Hooper’s career hangs in the balance as selectors meet
By Ezra Stuart
Guyana Chronicle
March 21, 2003

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BRIDGETOWN, Barbados - As the West Indies selectors meet today to recommend a captain for the upcoming four-Test series and seven One-Day Internationals against Australia, the career of incumbent Carl Hooper hangs in the balance.

The 36-year-old Guyanese has had a love-hate relationship with Caribbean cricket fans ever since his Test debut against India at Bombay in 1987.

Following the West Indies’ failure to qualify for the Super Sixes of the World Cup in South Africa, calls for Hooper’s sacking have intensified by former Test cricketers, commentators and other critics.

Hooper’s own modest form over the past year and the fact that gifted Jamaican middle order batsman Marlon Samuels was unable to get a decent chance to display his natural talent in the World Cup are two factors weighing against him.

Having not made a half-century in eight Test innings since his career-high home series against India, last year when he amassed 579 runs at an average of 82.71, Hooper has now found himself under immense pressure from an unsympathetic Caribbean public.

Not even his die-hard fans would have been happy with the example Hooper set by scoring a mere 99 runs in five completed innings (ave: 19.8) at the World Cup in which he predictably gifted his wicket on a couple of occasions.

Despite his 5 762 runs at an average of 36.46 with 13 centuries in 102 Tests, many pundits have asked whether Hooper still merits a place in a Windies team with the encouraging signs from Ramnaresh Sarwan and Samuels.

Reports indicate that Hooper’s fragile knees which required surgery last October, may force him to miss Guyana’s semifinal match in the Carib Beer International Shield even though it as been deferred by a week.

Hence, a combination of fitness and form could be crucial in whether the curtain should be drawn on the career of the charismatic ‘Sir Carl’.

But even as Hooper returns to his native Guyana on Sunday with wobbly knees from his adopted homeland of Australia, his fate now rests with the unpredictable West Indies selectors.

Certainly, chairman Sir Vivian Richards, who has faithfully supported Hooper from the time of his controversial appointment to the West Indies captaincy two years ago for the home series against South Africa, will be backing him again.

After all, Sir Vivian made that quite clear by urging Hooper to shelve any thoughts of retirement when he said he would be considering his future position in West Indies cricket after the failed World Cup expedition.

Sir Vivian will now have to play another of his many master strokes, which he was famous for during his illustrious career, to garner support from the other selectors for Hooper's retention.

Can he influence fellow selectors, Joey Carew and Gordon Greenidge that Hooper still has a major role to play in the development of the present side and West Indies cricket in general? Will Carew and Greenidge share Sir Vivian's views?

Carew's call can be critical as he was among the original selectors who recommended Hooper for the captaincy to take over from Jimmy Adams after the 5-0 whitewash in Australia.

Hence, it should be some soul-searching for Carew.

He must now ask himself whether Hooper has been “a good and faithful servant” over the last two years and whether he deserves to continue serving in his current capacity.

Once Carew is sure in his mind that Hooper still has something tangible to offer, then it should be smooth sailing for Hooper regardless of recommendation.

A plus for Hooper is that there are no obvious successors unless the selectors can persuade Brian Lara to take up the mantle of captaincy again as he should whenever Hooper bows out if he sincerely has West Indies cricket at heart.

The present vice-captain Ridley Jacobs, like Hooper, is also in the twilight of his career and any elevation for him will only be a stop-gap measure.

Jacobs too could be under pressure to hold onto his place as the diminutive 20-year-old Jamaican wicketkeeper/batsman Carlton Baugh has won rave reviews for his work behind and in front the stumps.

Unlike the other youthful wicket-keeping contenders like Guyanese Vishal Nagamootoo and Jamaican Keith Hibbert, Baugh, clearly the best batsman among this trio, has been very tidy behind the stumps, hardly making blemishes or conceding byes.

Apart from Jacobs and Lara, top-order batsman Wavell Hinds, who was recently identified by the selectors for a future leadership position, has still not cemented his place in the team.

Rather than taking over the captaincy, Hinds, despite a century in his last Test against India, may find himself on the sidelines when the Australians come to Georgetown for the first Test.

Grenadian left-hander Devon Smith has been knocking on the door with consistent batting performances over the past two regional first-class seasons while Trinidadian Daren Ganga cannot be ruled out of contention.

Of the other contenders for the captaincy, the youthful Sarwan has made it clear that he prefers to gain some experience by captaining Guyana first since he doesn’t want to be “thrown in at the deep end and be drowned.”

The name of another Guyanese, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, the reliable middle order batsman, who commands a settled place in the regional side, hardly ever comes up for a mention whenever the West Indies captaincy is discussed.

Why? It is felt that Chanderpaul is a “man of a few words” and is not leadership material. But in the few occasions, I’ve seen him captain Guyana, his on-the-field tactics were no worse than some of the “pretty talkers” who have gone before him.

There has been plenty of debate about grooming persons for leadership positions in the Caribbean, has anyone sought to help Chanderpaul overcome his shortcomings in this respect?

Being an unflustered and unflappable cricketer with a cool-head, Chanderpaul has always shown tremendous responsibility at the crease in his batsmanship and ability to assess situations.

Hence, why it is that pre- and post-match interviews are deemed to be more important than gaining victories on the field of play when it comes to projecting Chanderpaul as a future captain.

Whoever, the selectors decide on, whether they do like South Africa and appoint a rookie 22-year-old or follow Pakistan and opt for an experienced retiree, it is important for Caribbean fans to support the individual.

But can we afford to make drastic changes for a series against the mighty Australians, who will have the vastly experienced Steve Waugh at the helm of their all-conquering troops?

Hooper’s record as captain is nothing to do a song and dance about with just four victories compared to 11 defeats in 22 Tests.

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