The truth about Carl Hooper
By Winston McGowan
March 15, 2001
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Hooper is unique in Caribbean cricket in at least three ways. Firstly, no prominent West Indian player has been as consistently and severely maligned as Hooper in his career. Secondly, in a region marked by insularity, no Caribbean cricketer has experienced as much adulation outside his homeland as Hooper has received in Barbados, where his many adoring fans affectionately and respectfully call him "Sir Carl". Thirdly, no West Indian player has been the subject of such divided opinion among cricket commentators, journalists, analysts and fans as Hooper. This controversy is reflected in the diametrically opposed views held by three West Indian "greats", namely, Vivian Richards, Garfield Sobers and Michael Holding, to Hooper's elevation to the captaincy of the regional team.
This confusion has caused many to wonder what is the truth about Hooper. This article seeks to shed some light on the question by focussing especially on three main aspects of Hooper's career, namely, his performance in first-class, limited-over and Test cricket.
The severity of the criticism of Hooper by his detractors stems largely from two related factors, the immense talent, which he possesses, and his impressive entry into regional cricket at the youth, first-class and Test levels. These two factors evoked extremely high expectations, which Hooper has not completely satisfied.
Hooper first came to national and regional prominence in the mid 1980s as a result of his exploits in the Northern Telecom West Indies Youth Tournament. In 1984 in Barbados he had the best bowling analysis in any game, 12 wickets for 128 runs against the Windward Islands. In the following year in Guyana, his success was phenomenal. Hooper achieved the best aggregate and batting average (404 runs at an average of 80.80 runs an innings) and the two highest individual scores - 180 against the Leeward Islands and 120 against Barbados. These were two of only five centuries scored in the entire tournament. He also set a new tournament bowling record of 33 wickets and had the best match bowling analysis, 11 wickets for only 66 runs against the Windward Islands.
Hooper won all the individual awards that year. Never before nor since has a player won the youth tournament virtually single-handedly for his country as Hooper did for Guyana then. Furthermore, in the following year, 1986, in Trinidad Hooper again made the highest individual score, 173 against the Windward Islands.
Statistics demonstrate that Hooper has had the best all-round performance in regional youth cricket. He scored 901 runs at an average of 45 runs an innings and captured 76 wickets with his off-cutters and off spin at an average cost of 18 runs each, with a best innings bowling effort of 8 for 48 against the Windward Islands in 1984. His 404 runs in 1984 and his innings of 180 then still remain the best tournament aggregate and the highest individual score by a Guyanese in West Indian youth cricket.
Hooper, unlike many players, made a quick and easy transition from youth cricket into first-class cricket. In February 1985, at the age of eighteen, while still a youth involved in only his second season in the Northern Telecom Tournament, Hooper achieved the rare distinction of scoring a century in his first innings in regional inter-territorial cricket. In this impressive innings against Barbados at Kensington Oval, Hooper came to the wicket with his team in a very precarious position of 51 runs for the loss of four wickets in response to Barbados' first innings score of 384.
The leading Guyanese batsmen, Andrew Lyght, Clayton Lambert, Andrew Jackman and Timur Mohamed, were already back in the pavilion, dismissed for 7, 2, 24 and 15 respectively. Nevertheless, Hooper proceeded to bat with great confidence until he was the last man out, run out for 126, almost half of his team's total of 271, with the next highest score being 34 by the all-rounder, Derek Kallicharran. It was this brilliant maiden first-class century, which endeared Hooper to many Barbadian spectators, who were captivated by his gentle touch, elegance, classy strokeplay, excellent timing and deft placement.
Nearly three years later in December 1987 Hooper achieved a batsman's dream, namely, a maiden Test century. This occurred against India at Eden Gardens in Calcutta in only Hooper's second Test innings in his second such match. Batting at Number 6 after Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Haynes, Richie Richardson, Vivian Richards and Gus Logie, Hooper scored an even undefeated hundred - 100 not out - in his team's total of 530 for 5 wickets declared. He shared a fifth-wicket partnership of 169 runs with Logie (101) in a game which turned out to be a high-scoring draw. In the series Hooper finished a commendable second to Richards in the team's batting averages, scoring 147 runs in 4 innings with an average of 49 runs an innings.
The lofty expectations of Hooper evoked by such early success have been satisfied much more in his first-class career than in Test cricket. Admittedly, in his initial years of first-class cricket on the whole he performed moderately. Thus in 65 such matches which he played up to 1990-3 for Demerara, 11 for Guyana and 51 (excluding Tests) for the West Indies - Hooper in 93 innings scored 2805 runs, including three hundreds and 16 half-centuries, with an average of only 32 runs an innings. This performance clearly did not reflect his obvious immense ability and talent.
In 1991, however, Hooper's fortunes in first-class cricket changed dramatically. On the West Indies' tour of England he batted brilliantly, scoring 1501 runs with a phenomenal average of 93.81 runs an innings. He topped not only his team's batting averages in such matches, but also the entire first-class averages in that English season.
This remarkable success in England in 1991 was the turning point in Hooper's first-class career. Thereafter he performed very creditably in such matches, as he represented Guyana, the West Indies and the English county team, Kent. This marked improvement is reflected in his statistical record. For example, whereas in 1990 he had a career batting average of 35 runs an innings in 11 Shell Shield and Red Stripe games, at the conclusion of the recent Busta Cup competition his average was 53 in 44 regional games.
Hooper was particularly successful in two regional tournaments. The first occasion was in 1988 when he scored 325 runs, one century, in 6 innings with an average of 65 runs an innings. This achievement was surpassed this season when he made 954 runs, including four hundreds, with an unusually high average of 99.75 runs an innings. His mammoth aggregate was a new record, bettering the previous one of 756 runs by the Barbadian, Floyd Reifer, 1997.
Similarly, Hooper has had five very productive seasons for Kent in the English County Championship between 1993 and 1998, with an annual batting average varying between 45 and 59 runs an innings. In two seasons, 1993 and 1998, he was the only Kent batsman to reach 1000 runs in first-class matches. In 1993, his best season with the bat for Kent, he also made the only two double centuries of his career - 236 not out against Glamorgan and 203 against Lancashire. Furthermore, in 1994, in an innings of 183 against Yorkshire, Hooper broke the Kent record for the most sixes in an innings, hitting ten of them as well as eleven fours.
Owing to this striking improvement since 1991, Hooper's career batting average in first-class matches (excluding Tests) has risen from 32 runs an innings in 1990 to 45 presently. The criticism by his detractors that he is an underperformer is not based on his record in such matches or in limited-over games, but rather on his achievements in Test cricket. These two aspects of Hooper's career, namely, his performance in limited-over and Test cricket, will be examined in the second instalment of this article.
The first instalment of this article focused primarily on the career of Carl Hooper in first-class (as distinct from Test) cricket, especially in the light of the criticism of his detractors that he is a woeful underperformer. This one will examine his performance in limited-over cricket, particularly one-day international (ODI) matches.
Hooper's ability as an all-rounder has always made him a useful limited-over player. He eventually developed a reputation for scoring quickly and often heavily and consistently, bowling economically and fielding brilliantly.
During his five years as a player with the English county team, Kent, between 1993 and 1998, he was acknowledged as one of the most accomplished limited-over cricketers in England, although his fine achievements never resulted in his team winning a trophy. In both 1993 and 1994 he was the top scorer in the Sunday League, evoking glowing praise in the renowned Wisden Cricketers' Alma-nack. About his performance in 1993, Wisden observed: "Hooper was nearly always at the centre of things. He scored 854 runs, passing 50 nine times and, week after week, his bowling was almost unhittable." Wisden's remarks on his achievements in 1994 were equally laudatory: "On Sunday he was consistently brilliant. He scored 773 at an average of 51.53, with six fifties and two hundreds, becoming the top scorer in the league for the second season running and winning (pounds sterling) 3,000."
By then Hooper was also an invaluable member of the West Indies team in limited-over cricket. He had made his debut in one-day international games in 1987 in New Zealand with a polished innings of 48 at Dunedin. By the time he retired from international cricket in 1999, Hooper had played 182 one-day internationals, in which he scored 4,612 runs, including 6 hundreds and 26 fifties, with a creditable average of 35.47 runs an innings. His ODI career average is better than that of most West Indian batsmen who have played at least 10 innings, with the exception of Vivian Richards (47.00 runs an innings), Gordon Greenidge (45.03), Brian Lara (42.57), Desmond Haynes (41.37), Clive Lloyd (39.54) and Stuart Williams (35.76).
By comparison the ODI average of current West Indian batsmen, apart from Lara, is as follows: Shivnarine Chanderpaul (34.35), Jimmy Adams (28.62), Marlon Samuels (27.36), Wavell Hinds (27.13), Sherwin Campbell (26.24) Ridley Jacobs (21.73), Christopher Gayle (18.38), and Darren Ganga (6.71).
Hooper's batting in limited-over cricket became far more productive and consistent after 1994 than in the earlier phase of his career. Thus, whereas in the 115 ODI games which he played up to August 1994 he scored 2,117 runs, in his subsequent 67 matches he made 2,435 runs. In this latter period he scored five of his six centuries.
After achieving his maiden century and highest ODI score of 113 not out against India at Gwalior in 1988, it was not until six years later that he made his second such hundred, 111 against New Zealand at Gauhati.
Hooper was particularly brilliant with the bat in two one-day series. Firstly, against India in the subcontinent late in 1994 he had scores of 61 not out (with the first 50 runs made off 47 balls), 70 (off 86 balls), 74 not out (off only 47 balls), 2 and 84 (off 88 balls) - an aggregate of 291 runs in 5 innings at an average of 77 runs an innings.
Secondly, he was even more consistent against Australia in 1995 in the Caribbean, with innings of 84, 55, 41, 60 not out and 50 - a total of 290 runs in 5 innings at an average of 72.50 runs an innings. These excellent performances enabled Hooper to win the coveted Man-of-the-Match Award in two of these five matches and caused the Wisden Cricketers' Almanack to describe him as "a colossus in the one-day game", superlative praise.
In one period in 1994-95 Hooper demonstrated a remarkable consistency for limited-over international cricket, failing to score a half-century only four times in twenty matches. He also had an excellent year with the bat in such games in 1997, scoring 635 runs, including three (3) hundreds and two (2) half-centuries, in 17 innings, with an average of 48.84 runs an innings. Admittedly, however, he was eclipsed by both Stuart Williams (627 runs with one (1) century and six (6) fifties and an average of 62.70) and Brian Lara (756 runs - two (2) hundreds and five (5) fifties and an average of 50.40).
Only five West Indian batsmen, namely, Desmond Haynes (8,648 runs), Brian Lara (6,897) Vivian Richards (6,721) Richie Richarson (6,248) and Gordon Greenidge (5,134), have scored more runs than Hooper (4,612) in limited-over international cricket. Furthermore, only four have equalled or surpassed his six centuries in such cricket - Haynes (17 hundreds), Lara (14) and Greenidge and Richards, who both scored 11 centuries. By comparison, apart from Lara, the only current West Indian batsmen who have scored a century in ODI games are Chanderpaul (2), Campbell (2), Hinds (1) and Ricardo Powell (1). Jimmy Adams has never made a century in limited-over international cricket. His highest score in 105 innings in 127 matches is 82.
In short, Hooper has made a major contribution to West Indian batting in ODI games. The only major blot on his record in such cricket is his performance in World Cup matches, where his batting has been uncharacteristically unproductive.
In 14 such matches in Pakistan in 1987 and Australia in 1992, Hooper has scored only 162 runs in 12 innings, with a highest score of 63 against Zimbabwe in Brisbane in 1992 and a meagre average of 18 runs an innings.
Admittedly, Hooper's bowling in World Cup games has been better than his batting. In such games he captured 15 wickets for 493 runs in 121 overs, at an average cost of 32.86 runs a wicket. His best bowling performance was 3 for 42 in 10 overs against England at Gujranwala in Pakistan in 1987 in a closely contested match which the Englishmen won by two wickets. His most economical bowling was against Sri Lanka at the Berri Oval in South Australia in March 1992, when he had the best bowling analysis for his team, taking 2 wickets for 19 runs in 10 overs, of which one was a maiden, and enabling West Indies to win easily by 91 runs.
On the whole, almost throughout his career Hooper's bowling, with its twin virtues of reasonable economy and effectiveness in taking wickets, has been an important element in the West Indies attack in ODI games. In his career he has taken 163 wickets in 1,266 overs in 182 games, at an average cost of 34.03 runs each and conceding 4.38 runs an over. This is a good record for a fifth bowler, especially a slow bowler, in limited-over cricket.
The value of Hooper's bowling in ODI games is reflected in the fact that only two West Indians have bowled more overs and taken more wickets than he in such matches. These two bowlers are Curtly Ambrose (225 wickets in 1,558 overs in 176 matches at an average cost of 24.12 runs a wicket) and Courtney Walsh, whose 227 wickets in 205 matches at an average cost of 30.47 runs each were captured in 1,803 overs. Hooper's best bowling performance in an ODI game is 4 wickets for 34 runs, one of three occasions when he has taken four wickets in such a match, a comparatively rare achievement in limited-over cricket.
In addition to his success with the bat and ball in one-day international games, Hooper has been outstanding as a fieldsman in any position, but especially as an almost impeccable catcher in the slips and as an alert fieldsman able to prevent a single and effect run outs, particularly from point or backward point. He has taken 87 catches in ODI matches, a number equalled or eclipsed by few cricketers (apart from wicket keepers) anywhere in the world and only by one West Indian, namely, Vivian Richards, who took 101 catches.
Hooper also holds the record for the most catches(4) by a West Indian fieldsman (excluding wicket keepers) in an ODI game, a feat also performed by three other Caribbean players, namely, Richie Richardson, Phillip Simmons and Roger Harper. Hooper had his achievement in a game against Pakistan at Durban in 1992-93.
Hooper has never been given sufficient recognition, even by his admirers, for his invaluable contribution to the West Indies in limited-over international cricket. The truth is that since the West Indies became involved in such matches in 1973, no player, with the exception of Vivian Richards, has contributed more than Hooper to the success of the team. Only Richards, who in 187 ODI games took 101 catches and 118 wickets at an average cost of 35.83 runs each and scored 6,721 runs, including 11 hundreds and 45 fifties, at an average of 47 runs an innings, has a better statistical record than Hooper. Hooper and Richards, in fact, are the only two West Indians among 17 players from all the cricket-playing nations who have achieved the double of scoring over 1,000 runs and taking more than 100 wickets in ODI games. Furthermore, Hooper needs only to take 13 more catches to join Richards in becoming the only West Indian cricketers to accomplish the difficult ODI treble of 1,000 runs, 100 wickets and 100 catches.
Finally, very few of Hooper's fans or detractors are aware of his greatest accomplishment in international limited-over cricket. He is one of only three players in the entire history of such cricket to have scored over 4,000 runs and captured more than 150 wickets. Hooper shares this rare distinction with two other current captains, the Australian, Steve Waugh, and Sri Lankan, Sanath Jayasuriya. His record, however, in such cricket, in batting, bowling and fielding, is better than that of Waugh and Jayasuriya.
In short, it is clear that Hooper is not an underachiever in limited-over cricket. The final instalment of this article will focus on the most controversial aspect of his career, namely, his performance in Test cricket.
This final instalment will deal with the most controversial aspect of Carl Hooper's career, namely, his performance in Test cricket, for which his detractors have repeatedly dubbed him "an under-performer", "an underachiever" and, even worse, "a failure". In particular, his critics stress that he has a Test career batting average of "only 33", a result of scoring 4153 runs, including 9 hundreds and 18 half-centuries, in 80 Test appearances before his premature retirement from international cricket in 1999. Prominent among Hooper's many critics is the Caribbean's leading cricket journalist and commentator, Tony Cozier, who sarcastically refers to him as the most graceful batsman in the world, "the best to look at except that he doesn't score runs".
Certainly it cannot be denied that Hooper has under-performed with the bat in Test cricket. A player with his obvious exceptional talent and ability ought to have a much better career batting average, such as one at least in the early or mid forties, as attained by most accomplished West Indian batsmen, whose talent Hooper at least matched. These batsmen include his compatriots, Roy Fredericks, who had a Test batting average of 42.49, Basil Butcher (43.11) and Alvin Kallicharran (44.43), as well as Desmond Haynes (42.29), Jeffrey Stollmeyer (42.33), Lawrence Rowe (43.55), Richie Richardson (44.39), Gordon Greenidge (44.72), and Conrad Hunte (45.06). Instead, Hooper's moderate average of 33 places him statistically in the company of players who, though able batsmen, were not endowed with nearly as much talent as he. Among these players are Keith Arthurton (33.79), Sherwin Campbell (32.82), Jeffrey Dujon (31.94), Joe Solomon (34.00), Joey Carew (34.15), and Augustine Logie (35.79). Significantly, Hooper is the only West Indian batsman with more than 4000 Test runs whose average is less than 42.
Hooper himself seems to be aware that he ought to have performed much better with the bat in Test cricket. This is indicated in his response on a recent call-in radio programme in Barbados to a caller who described him as "a miserable failure." Hooper remarked then: "I would love to have a better record but it hasn't turned out that way, but at the end of the day I am happy for what I did for West Indies cricket."
Nevertheless, the continuous harping by his critics that his Test average is "only 33" is somewhat unfair, for it is not the whole truth about Hooper. This hypercriticism is misleading in at least two ways which will be the focus of the remainder of this article. Firstly, it fails to take cognisance of some of the factors responsible for Hooper's moderate average. Secondly, it does not give any or sufficient recognition to his valuable contribution to the West Indies in areas other than batting.
Admittedly, Hooper's moderate Test average is due to a considerable extent to weaknesses, which his detractors rightly emphasise, such as lapses in concentration, carelessness, inability at times to cope with pressure and a tendency to hit the ball in the air too often. These defects help to explain his relatively frequent "soft dismissals."
Hooper's somewhat unsatisfactory average is also due to at least three other factors which are seldom considered. One of them is that most of his Test appearances have been against comparatively tough opposition, while owing to injury he has unfortunately missed several less challenging series in which his team-mates enhanced their career record by very productive batting. For example, in his absence in 1994 from the series against England, his compatriot, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, on his Test debut achieved an average of 57.60 runs per innings, Jimmy Adams 62.33, and Brian Lara 99.75 as a result of his century (167) at Bourda and his record-breaking innings of 375 in Antigua.
Hooper also missed an even greater run feast early in the following year in New Zealand, where the top six West Indian batsmen achieved the most impressive set of batting averages in the entire history of Caribbean Test cricket - Chanderpaul (130 runs an innings), Junior Murray (129.00), Winston Benjamin (85.00), Adams (82.00), Lara (74.50) and Sherwin Campbell sixth with as high an average as 69.50.
Hooper was also absent in 1996 when the weak New Zealanders visited the Caribbean for a short series distinguished by productive West Indian batting. Both Adams and Campbell scored double centuries and the Jamaican opener, Robert Samuels, made his first and only Test hundred. The first five West Indian batsmen all attained a series average of over 43 runs an innings, with Adams leading with 117.50, followed by Campbell (95.33), Lara (49.66), Samuels (47.00) and Chanderpaul (43.66).
Hooper's moderate batting average is also the result of the fact that he has never scored heavily in any Test series in his career. Even on the three occasions when he topped his team's averages he never attained an average as high as 50, but 45.25, 49.33, and 45.60.
In fact, the only occasion when he achieved a really high average in a Test series was in 1993 against Pakistan when he scored 231 runs in five innings with an average of 77.00 runs an innings.
Perhaps the most important reason for Hooper's moderate Test average is that, apart, from his first Test series in India in 1987-8, when he was second to Vivian Richards with an average of 49.00, his performance in his initial years of Test cricket was very unsatisfactory. His experience in those years was one of virtually continuous failure interrupted occasionally by an impressive innings. His lack of productivity with the bat was clearly reflected in his very low series averages - 26.00 and 23.71 in 1988 against Pakistan and England respectively, 18.88 in Australia in 1988-89,and then a very meagre 14.00 against England in the Caribbean. Thus by 1990, in 30 completed innings in 19 Test appearances, he had scored only 701 runs, including one hundred and three half-centuries, with a paltry average of 23.66 runs an innings.
In these unproductive years, Hooper was lucky to retain a regular place in the Test team. The selectors, however, persisted with him for several reasons, including his obvious talent, his occasional impressive innings, his useful off-spin bowling, his excellent fielding and the fact that the team under the leadership of Vivian Richards continued to enjoy success, never losing even a single series.
This disappointing phase of Hooper's Test career continued until 1993, when in the third and final game of a series against the visiting Pakistanis, he played a brilliant undefeated innings of 178, his highest Test score, sharing a record 10th-wicket partnership of 106 runs with Courtney Walsh, still a West Indian record for that wicket in tests against all countries. The well-known Wisden Cricketers' Almanack described this magnificent innings thus: "Carl Hooper's 178 not out was a masterpiece...an innings of stirring virtuosity. He made 178 not out off 247 balls, with 19 fours and four sixes. He overwhelmed the bowling with strokes both majestically orthodox and cutely improvised."
This splendid innings in Antigua in May 1993 was the turning point in Hooper's Test career. In seven of the nine series which he played in the following five years, he achieved an average of at least 43 runs an innings. In this period, in 34 Tests, he scored 2042 runs with an average of 41.67. His most successful year was 1997, when he topped his team's batting average in three out of four Test series, namely, in Australia and Pakistan and against Sri Lanka in the Caribbean. In those four series he had an aggregate of 983 runs, including 3 hundreds and 4 fifties, and a creditable average of 42.74, significantly higher than his much-publicized 33 runs an innings. In that year he was the West Indies' best batsman eclipsing even the team's star batsman, Brian Lara, who scored 936 runs with an average of 34.66. Admittedly, however, their fortunes were reversed in the subsequent series against South Africa and Australia in 1998-1999 when Hooper failed.
Hooper's detractors, who castigate him for having a career Test average of "only 33", conveniently ignore the marked improvement in his batting since 1993 which enabled his average to rise from 27 at the beginning of 1993 to 33 in 1999. They continue to fail to appreciate an important point, namely, that a career average is determined by a player's performance in his entire history and may not be a good indicator of his recent or current record. This certainly is very applicable to Hooper in the second and much more productive phase of his Test batting career after 1993 when his average was over 40.
The excessive criticism of Hooper also fails to take into sufficient consideration his all-round contribution to the West Indies team. His detractors invariably tend to view him exclusively or predominantly as a batsman, underestimating or conveniently overlooking his brilliant fielding and his useful off-spin bowling. Hooper has been one of the safest slip fieldsmen in the entire history of Test cricket, frequently taking difficult catches with apparent ease. So far, in 82 Tests, he has taken 96 catches, a total surpassed by only 3 West Indians - Richards (122), Sobers (109) and Lara (103). He has also taken 93 Test wickets with his off-spin, admittedly at a fairly high cost of 47.01 runs each, bowling nearly 1800 overs.
Where Hooper's critics are concerned, he should go down in history as an underachiever with the bat in Test cricket. While this is a possibility, his overall record suggests that Hooper will more likely eventually be remembered as one of the most accomplished Caribbean cricketers, one of the region's most successful all-rounders in Test cricket. He and Sobers are the only West Indians among a small group of 11 players from all countries who have achieved the rare treble of 1000 runs, 50 wickets and 50 catches in Test cricket.
Hooper and Steve Waugh are the only two current players to have achieved this rare distinction. Furthermore, if Hooper, as expected, succeeds in taking seven more wickets and four more catches in Tests, he will join Sobers and the Englishman, Ian Botham as being the only players to achieve the extremely difficult treble of 4000 runs, 100 wickets and 100 catches in the entire history of Test cricket.
Hooper's welcome return to international cricket has also provided him with an excellent opportunity to silence his many critics by some productive batting which will improve his career average to a figure well above the much-talked-about 33 and remove from him the label of 'underachiever'. What I wrote four years ago is still very appropriate: "Hooper needs to achieve 'big success' and to prove that at the level of Test cricket he is a truly world-class batsman. To attain such an end, Hooper needs to achieve an aggregate of more than 500 runs in a five-match series, including perhaps two hundreds and two half-centuries, and an average of 60-70 runs an innings.
Hooper has long possessed the ability to accomplish this; at long last he seems also to be cultivating the requisite temperament and will. With these new attributes, Hooper should be matching some of the achievements of Brian Lara."
Hooper's impressive performance this year suggests that this prediction is about to be fulfilled. If this does happen, his detractors will not only be silenced, but also forced to make a public apology to one of the most maligned players in the entire history of West Indian cricket.