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WHEN Carl Hooper ('Sir' Carl Hooper for his Guyanese and Bajan subjects) walks out onto the field at the cricket ground in Mumbai tomorrow for the first Test against India, it will be the 100th time that he will be making that trip as a West Indies player.
It would be in the same city in which he made his debut in 1987 and would have taken the enigmatic captain 15 years, 5 638 runs, 110 wickets, 110 catches. Along the way he has been described as everything from a 'batting beauty queen' to cricket's greatest underachiever.
Indeed one would be hard-pressed to find another cricketer of whom such incalculable quantities of both passionate praise and vengeful scorn were said in equal measure by both his fans and critics alike.
Since he returned to Windies cricket as captain in 2001 it seems as though he is on a steady mission to silence his critics into oblivion. In that year he cracked 713 runs in 10 Test matches at an average of 41.94. Hooper scored the most half-centuries (six) in a single year of his career along with one century (149 v Zimbabwe).
This year he, along with a little assistance from a fellow Guyanese named Shiv Chanderpaul, decimated the Indians in the Caribbean. It has been his best season yet, and it is not over.
To date in nine Tests this year he has scored 772 runs at an average of 59.38 with three tons and three fifties. He smacked his first hundred in front of his countrymen which just happened to be his highest Test score and first double ton.
Hooper treated his Bourda backers to 233 majestic high-class runs on the very ground where he learnt the rudiments of the game which has given him more than a good life. It was long overdue and admirably appreciated.
Hooper is clearly enjoying the best days of his cricketing life; one gets the feeling that he is not at all unhappy with the timing.
After he completes his 100th Test he will become the only man in the history of the noble game to have played more than 100 Test and ODI matches, scored more than 5 000 runs, taken more than 100 wickets and 100 catches in both forms of the game.
Certainly, he would have to be a strong candidate for a place in Earth's 16-man squad touring Pluto for any five-Test and seven ODI matches series.
Let us dissect those 100 Tests and see what we come up with.
Hooper, born December 15, 1966, has a total of 13 hundreds and 27 fifties. His batting average is 36.84 and bowling average 49.5, his best figures with the ball being five for 26 against Sri Lanka.
With his gentle but naggingly steady off-spin he has bagged five fivers but no sixers or higher. He seems to have the Aussiesí number as he has taken the most wickets (28) against them. Next comes the English, 20 of whom he snarled, two more that his total against Pakistan.
Hoops, who made his debut as a 20-year-old against India in 1987, has played the most matches (25) against Australia where he has made his home in recent years. This is closely followed by his 24 against England, and the 16 versus India, plus the three that he will play this month, injury permitting.
His 100th match will be his 20th as captain. As the skipper he has an average of 49.5 that goes alongside an aggregate of 1 485.
While he was being captained he managed 4 153 runs at an average of 37.34 with nine triple figure scores and 18 half-tons. He has the most hundreds (five) against India and three each against Pakistan and England.
Of his 5 638 runs he has the most against India with 1 233 followed by England (1 113). Next comes the Aussies whom he managed 1 095 against but at a lowly average of 26.07 He, however, has scored the most (six) of his 27 half-centuries against them. Against the South Africans whom he has never scored a hundred and England, he has the second highest total of fifties (five).
His best average is against Zimbabwe (94.00) but that is only from two Tests. His more realistic best average is versus India 53.6. Against Pakistan he has done well too. He is only short of 1 000 runs against them by two and averages 45.36.
The soon-to-be 36-year-old scored his first ton in his second Test (100* v India). For the first ten years of his career he never scored more than one century per year, only twice has he managed two or more centuries per year.
During the first 13 years of his career he scored nine centuries, during the past two he has fashioned five along with eight half-centuries.
Carl Hooper leads by example. In no full year has he averaged more than fifty -- 48.71 in 1993 and 48.6 in 1996 coming the closest. He is averaging 59.38 this year thus far.
Twice has he scored more than 500 runs per year (1997 - 740 and 2001 -713)
With sure hands and brilliantly graceful slip catching, he has snapped up the Aussies on 38 occasions and the English on 24, which make up a little more than 50 per cent of all catches he has taken in Tests.
By no means does any of these figures suggest that Hooper is a domineering batsman capable of destroying any bowling attack, but try telling that to the Indians.
Come Thursday, Carl Hooper will be celebrating his 15th Test century, it may be his most precious yet. Maybe he will celebrate this landmark in some special way, worthy of several column inches of passionate praise.
However he does it, rest assured that we here in the Caribbean will stock up on some good ol' Blue Mountain coffee, sacrifice sleep, and be glued from halfway around the world. It just may be worth it all, need I remind you of what Sir Carl himself said? "It is important for people like myself to lead by example". An ominous warning indeed! (Windiescricket.comís Imran Khan).