Hooper pulls out of first test squad By Tony Cozier
Stabroek News
April 8, 2003

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ALREADY overburdened by the perennial controversies that have become as attached and as unwanted as its Siamese twin, West Indies cricket was thrown into further confusion yesterday, two days before the first Test of the Cable & Wireless Series against Australia.

Not for the first time, but surely for the last, Carl Hooper withdrew from the squad of 14 announced on Sunday.

His decision was not unexpected as it came after his dismissal as captain last week, after two years in the post and following the West Indies' first round elimination from the World Cup in South Africa.

Although he did not go so far in a brief statement, Hooper has effectively ended his 16 enigmatic, largely unfulfilled years in international cricket in which he played 102 Tests, 22 as captain, and 227 one-day internationals as stylish batsman and steady off-spin bowler.

In spite of a Test batting average in the mid-30s and a bowling average just a few points below 50, he is the only player in the game to score over 5,000 runs, claim more than 100 wickets and snare over 100 catches in both forms of the game.

Apart from the frustration of having to hand over a basically young team that he feels, with some justification, has gradually developed under him, Hooper is now 36 and his knees required surgery last December.

"After giving my selection in the West Indies team for the first Test careful consideration, I have decided to inform the selectors and the West Indies Cricket Board of my decision to make myself unavailable," Hooper said in his statement, issued in St.Lucia where he participated in the double-wicket World Cup tournament last weekend.

He added: "This has been a difficult decision but is one I feel must be made given the recent developments over the last few weeks and the new direction in which the team will now head.

"Though tempting to play it would curtail the development of a younger player and I see it also as a backward step for West Indies cricket. I take this opportunity to wish the team well into the upcoming series and urge the Caribbean public to continue with their support for the West Indies team."

Hooper reportedly had lengthy discussions with West Indies greats Sir Everton Weekes and Lance Gibbs in St.Lucia.

His wife, Connie, a solid supporter who has been constantly by his side since he came out of two years retirement in 2001 to immediately take over as captain from Jimmy Adams, would have helped influence his decision.

"We are disappointed and we're now thinking of a replacement," was chief selector Sir Viv Richards' reaction.

Richards, the only West Indies captain never to have lost a Test series, strongly and publicly supported Hooper's retention as captain but was outvoted by his two colleagues on the panel, Joey Carew and Gordon Greenidge, and ultimately by the board.

He identified a secondary, but critical part for Hooper in addition to his middle-order batting.

"We were hoping for him to play because he would have filled a certain role such as being a spinner," Richards said. "As to who will replace Hooper, our options are still open,"

The clearest choice would be the 27-year-old Jamaican, Gareth Breese, who had one Test in India last October and who has had a good all-round Carib Beer tournament (335 runs, average 37.22, 28 wickets, average 22.85). But he lacks Hooper's vast experience and sheer batting class.

The more likely scenario is that all four chosen fast bowlers - Merv Dillon, Pedro Collins, Vasbert Drakes and Jermaine Lawson - will start with Marlon Samuels to fill in with occasional off-spin.

Hooper's loss as a batsman adds to the enforced absence of Ramnaresh Sarwan, the appointed vice-captain, with a finger injury and the pointed omission of left-handed opener Chris Gayle, and throws the batting order out of balance.

Since Gayle has presumably paid the price for preferring profit in the double-wicket tounament to playing for Jamaica in the Carib Beer Series final against Barbados last weekend, it means a probable debut for 21-year-old left-handed opener Devon Smith and the return as his partner of Daren Ganga after a year out of the team.

The upheavals place even heavier responsibility than usual on Lara and Shivnarine Chanderpaul, the only two batsmen with over 50 Tests.

The West Indies were in similar disarray when the Australians last came to the Caribbean, yet shared the series 2-2.

Thrashed in all five Tests and six of seven one-day internationals in South Africa a few weeks earlier, the West Indies were without Hooper for the first two Tests and Chanderpaul for all four. Lara was placed on probation for two matches and told to improve his leadership.

The West Indies were bowled out for 51, their lowest ever total, in the first Test in Trinidad, losing by 351 runs, yet rallied behind Lara's brilliant batting to win the next two before losing the last.

Australia have key absentees of their own. Fast bowler Glenn McGrath and leg-spinner Shane Warne, both with over 400 Test wickets, are missing for contrasting reasons and batsman Damien Martyn is out of the series through injury. But the Australians have shown great depth among their reserves. The West Indies' are now about to have theirs tested.

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