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Will Hooper make a difference?

CARL Hooper has timed his return to the Caribbean to a nicety. Or was he asked to go back? This and a host of other questions arise following rumours in the Caribbean that he may be asked to take over as captain of the West Indies team for the home series against South Africa.

Hooper was vice-captain on the ill-fated tour of South Africa in 1998-99 and the results of that visit are too fresh in the mind to bear repeating. It is reasonable to assume that he would have expected the captaincy to be offered to him, at least after Courtney Walsh was relieved of the job. He has been around since 1987-88 when he made his debut. And then when Brian Lara opted out of the last two one-day internationals against Australia during the unforgettable tour of 1999, the selectors chose to give Jimmy Adams the role of leader.

How things have changed! Twenty-seven years is a long time in cricket and one cannot blame anyone, least of all short-sighted administrators, for forgetting that it was in 1974 that they appointed a man as captain and did not have to think about it again until 1985, barring a brief period in 1978 when the Packer episode erupted. Even after Clive Lloyd's reign, there were fairly long periods of stability - Viv Richards held court for six years and Richie Richardson for five.

After that there has been one upheaval after another. Walsh became captain after the Brian Lara-inspired campaign to topple Richardson succeeded. Else, Richardson would probably have been captain even today. It is laughable to think that when he quit, the West Indies board and public thought that being beaten by Kenya in a one-day match in the World Cup was the lowest point they could reach.

Walsh did well initially with series wins over New Zealand, India and Sri Lanka. A loss to Australia and a whitewash in Pakistan followed. This was enough for the board to make a change. Lara has nursed ambitions to be West Indies captain since he was a boy and he was the next choice. The series against England was won but then came the humiliation against South Africa. It all became too much for him. He came back with a vigour against Australia but after defeat at the hands of New Zealand, he gave up and took a sabbatical from the game.

Jimmy Adams became captain by default as there was nobody else who could be considered; the next person in line was Shivnarine Chanderpaul and he wasn't in the reckoning as he was out of cricket at that time. Adams has had two series wins, against Pakistan and Zimbabwe and then losses to England and Australia. It is significant that since Richardson was forced into a corner and made to resign, the West Indies have not won or drawn a series away from the Caribbean.

And now it may be Hooper's chance. With each year, the cricket administrators in the Caribbean have to set their sights lower, else they would not be thinking of appointing a man who is already 35. At most, he may have three or four years of cricket left. Forgotten is his role in the pay dispute that preceded the South African disaster of 1998-99, when he was vice-captain to Lara; both were sacked after the team holed up in a hotel in England, demanding higher pay for the tour.

The board finally caved in but then the West Indies proceeded to play like amateurs on their first visit to a country which was ostracised from world cricket for 20 years from 1971. When Australia visited the Caribbean shortly after this, Lara was given the captaincy only for the first two Tests initially, but then his glorious return to form ensured that he would stay on as captain for the series. Hooper's last Test was the fourth against Australia.

Once Hooper announced that he was retiring there was no reason to believe he did not mean it - even if he was only 32 at the time. He has always been a man who has promised much and failed to deliver; when he is batting, he looks a class act but then he falls before he has made a big score. In 80 Tests, he has only 4,153 runs at an average of 33.77. His one-day returns are not much better - 182 games and 4,612 runs at an average of 33.76. He hasn't the best of reputations as far as being a team man goes; remember, he pulled out of the 1996 World Cup at the last possible moment. His commitment to the game, both as a member of the West Indies team and a player and captain of Guyana, has often been questioned.

If the West Indies board does decide to appoint him as skipper, they are clearly expecting miracles. The West Indies players who are in Australia are not the most professional bunch and to ask them to accept a man like Hooper as captain may be stretching it a bit. The last three captains have had their shortcomings but each has had at least one saving grace - Walsh's commitment to West Indies cricket, Lara's talent and Adams's integrity can never be questioned. Can anyone name one quality which Hooper possesses that makes him more worthy of being captain?