Hooper: I Was Not Ready To Quit
Carl Hooper abruptly quit international cricket, not because he wanted to be mean. Rather, the former West Indies captain feels he was forced out of the team well before his planned departure. "The info I had coming back to me indicated I was not needed anymore, it was like I was staring down the barrel," explained Hooper who ended his career without playing another game after he was replaced as captain by Brian Lara for Australia's 2003 tour of the West Indies.
Although Hooper was named in the 14-man squad named by the West Indies selectors for the first test in Guyana he pulled out a couple of days before the first test. "You always know when these things are about to happen and I moved before I was pushed," stated Hooper who breezed through New York this week en-route to his home in Australia, from the Barbados Kensington Oval reopening ceremony last weekend.
A charismatic, complex individual, Hooper's decision had brought a calm closure to a somewhat controversial career. It was a departure that ended without fanfare as Hooper, who generated intense love from fans and opposite feelings from others, left the sport without saying goodbye. Hooper said he believed that plans were being made to ditch him although he was planning on continuing his career beyond 2003.
"I had had two operations on my two knees before the World Cup (2003). Now tell me why would someone do that if they were planning to stop playing?", the stylish right-handed batsman asked rhetorically. "It would've made more sense to just play out the World Cup without having the surgeries and then quit afterwards," he added. "Honestly I felt I had a few years left in me at the time, but that is history now," the all-rounder who averaged close to 50 in tests when he was captain said.
On his relationship with Lara which reportedly deteriorated during his final years in the team, Hooper said he preferred not to comment. He merely stated that the current captain is a great batsman whose performances highlighted the periods of West Indies' decline from the world's best team to one of the weakest. Lara played under Hooper's captaincy and there were widespread reports of a bust-up between the two stars during the World Cup in South Africa.
Hooper could not be persuaded to talk about his experiences leading the team in the world's biggest competition, but pointed out that he especially enjoyed leading a young squad in Zimbabwe in 2001 and India in 2002 .On both tours Lara was not in the squad. "Although we did not win the Test series (in India) we came on strong in the one-dayers which we won 4-3. It was a young team which was getting better," said the man regarded as the most elegant player of his time.
These days Hooper has a life divorced from cricket in Adelaide having not held a bat or ball much except for the occasional celebrity game since playing his last competitive match for Lancashire in the English County championship in 2004 The Guyanese is now a well-settled resident in the south Australian city where he is cutting his teeth in business. "I am running a few cafes in partnership with my brothers-in-law which, along with family commitments, leave little time for anything else," he disclosed.
Of late Hooper and his Australian wife Connie, have had a new addition to the family, a daughter, along with son Carl Jr.
For the upcoming World Cup, Hooper does not see himself finding the time to be among the West Indies' celebrities attending the Region's first hosting of the mega event, explaining that he will be forced to follow the action on television. He, however, expects an exciting championship and will not be surprised if his adopted homeland Australia does not retain the title, because he sees a dark horse in Sri Lanka. "Sri Lanka will be the one to watch. They have been doing well recently and have a number of outstanding players under a capable captain and coach," he stated.
"Australia now is not the team they used to be without Warne (Shane) and McGrath. They are quality players you don't get everyday and with the injuries they have now, I would not be shocked if they do not win. The way they were beaten 3-0 by New Zealand is an indication of the struggles they can have without the top players," Hooper reasoned.
On the other hand he sees Sri Lanka developing into a force being moulded under new captain Mahela Jayawardene. "(Lasith) Malinga is raw and gritty, then there is (Kumar) Sangakara who is batting out of his skin while (Upal) Taranga is one to reckon with and also Silva in the middle. With those and the proven match winners (Sanath) Jayasuria and (Murali) Muratlitharan, it makes them formidable as they will have similar type wickets as in Sri Lanka and weather. This is team that is learning to win while traveling which says a lot," added Hooper. "They can spring a surprise by winning World Cup".
The former Guyana all-rounder is not ruling out the team he played 102 Tests and 227 One Day Internationals for, predicting that they are one of three teams, Sri Lanka and Australia included that could win the Cup. "On a good day West Indies could beat anybody, they will be tough to beat at home. A long competition like the World Cup calls for consistency though and you cannot afford to run hot and cold," he said in highlighting their inconsistencies over the years. "I guess coming from my heart I would make West Indies one of the three favorites to win it."
In the near future Hooper who scored 5,762 Test runs and 5,761 at ODI level, sees Australia's dominance of world competition diminishing with the aging core of the current side about to end their careers while at the same time he sees the domestic game weakening in standard. "Losing quality players like those two (Warne and McGrath) will leave a big hole in any team. Hayden (Matthew) could be lost soon and Gilchrist does not seem to have much longer too," he added.
Hooper also feels that the once strong state championship there is in decline. "In South Australia the game's standard is far from top class and you get the impression the other States are not getting any better."
In Barbados, Hooper was expected to put on a show for the West Indies All Stars XI against a Rest of the World XI in a country where he is loved as a player more than any place else. And he did not disappoint, hitting a brilliant 46 off 29 balls and bagging three wickets in the 20/20 overs clash.
"If I were not conscious, I could easily have been mistaken for thinking I was in any other country around the world other than Barbados," said Hooper in paying tribute to the beauty of the new Kensington Oval.
He could not have been in a more ideal setting for another classic cameo appearance.