In the 140 years that have passed since test cricket gained recognition in 1877, we have witnessed the birth of many outstanding cricketers. Though cricket is a team sport and everyone’s contribution plays a vital role some cricketers have always stood out from the rest of the bunch.
WG Grace, Sir Donald Bradman and Sir Garfield Sobers were the greatest legends of the game in the era of uncovered pitches and their Individual brilliance simply outshone crucial contributions made by their counterparts such as Bill O’Reilly, Stan Mccabe, Frank Worrell and Everton Weekes.
Similarly, there were many players in the 90’s who contributed a lot to their team and cannot be forgotten by any avid cricket watcher of that era but are barely known to cricket fans of this era because of the far superior achievements of their teammates.
One such player is Carl Hooper, a supremely talented West Indian all-rounder whose contributions constantly passed under the radar because of the sheer genius of Brian Lara.
Hooper made his international debut in 1987 against Australia and made a useful contribution of 49 and as a sign of things to come, His performance was overshadowed by a century and a five-wicket haul by the legendary Vivian Richards.
Soon after his debut, Hooper’s batting style attracted many comparisons the most notable one being Richards himself due to the way in which Carl dismantled bowling attacks around the world (well, occasionally).
Many Cricket pundits of that era regarded him as the most gifted batsman they have seen but unfortunately, Hooper never lived up to the hype that surrounded him as a youngster.
Hooper had all the qualities of a typical Carribean cricketer. He was tall, powerful and barely involved in any banter with the bowler. He also possessed a nearly flawless technique(still head and perfectly balanced footwork).
In spite of his ability to muscle the ball, He exhibited an artistic grace while timing the ball which made many to fall in love with his batting. He was among the most stylish stroke makers of the 90’s along with Azharuddin, Aravinda De Silva and Lara.
At his very best, he exhibited the ruthlessness of Richards combined with the effortless ease of Lara.
Hooper’s initial years in international cricket was a huge disappointment as he constantly threw away his wicket due to concentration lapses. His breakthrough came in 1993 in the last test against Pakistan where he scored a memorable 178* on a fourth-day pitch that was turning and bouncing low.
In that match, he and Walsh combined for a 100-run partnership which was the WI’s highest last-wicket partnership at that time. Wisden almanack described that innings thus “ Hooper’s 178 not out was a masterpiece…an innings of stirring virtuosity.
He made 178 not out off 247 balls, with 19 fours and four sixes. He overwhelmed the bowling with strokes both majestically orthodox and cutely improvised”.
Throughout his career, He loved playing against the Aussies and some of his best ODI knocks came against them. One such knock was his 110* in 1997.
West Indies were chasing 282 on a track which provided some assistance to the fast bowlers. Hooper came in at No. 4 and combined for a mammoth partnership with Lara.
He had no respect for the Aussie pacers constantly dismissing the bouncers with utmost disdain by playing hook and pull shots and playing on the up straight drives and cover drives whenever the pacers bowled a fuller length.
He also made a mockery of Shane Warne by playing sweeps and powerful square cuts. He displayed such dominance throughout his innings that Lara was forced to play second fiddle and give the strike back to Hooper.
1997 was probably the best year in Hooper’s career scoring 635 runs, including three hundred and two half-centuries, in 17 innings, with an average of 48.84 runs an innings. But just when everyone thought Hooper was on his course to become a batting stalwart, He disappointed with a string of low scores in 1998-99.
He soon went from one of the most adored batsmen in the world to the most maligned cricketer of the 90’s as the cricketing world simply could not digest a player of his class wasting all the opportunities.
Hooper has endured enough and announced his retirement before the 1999 world cup. But after an outstanding first-class season in 2001 with 954 runs, 24 wickets and a dozen catches, He made a comeback to the WI team and was made the skipper. But he hung up his boots ( this time forever) after WI failed miserably in the 2003 world cup.
He was one of the best non-Asian players of spin in the 90’s as evident by his test average of 40.38 and ODI average of 41.40 in Asia. He has also received praise for his nimble footwork from many great bowlers of that era including the legendary Shane Warne who said
“On a number of occasions, I stopped at the point of delivery to see if he was giving anything away with his footwork. Most batsmen would be looking to get out of their ground at that point, whereas Hooper just stayed set”.
He was also a decent bowler and has 4 five wicket hauls in test cricket to his name. Hooper was a good slip fielder and holds the accolade of being the first cricketer in the world to have scored 5,000 runs, taken 100 wickets, held 100 catches and received 100 caps in both ODIs and Tests. Kallis is the only other player to hold this unique record.
Hooper was the best example for the term “ Perennial underachiever”. His career was filled with lots of love, hope and above all disappointment.
Hooper probably did not do full justice to his abundant talent but he has done enough to be remembered and celebrated by cricket fans of this era.