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Hooper brings talent to bear

By Mark Nicholas

10 February 1998

THIS fascinating game of cricket entered the history books as Fraser's match or Stewart's match or even Ambrose's match but, by the end, and contrary to the confidence of his people, it became Hooper's match: 'Cool Carl', of Guyana, Kent and the West Indies, the most outrageously gifted cricketer of his time, whose time, it seemed, would never come.

Nobody can have played his cricket with more expectation hung around his neck, no batsman's talent can have so often taken from the opposition before handing back what was taken with such apparent indifference. That he has, to an extent, been a soft touch is his own fault for he averages in the middle 30s when a player of such quality should be making near 50 every time. Figures are not everything but they are something and Hooper should amend his record, now that he understands patience can be his ally.

Ah, patience, such an elusive attribute but so important a trait, for match-winning Test innings are rarely a breeze. Most are carved from the cold stone of the opposition's denial and need the grinding of teeth to play as big a part as the freedom of stroke. Who knows? If Hooper absorbs why yesterday happened, rather than what, he may, in the weeks ahead, begin the climb to greatness that lies within him. For him, at least, and for the moment anyway, the inner pain can dissolve, for the Caribbean adores him today and forgives his previous indiscretions.

Whether England can be forgiven is another thing, for as demonstrably as Hooper won it for the West Indies, so England lost it for themselves. They were luckless, for sure, as shout after shout for lbw was rejected but they failed to hold two catches yesterday morning and missed an expensive stumping Ambrose early in his batting rearguard - in the first innings.

England are short on match-winners, we know that, so they must play each session with a focus and consistency that other, better-blessed countries can occasionally neglect. On the fourth morning, six wickets fell for just 39 runs, albeit to stunning bowling, but they fell all the same and we know that England are prone to such collapses.

We know, too, that Michael Atherton's period of captaincy has been undermined by potentially international bowlers who have under-achieved. Because of this, he has lost faith in them and because of that, those bowlers have lost confidence. In the last-innings protection of a 281-run advantage, Atherton lost trust in Andy Caddick and Dean Headley so Angus Fraser was over-bowled and Philip Tufnell was used too often as defender instead of attacker.

You could say that for much of the match, England played better cricket and so deserved to win; equally, you could say that with only two-and-a-half bowlers on full steam ahead, they were fortunate to be in the game.

We are back where we always are, crying out for an all-rounder, since England must select five bowlers not four. It will not be long before the Russell-Stewart issue is in our face again. In the meantime, we rue Darren Gough's injury and Dominic Cork's loss of perspective and battle on with prayers that the top order again bat so excellently and that catches are taken without fail. Like it or not, we have no Warne, no Wasim, no Ambrose to spare our blushes.

Source: The Electronic Telegraph
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Date-stamped : 10 Feb1998 - 14:59