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.
“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 rededication ceremony last weekend.
It was a Test and international departure that ended without fanfare as Hooper, who generated lots of love and some ridicule from the West Indian fan base, left the sport without saying goodbye.
Without divulging many details, he hinted that plans were being made to ditch him although he was planning on continuing his career beyond 2003, the year he played his last game in West Indies colors.
“I had two operations on my two knees before the World Cup (2003), now tell me why would someone do that if they planning to stop playing? , the stylish right hand batsman asked rhetorically. “It would’ve made more sense to just play out the World Cup without having the surgeries and then quit afterwards. 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 as captain in Tests.
On his relationship with Lara which reportedly deteriorated during his final years in the team, Hooper preferred not to comment, merely stating 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 experience 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 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 made a new addition to his 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 one to watch, they have been doing well recently and have a number of outstanding players under a capable captain and coach,” he explained.
“Australia now is not the team they used to be without Warne (Shane) and McGrath, those 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 opined.
On the hand he sees Sri Lanka developing into a force being molded under new captain Mahela Jayawardene. “Malinga is raw and gritty (paceman) then there is Sangakara who is batting out of his skin while Taranga is one to reckon with and also Silva in the middle. With those and the proven match winners Jayasuria and 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”.
However, the former Guyana and West Indies captain is not ruling out the team he played 102 Tests and 227 One Day Internationals, predicting that they are one of either 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, 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 netted 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 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.
The once strong state championship there is in decline, Hooper feels.
“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 ex stars against the Rest of the World XI, a country where he is loved as a player more than any place else. And he did not disappoint, hitting a brilliant 46 at less than a run a ball and bagging four wickets in the 20/20 overs clash. It revived memories of the many classic innings he crafted like the unbeaten 102 in his second Test in India, the artistic 178 in Antigua against Pakistan or the day he put Warne to sword when with Lara he reeled off a 100-run partnership in less than a session at the said Kensington Oval.
And last Saturday all the negative memories of the player that ranged from his sudden retirement just before the 1999 World Cup, his involvement in the team standoff while en-transit to their first South Africa tour or his desire to prematurely leave the 1995 tour of England, were forgotten.
“If I were not conscious, I could easily have been mistaken for being in any other major cricket venue 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.