Calls for Hooper’s inclusion should fall on deaf ears
August 7, 2003
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Once again Carl Hooper is dominating a first-class cricket competition, and once again there are calls for his inclusion in the West Indies senior side. As the 36 year old all-rounder powers Lancashire toward the top of the English county cricket tables with both bat and ball, the rumblings get louder that Carl Llewellyn Hooper must again represent the West Indies in international cricket.
It’s not that Carl Hooper is unlikely to do justice to his place in the side. After badly beating the Busta bowlers and batsmen in 2000,`Hoops’ came back to Test cricket with a vengeance, stroking the ball sweetly, chipping in with some fine performances with the ball, and as sharp as ever in the field. World Cup failure and a run of bad form saw him exit the stage, but his place in the side was earned on at least as much merit as any of the younger batsmen.
Rather, it is a question of purpose. If the point of the exercise is to pick a player who is most likely to do well in the next few games, then Hooper should be a shoo-in. For that matter, so should Floyd Reifer, and Robert Samuels, and a host of other senior players upon whom the selectors’ gaze never falls. If our only goal is to beat the Zimbabweans and win a couple of matches in South Africa, then we could easily drop every player under 30 to improve our chances of accomplishing that.
In fact, that’s what we did when things first started to go wrong for us back in the early 1990s. We recycled player after player, long past the point when their immediate usefulness outweighed their long term potential and the reward was becoming the laughing stock of international cricket.
No, the way forward is not to wring the very last drops of cricket out of our aging players in an effort to avoid making some tough decisions. The West Indies selectors have shown vision in building a young team around Brian Lara - a man who seems to work best when not sharing the mantle of senior player with others.
Without question we will stand to face a few more bitter defeats as Lara’s young and inexperienced outfit learns the ropes together, but the not-so-long term reward will be a unit that plays as a team and wins as a team. There is after all, only one way to get experience, and experience gained together is the most valuable kind.
It has been said - incorrectly - that cricket is not a team game but rather a collection of individual performances. Any serious student of the game will tell you otherwise. Possibly the most important thing in a successful cricket side is the team dynamic. This is what makes a good side great, or even a mediocre side good. South Africa rocketed back into international cricket not with a band of superstars but rather a solid core of good players with a good team dynamic. Today’s Australians, arguably the best side ever in Test cricket, are the force they are not because they have the largest number of great players in their side but because of the way they work together as a unit.
By the same token, India and Pakistan often field sides full of top class players only to fail to make a serious mark in international cricket, due largely to their inability to gel as a team. So too have the West Indies failed badly while fielding two of the best bowlers of all time and possibly the best batsman in the world. A successful cricket team is far greater than the sum of its parts.
The application of this lesson to West Indies cricket is to stay the course charted by Sir Viv and his co-selectors. They have spent the past 18 months identifying and evaluating candidates to form the core of the next successful West Indies side. Obviously, they will make mistakes here and there but the principle is sound - build a core squad of 15 or so talented young cricketers who show application at the highest level, and to mould them around Brian Lara. There is no room for aging stars of yesteryear in this dynamic; this is Lara and his boys. For of all the senior players on the scene, only Hooper is left from the pre-Lara years, and Hooper can never be ‘one of the boys’.
As I have detailed before, the appointment of Ramnaresh Sarwan as vice captain and thus the heir-apparent is another important factor in moving forward, which brings us to another point. For not only would Hooper’s re-selection to the senior side be a step backwards, but his representation of Guyana in domestic cricket must also be handled very carefully.
In and of itself, Hooper playing for Guyana is a good thing both for Guyanese and West Indian cricket. More than any other Guyanese first- class cricketer Hooper has the experience, stature, and bearing to mould young players coming up through the first- class ranks. However, the seemingly natural move to make him captain would set back both causes immeasureably. If Sarwan is to be properly groomed for the future Guyana and West Indies captaincy, he needs to start getting first hand experience at it now, to apply the lessons he is learning under Lara.
So while the calls for Hooper ring out, they must fall on deaf ears if the light at the end of the tunnel is to get any brighter. Let Carl continue to earn his living alongside Nixon McLean, Jimmy Adams, and all the other professional cricketers who have had to call it a day from international cricket. Let’s not win the battle and lose the war. (CaribbeanCricket.com)