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England are hopeful but haunted by Hooper

Christopher Martin-Jenkins

12 February 1998

SELDOM can one great innings have shifted the odds and changed the mood of a Test series so dramatically as Carl Hooper's for the West Indies on Saturday and Monday, writes Christopher Martin-Jenkins.

The England players, still dazed by the cruel reality of what happened, losing a match they had come close to winning, continued to rest yesterday, nursing their mental and physical scars. The West Indians practised at the Queen's Park Oval and named an unchanged team for the match starting on the next-door pitch tomorrow.

It was England's bowlers, Angus Fraser a noble exception, who failed to deliver in the second Test but it is the batsmen who face the uncomfortable prospect of having to raise themselves again on another surface which is bound to be uneven. The pitch was flooded as soon as the game ended on Monday and still had a grey appearance beneath its ample grass cloak in muggy, cloudy weather yesterday.

England's selectors will have their formal meeting today. David Lloyd, Mike Atherton and Nasser Hussain will listen to observations from Bob Bennett, John Emburey and the physiotherapist, Wayne Morton. Emburey is known to believe that Jack Russell and Adam Hollioake should make way for Mark Ramprakash and, depending on the pitch's dryness, either Robert Croft or Ashley Cowan. Lloyd and Atherton had their faith in Andrew Caddick severely tested on Monday but Hussain's inclinations are to give the same XI another chance and this may well be the consensus view in the end, with Cowan standing by for Tufnell in case it is really damp tomorrow morning.

The lack of a third build-up match at the start of the tour and the Sabina Park abandonment have given the selectors little room for manoeuvre. Itineraries will in future be the responsibility of the International Teams Director, Simon Pack, who will no doubt have been asked for a minimum of three games in future soon after he arrived in Port of Spain last night, hoping to join a celebration party but finding a wake.

England have not given up hope, of course. The prospect of another match here would not seem so bad if they did not know that two of the three Tests after that are due to be played on relaid surfaces which are wholly unknown quantities. Whether the square at Bourda in Georgetown has been technically 'relaid' or merely received cosmetic surgery depends on whom you speak to. Steve Camacho, chief executive of the West Indies board, says it has just had work done to the surface. Hooper, captain of Guyana, uses the word 'relaid'.

Not that the hero of the hour is a man of many words, or, indeed that he is a chap who bothers much what the pitch is like. He plays in his own little dream world anyway, an inscrutable character with genius in his cricket which is only starting to mature at the age of 31 after 10 years and 68 Tests.

Not the least remarkable aspect of Hooper's match-winning 94 not out was the cool bravery he showed. Courage is a virtue required increasingly of cricketers the higher they climb the professional ladder, especially in the West Indies, where fast bowling is the staple diet and pitches less reliable than they used to be. Yet he batted for almost six hours without a thigh pad let alone an arm guard or a grille on his helmet. When he was hit on the hands, as even he often was, there was never a discernable blink.

He is such a good player that getting hit, it seems, hardly enters his calculations. Newly elevated to the vice-captaincy, which Clive Lloyd believes has enhanced his sense of responsibility and begun to draw out his reserved personality, he was compared by his opposite number Nasser Hussain yesterday to Denis Compton, the sort of casual genius who could pick up anyone's bat and go out to play against any bowling on any pitch.

Had this shy, gentle, modest fellow fully developed his powers of concentration, his performance would have been expected of him, rather than being what his coach Malcolm Marshall described as ``the innings of his life.'' It will be fascinating to see whether he plays so flawlessly for the rest of the series.

Source: The Electronic Telegraph
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Date-stamped : 12 Feb1998 - 10:48