrell.

Some of us who were fortunate enough to have seen Sir Garfield Sobers from the relative comfort of the School Boys stand at Bourda or from the precarious perch of the trees on the periphery thereof could not help but be enthralled by the sheer elegance and flourish of his strokeplay.

And long before television came to these parts back in 1958, we listened in awe to Indian commentators who could hardly contain their excitement as they described the brilliance of Rohan Kanhai’s 256 in the Third Test at Calcutta - an innings in which it is said that not a ball had touched his pads.

And those of us who over-ambitiously aspired to be great batsmen lived vicariously through these icons, day in and day out, as we honed our skills in alleyways and backyards and playing fields.

Almost fifty years later, though much has changed in cricket - some good and some not so good - we continue to be impressed by batsmen who fit the classic mode. The flair and finesse class of the 21st century would include India’s Sachin Tendulkar, Mahela Jayawardene of Sri Lanka, and our own Brian Lara and Carl Hooper.

Of this select group, the West Indies captain is perhaps the most gifted player, though not the most prolific, not by a long shot.

Hooper’s timing is about as precise as quartz movement; the graceful ease and quickness of his footwork and his silken touch at the point of contact usually produces a stroke of rare beauty. ‘King’ Carl makes the most difficult of six-hits - the drive over extra cover - look simple, much like golfing legend Tiger Woods, majestically lofting a 9 iron from the middle of the fairway on to the green. Indeed as was so perceptively stated by an Australian journalist, "if batting were a beauty contest Hooper would be Miss World".

It is Hooper’s haute couture of batsmanship that transforms every possible stroke that could be played to any point on the 360 degrees of a cricket field to a work of art that has kept his loyal fans so devoted since he dominated youth cricket in the Caribbean and then made his first Test century in his second Test innings at Calcutta in 1987.

In his book, ‘Beyond A Boundary’, author C.L.R. James wrote - "Cricket is first and foremost a dramatic spectacle. It belongs with the theatre, ballet, opera, and the dance." If so, batting is an art form and Hooper on his day is a hybrid of Rudolf Nureyev, Jack Nicholson, and Sammy Davis Jr.

Hooper’s underachievement since his maiden Test century 15 years ago has been well chronicled.

However his masterful 233 in the First Cable & Wireless Test of the current series at Bourda not only goes a long way to erasing those memories, but figuratively completes the long journey from his field of dreams at Christ Church to the Promise Land - a journey of hardly a mile, yet a major milestone. It is the innings that establishes him as the one who could steal the show from the headliners - flashy Brian Lara and dashing Sachin Tendulkar in this beauty contest.

As mentioned in an article in this newspaper not so long ago captioned - CARL HOOPER - THE SECOND COMING - in which I touted him for captaincy of the West Indies, his return to Test cricket might have been triggered by ‘an epiphany somewhere in the pastoral serenity of Adelaide in Australia’.

Since his recent acknowledgement as a born-again Christian, one is proud to admit that that one’s proffered theory was not a far-fetched one.

In fact Hooper’s new beginning may have had its genesis back in January of 1996 when he introduced me to his now wife Constance at the Hilton Hotel in Sydney.

On that occasion he pointedly said to me - ‘Meet Constance, you might be seeing a lot of her in the future.’ The rest as they say is history. His wife and son Carl Jr. are now the centrepiece of his life. Cricket is a close runner-up in that contest.

Ironically cricket had over the years robbed a sensitive Hooper of much of the closeness of family life.

Blessed with considerable congenital cricket skills that would dictate the very path of his life, Hooper vehemently pursued the game he was born to play at the highest level. Naturally those pursuits took him to every corner of the world from the time of his adolescence. Whatever team he was on wherever he was on the planet was his family.

Now with his real family in tow, Hooper appears to be a man at peace with himself. All of the pieces of the puzzle are in place.

Thankfully for the West Indies and his multitude of fans Hooper is back in the game and pursuing it with passion and a real sense of purpose. And even at thirty-something Carl Llewellyn Hooper is a batting beauty to behold.