Hooper: Plenty Of Talent In Windies
Former Guyana and West Indies Captain Carl Hooper feels that despite the ordinary recent record of the regional team, there is still plenty of talent in West Indies cricket.
The all-rounder who played 102 Tests and 227 ODIs, believes that while the bowling, without injured pacers Jerome Taylor and Fidel Edwards, might struggle to dismiss Australia cheaply twice to win Test matches, West Indies could win the ODI and 20/20 series if they play to their full potential. The right-hander whose record did little justice to his talent is also disappointed with the state of cricket in his homeland and feels the time is ripe for a ‘change of guard’ at the Guyana Cricket Board (GCB) if Guyana is to return to its position as one of the powerhouses in West Indies cricket.
In the last few regional seasons Guyana has struggled badly from youth to First-Class level and politics and internal power struggles leaves much to be desired from some GCB executives while the mediocre performances of Essequibo teams continue unchecked. But for Hooper all is not gloom and doom. He feels that once competent people who are genuinely interested in seeing standards improve get involved there is enough natural talent to put Guyana and West Indies cricket back on top.
"I am willing to come back home and work with the board but we all have to want the same thing - what is best for the cricket - and then work together to put plans in place to move the game forward," Hooper said. Hooper is expected in Guyana by weekend and plans to talk with Board officials on the role he can play.
"Businessmen can play a role in cricket boards once they are willing to work along with the former players and those who understand the game since the times have changed and making the cricket boards commercially strong will also help the sport," Hooper opined. "Some former players want to come back into the game at the top, to be Guyana or West Indies Coach, but I believe if the focus is not on developing proper facilities and a very strong school cricket programme we will continue to struggle at the regional level."
"When I began playing in Shell Shield competitions in the 1980s the competition was very high and yet Guyana did very well. Until a few years ago Guyana was the team to beat in West Indies youth cricket and it’s really sad to see how badly Guyana is doing now," Hooper, who turns 43 on the 15th of this month, lamented.
"For someone who has not been around it is hard for me to say what has gone wrong but I feel that we need new people - a change of guard - fresh and different ideas to match the changing times and the mindset of this generation," Hooper, who has been living in Australia for the last 9 years, said. Hooper says the administration and facilities, especially the pitches, have to be improved if the players are to improve.
"When I was young I would pass down Carifesta Avenue and there would be cricket being played on all of those grounds. That does not happen now and something has to be done to improve the pitches and facilities," He added.
The stylist Hooper, who only played 10 T/20 games for his county in England in his entire career, prefers batting in 50 overs and 2 innings cricket but says that 20/20 has its place and should be used to bring new fans to the game and provide funding for the development of ‘proper’ cricket. "20/20 is ideal to help popularize the game in non-traditional areas and it is cheaper to put on a 20/20 competition and have games in the night after work. The Stanford 20/20 had a big impact on West Indies cricket and once 20/20 is not overdone I think it can actually help Test cricket. While there will no longer be many 5-Test series, I don’t think Test cricket is under threat from 20/20. Test cricket will always be the real test of skill between batsman and bowler for prolonged periods. Once 20/20 cricket is overdone the crowd will stop coming," Hooper opined.
Hooper says he follows West Indies cricket and thinks that once the batsmen bat well and players like Dwayne Bravo and Keiron Pollard are in the team, the West Indies should be very competitive in the limited overs series. Despite their 3-day 1st Test defeat, Hooper does not think the regional side will be beaten as badly as some feel in the 3-Test series once Chris Gayle, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Chanderpaul and Bravo bat well.
Hooper feels that Australia’s cricket is strong because of the importance placed on the development of the game by the administrators, the government and the players and explained that the government spends plenty of money on youth, school cricket and building top class facilities.
"My son’s school ground is like Bourda and has a gymnasium and swimming pool and every child has to do at least 2 sports subjects unless a doctor says otherwise. Under-15s have to bat, bowl, field and keep wicket when they join clubs so that the coaches can monitor them and see what their natural talent is," Hooper disclosed.
"The cricket system in Australia is very strong and I don’t think it is a bad thing for countries like Guyana to copy it as much as possible. The First Class competition is also very strong with less teams but a higher standard. Too many average teams in first-class or first division competitions weaken the cricket rather than expose new talent," Hooper stated. This is the reason given by many as to why so many teams play first division in Guyana.
A writer once said that if batting was a fashion show Hooper would have been Miss World. Yet Hooper’s most memorable Test innings is not his only double century as captain against India on his home ground Bourda, or his 111 in 1991 at Lords or his first Test ton in India in only his 2nd Test.
"My most memorable innings was in my last series against England in the Caribbean in 1998 in Trinidad. We were set 280 to win and were struggling at 124-5 with Brian (Lara) gone for 17 and Shiv (Chanderpaul) a duck. David Williams (65) and I put together 129 before Kenny Benjamin (6*) stayed with me to the end as we reached 282-7," Hooper remembered. The classy Hooper finished unbeaten on 94 from 203 balls and 350 minutes with 10 fours.
Hooper’s interest in Guyana’s cricket is encouraging at a time when former Test pacer Reon King has taken over the position of Cricket Development Officer of the GCB and it is hoped that former West Indies players like Roger Harper are among those who would come on board to assist the sport locally.