Hooper delights with sparkling ton at Bourda
It took 15 years of Test cricket, one retirement, and 93 Tests before Carl Llewellyn Hooper repaid fans at his home ground at the Bourda Oval in Georgetown, Guyana with a handsome century. The 11th of his career, it could hardly have come at a better time - rescuing West Indies from 44/3 to a healthy 270/4 at the end of the first day's play of the first Test of this series.
Someone once famously said: "If batting was a beauty pageant, Hooper would be Miss World." Simply on the merit of today's innings, one would be hard-pressed to disagree. Beginning with an edge that was almost a nervous first step, Hooper grew in confidence, driving through the covers in the twinkle of an eye. The nimble footwork a veritable sashay down the ramp and silken timing the poise and elegance of the world's finest. An unbeaten 108 (226 balls, 14 boundaries) resulted - the third century in as many first class matches for the Guyana and West Indies skipper.
Dasgupta said before the start of this Test that it was imperative for him to improve in a hurry - and that this series could make or break his career. When Hooper laced Anil Kumble through cover-point to register three figures against his name, Dasgupta's heart would have, or at least should have, sunk to the bottom of his wicketkeeping boots. Having dropped the West Indian skipper off Srinath, from the very first ball he faced, the Bengal stumper was treated to an exhibition of fine batting.
Aesthetics apart, Hooper's innings assumes vital proportions in the context of the series. After winning the toss and electing to bat, things went badly wrong for the Windies. Chris Gayle (12), ever the dasher, delighted before nicking Srinath to the keeper. Stuart Williams (13) making a comeback, followed in Gayle's foot steps, crashing three boundaries before playing a false shot and being trapped plumb in front.
Then came the dismissal that gave the morning session to India. A buzz went across the ground as Brian Lara walked out to bat. The much-hyped contest between the flowing Lara blade and the Indian bowling was all set to begin, and lasted just five balls, thanks to umpire Daryl Harper. Prodding at a ball outside the off Lara brushed his pad, the resultant sound sending signals to all the Indian fielders. The appeal was vociferous and umpire Harper upheld it. Television replays suggested that the ball missed the outside edge by a bit. Lara was clearly unhappy with the decision - who wouldn't be, given out for a duck at the start of a series?
44/3 and the West Indies were looking down the barrel. And the Guyana brigade came straight to the rescue when called up to show some guts.
Ramnaresh Sarwan began the repair work, putting his head down, cutting out the risky shots and picking up runs at will. The attacking field slowly spread and run gathering became easier. With the composed Sarwan, Hooper settled down after a shaky start. The pair added an invaluable 113 runs for the fourth wicket before the tea interval destroyed young Sarwan's concentration. Returning from the break on 53 (180 balls, 6 fours) he drove Sarandeep Singh on the up and straight to Zaheer Khan at mid off.
Shivnarine Chanderpaul, another local boy, took over seamlessly where Sarwan left off. Clipping the ball off his pads in characteristic fashion, Chanders, as he is known, was positive. He disturbed the line and length of the bowlers, with Sarandeep Singh getting a bit of stick. Lashing 15 off one over from the offie, Chanderpaul took the initiative away from the tourists. A patient yet fluent unbeaten 57 resulted, studded with 10 boundaries, coming off 112 balls.
If anything was representative of the day's play, it was the 76th over. In the nervous nineties, Hooper looked keen to take on Kumble. The leggie did his best to keep things tight, sending the ball down wicket to wicket and flat. A couple of swishy sweeps disturbed the air around the batsman but failed to result in anything positive. The fourth ball of the over saw `King Carl' dance down the track, get to the pitch of the ball and deposit it with one neat swing into the stands over long-off. Amidst playing and missing, there was moments of sheer class, sheer joy.
No single moment was more poignant than the instant when Hooper reached three figures. The Clive Lloyd Stand erupted in unbridled joy, fans from other parts of the ground, exuberant but well behaved, made a small dash onto the playing area - running in about 20 yards in celebration before returning to their seats. And Hooper's wife, sitting in the stands, gestured out to the middle. "That's my man," she mouthed with pride, to a companion.
You can be sure, most of Guyana would have felt the same way of one of their favourite sons, as Hooper led West Indies to a strong position against India at the start of this series.