'Hoops' over hurdle
Carl Hooper put a lifetime of underachievement finally and firmly behind him yesterday, appropriately on the ground he has always called home.
His peerless 233 on the second day of the opening Cable & Wireless Test was not simply the highest innings by a West Indian at Bourda.
It was as much belated vindication for the thousands of Hooper's celebrating fellow Guyanese in the stands and his host of loyal fans throughout the Caribbean who have always been adamant that it was only a matter of time but for whom time was running short.
Hooper, now 35 and in his 93rd Test, brought an unsatisfactory average of 35 into the match, but has now joined only three other West Indies captains, Denis Atkinson, Clive Lloyd and Brian Lara, who have scored double-hundreds.
Incredibly, given the usually placid nature of the Bourda pitch and the great players who have batted on it, his was only the third Test double on the ground following the Trinidadian Clifford Roach's 209 against England in the inaugural Test in 1930 and the New Zealander Glenn Turner's 259 in 1972.
As was the case on the first day, when he, Ramnaresh Sarwan and Shivnarine Chanderpaul combined to rally the West Indies from the insecurity of 44 for three to 270 for four, it was again an all-Guyanse show.
Hooper and Chanderpaul, contrary in everything but their country of birth, extended their partnership from its overnight 113 to 293 against the lacklustre Indians whose bowling in the uncompromising conditions lacked penetration and whose tactics were short of imagination.
Chanderpaul's enterprising 140, studded with 23 fours, was his third Test hundred and his second at Bourda. No Guyanese has made as many at home, another staggering revelation given the quality of so many who have preceded him.
It was no less personally significant for the neat eft-hander that was the double for Hooper.
His appearances for the West Indies have been severely restricted by injury and illness in the past three years in which he has missed 17 Tests.
His misfortune clearly affected the self-confidence of a batsman once the most reliable in the team and his average plummeted from the mid-40s into the high 30s.
The fifth-wicket stand between the two was a Test record for all teams against India and the basis of a formidable total of 494 for seven when drizzle and fading light halted play with 21-and-a-half overs available.
Notwithstanding the placid pitch, greased-lightning outfield, inexperienced bowling and the presence of Sachin Tendulkar in the opposition ranks, it should be enough to put pressure on the Indians.
Hooper and Chanderpaul are the ideal combination, the former right-handed, all graceful power and sweet timing, the latter left-handed, short on finesse but with strong wrists, an eagle eye and a keen sense of placement.
Hooper had a scratchy start on the opening day, when he might have been out to his first ball and again when he was 10, but he was impeccable throughout yesterday.
Not one of the 172 balls he received in moving from 108 to his eventual 233 caused him any serious concern. He added two sixes and 15 fours and they came in all directions with strokes of every description.
There were deft cuts, savage pulls, lofted strokes off the legs, drives that took the breath away, neat paddle sweeps.
Chanderpaul was no less punishing, so confusing the Indian think tank that they briefly positioned a solitary leg-side fielder, at mid-on, for the medium-pacer Sanjay Banger to try to check him. The tactic was quickly abandoned as he slipped two fours to the vacant fine leg.
The left-hander did have an anxious moment or two. He was 94 when he edged the veteran leg-spinner Anil Kumble past slip's right hand to the boundary, clipping his next ball for three to reach his cherished landmark quarter-hour before lunch.
A smile, a raise of the bat and genuflection on the pitch marked his gratitude. After that, a dizzy spell that brought attention from trainer Ronald Rogers, a desperate dive to avoid a run out and a close lbw call from the left-arm Zaheer Khan were his only alarms.
Zaheer finally removed him lbw in the best spell of the day as Chanderpaul was beaten coming forward by his 290th ball. His 23 boundaries from the 290 balls be received were indicative of his form, the pitch, the lightning fast outfield and the bowling.
Zaheer quickly repeated the dose for Junior Murray and, at the opposite end, Hooper finally fell to Sarandeep Singh's spectacular tumbling catch running in from long-leg off the perserving Kumble.
Hooper had launched Kumble onto the top of the antiquated scoreboard at square-leg for his third six the ball before but found the top-edge attempting a repeat.
He occupied ten hours 35 minutes for 402 balls and tallied 29 boundaries in addition to his sixes, only one that sneaked through the slips early in the piece in the direction other than that intended.
He left to a standing ovation from fans who had waited 15 years for an exhibition such as this. It was far, far better late than never.