CARL Hooper can thank his stars that he came through a five-Test series against South Africa with just a 2-1 defeat. The way he went about things he should be especially grateful to his bowlers for pulling one back in the final Test, even if they were motivated by the fact that it was Courtney Walsh's last Test.
Given that Hooper has been around for longer than most cricketers in the Caribbean, there were some elementary mistakes he made, errors that reflected the fact that he is not exactly the clear thinker that many commentators have made him out to be. He is extremely suspect when batting under pressure and this is another aspect of his make-up which will not be an asset to him as captain.
The West Indies went into the fourth Test one-down. They had chosen to play two spinners in that game, something which no West Indies team has done for the last 25 years. The last time any West Indies played more than one specialist spinner was in Trinidad in 1976 when Clive Lloyd set India over 400 to win and asked his three spinners to bowl out the Indians. They could not and India won a famous victory. It must be noted that Hooper had chosen to drop the one bowler who had bowled consistently well in the series to date, Cameron Cuffy.
One does not fault Hooper for picking two spinners. But if they were picked in the expectation that the pitch would take spin as the match progressed, what was the point in putting South Africa in to bat after winning the toss? It was a rank stupid thing to do. As things went, the West Indies were caught batting in the worst of conditions and lost the game and with it the series. It would appear that Hooper had the same fear that Jimmy Adams often displayed in Australia after winning the toss - Adams was more afraid of his team being unable to face the opposition's bowling than bowling himself, so he put the opposition in. In what way does Hooper differ?
Came the final Test and there was much confusion over team selection. Hooper let it be known that there would be no chopping and changing. This was exactly what took place on the eve of the match. Leon Garrick was brought in as opener and Hinds dropped. And then this kid making his debut was asked to face the first ball of the innings from Allan Donald. True, Garrick had made 174 against the South Africans in a drawn tour game. But he had never had a look at Donald. The other opener, Gayle, has at least played in a handful of Tests and had had a good look at Donald in this series.
No, Garrick it was who took the first ball and also got out off that ball. A golden duck, not the best way to kick off what many see as a promising Test career. A word of advice from the captain was needed in a situation like this. It obviously wasn't given. Any man can lead a team in the manner that a ship travels. Hooper simply sat back and waited for things to happen. In this case, they did not.
Hooper's decision in the third Test to keep giving Shaun Pollock singles in order to attack Allan Donald was also rather silly. Donald is a stubborn tail-ender. The chances he got to face the bowling enabled him to dig in and help his captain add 132 for the ninth wicket. This effectively put paid to any hopes the West Indies may have entertained of trying to level the series. And, there too, the West Indies had won the toss. Commonsense dictates that if the pitch is really going to help the bowlers and one has the attack to take advantage of it then one inserts the opposition. One must also take into account that he who bats second also bats last. Hooper obviously has not heard of these things.
It could be argued that Hooper did make some runs during the series. Sure, but when under pressure, he fell as badly as did the rest. If any batsman could hold his head up high it was Ridley Jacobs and, to a much lesser extent, Brian Lara. The bowlers did a good job. They have generally done their bit, even when the batsmen have failed miserably. On the whole, there was defensive cricket by the new West Indies captain. All of which leads one to ask: why was Adams thrown out in such a hurry?