THE chairman of selectors has already given the answer to one of the several questions that must be settled before the West Indies start their next major engagement following the disappointment of the World Cup, against Australia in a month’s time.
By his unequivocal statement last week, presumably made with the concurrence of his colleagues on the panel, that Carl Hooper must remain as captain, Sir Viv Richards has created a supplementary conundrum.
With Hooper still at the helm, how can space be found in the middle order for Marlon Samuels, along with Ramnaresh Sarwan, one of the two immensely gifted young players to recently emerge for the West Indies?
The simple answer is that it can’t, unless there is an adjusment at the top of the order, or some one pulls a muscle or comes down with an undisclosed mystery illness, a Test eleven is chosen with the same imbalance towards batting as in the limited overs team.
It is now two years since Samuels first came to attention as a basically unknown and untested 19-year-old when he was flown out as a surprise replacement for the injured Shivnarine Chanderpaul and topped the batting against the same Australians, in Australia.
He has had setbacks with his fragile knee but his maiden Test and one-day hundreds in India in November confirmed his development and his class.
A home series against the strongest opposition in world cricket at present is just what he needs now.
The only way that can be done would be to thank Hooper for his services, explain that this team now needs to move on and choose a new captain.
That, as far as Richards is concerned, is where such a scenario begins to unravel.
“Carl has to hang in there and pilot the ship till we groom a successor,” he said. “There is a crucial series coming up against Australia next month, and we will require experienced players like Carl to hang in there.”
Another view is that what the West Indies need at present is the vitality and confidence of youth that can see a long term future.
It was what they needed in 1974 when Clive Lloyd was made captain in place of Rohan Kanhai for the tour of India. Richards himself, Gordon Greenidge and Andy Roberts, all at similar ages to Samuels, Sarwan and the present young brigade, were introduced for the first time under him and thrived with the early opportunity.
Hooper’s admission, following the defeat against Sri Lanka that pulled the curtain down on the World Cup campaign, that he would “definitely be looking at my future with the team and rethinking my role as captain” might well have been a knee-jerk reaction.
His later chat with Richards clearly perked him up. “Rethinking his role as captain” was changed to “looking forward with eagerness” to the Australian series.
Yet, added to the World Cup demise, the marked decline in his own performance since his outstanding home series against India last season would weigh heavily on any captain.
In 24 subsequent innings, eight in Tests, 16 in one-day internationals, his highest score is 47 and he has slipped back into the old, soft ways of getting out that prevented him from realising his evident potential.
It is the same kind of slump that preceded Adams’ exit.
Indeed, if a dispassionate selection had to be made now, purely as a player, between Samuels, aged 22 with a bright career ahead of him, and Hooper, 36 and in the twilight of his, the choice would be clearcut.
But Hooper is the incumbent captain and, as was argued when he was promptly appointed on his return from retirement, there is no one ready to take that responsibility.
So Hooper, virtually by default, it will still have to be.
If we now find ourselves between a rock and a hard place, it is the board that has put us there.
It is two years since Hooper replaced Adams following the 5-0 whitewash in Australia, two years in which one of the young players could have been identified and prepared to take over when the time came for another change.
Instead, first Jacobs, like Hooper, well into his 30s, and then Brian Lara were made vice-captain. Only when Hooper and Lara were missing from the series in Bangladesh late last year when Jacobs took over as skipper that Wavell Hinds was installed as deputy.
On Hooper’s return for the World Cup, the previous chain of command was restored.
In the interim, West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) president, Reverend Wes Hall, announced that certain younger players had been identified and would be sent to a leadership course run by Cable & Wireless - but only after the Sri Lankan series that ends July 1.
Presumably they would then be ready for promotion come the tour of Zimbabwe and South Africa later this year.
Richards has clearly built up a close rapport with, and respect for, Hooper as he has accompanied the team on its tours of Sri Lanka and India late last year and the World Cup here.
He believes he still has a role to play and is prepared to wait. But he cannot wait for long.
“This team has not turned the corner and it is yet to realise its full potential,” Richards said last week. “Carl will have succeeded in his mission only when that happens.”
“Till then he will have to let bygones be bygones and get ahead with the game,” he added.
In the meantime, the chairman and his panel must identify and name a vice-captain who can be groomed to take over - either Hinds or, the most qualified candidate, Sarwan - and hope that, somehow, they can find a spot for Marlon Samuels against the Australians.