February 24, 2001

Hooper does star turn with the ball in Busta semi

Carl Hooper provided a timely reminder to West Indies selectors that he can take wickets as well as score runs after Guyana reduced England A to 218 for seven on the first day of the Busta International Shield semi-final at Bourda.

He took 4-24 from 19 overs to give his side first day honours when England A's batting, which had begun to look frail in the last match against Leeward Islands, once again proved disappointing.

Five of the batsmen played themselves in then suffered lapses in concentration to gift their wickets away with Hooper and fellow spinner Neil McGarrell the main beneficiaries accounting for six of the seven wickets.

The Guyana Cricket Board have written to the cricket authorities to lodge a complaint about Barbados taking the Busta Cup title when Guyana finished on equal points.

Despite the rules, which state the team with the most outright wins become champions in the event of a tie on points, Guyana feel they are worthy joint champions and their sense of entitlement was clearly manifest in their approach to today's semi-final.

It was a surprise however when Hooper won the toss and inserted England A on a pitch that promised assistance to the seamers only in the first hour. Mark Alleyne was quite happy with his choice and when openers Michael Powell and Ian Ward played steadily to pick off the runs against some early waywardness from the Guyana pace attack Reon King and Colin Stuart, it looked like the decision may backfire.

But after putting on 34 runs, with spinners already in action by the 14th over, Ward pushed defensively at a delivery from Test bowler Mahendra Nagamootoo and was caught having made 24.

Despite his remarkable start to the tour, in which he made 643 runs from nine innings, the last four knocks have produced a more modest 70 and he has been overtaken by the prolific Hooper who, going into this semi-final match, had notched up a total of 798 and was in with a chance of reaching 1,000 to earn the bumper US$50,000 prize on offer.

Powell played defiantly and with John Crawley added 54 for the second wicket and although Crawley was dropped at first slip while still on 12, he was unable to make the error a costly one and was taken at slip for the second 24 of the day giving Hooper his first wicket.

Five overs later, Powell was leg before to McGarrell though television replays suggested he had got bat to ball, and from then on the wickets tumbled at regular intervals with Vikram Solanki deceived by a ball from McGarrell that kept straight and Alleyne, who is in top form, falling for 24, edging Hooper to the wicketkeeper Vishal Nagamootoo, Mahendra's younger brother who was standing just inches away from the stumps.

The sight of Alleyne walking dolefully back to the pavilion with the score on 149 for five had the 10,000 strong crowd whooping in their applause for their skipper, who they believe will emerge as the new West Indies captain in weeks to come after his inevitable return to Test cricket, which is expected to be announced after the selectors meeting next weekend.

Nottinghamshire left-hander Usman Afzaal battled against the spinners for 33 but he too succumbed to a ball veering down the off side from Hooper that he elected to cut. Instead of clearing the field, it went straight to Nagamootoo at point and the whooping grew louder, as the crowd sensed an early conclusion to the England A innings.

But a partnership between Chris Schofield and Chris Read frustrated the crowd and the bowlers and by stumps, the total had moved onto 218, the pair adding a valuable 54 runs in the final session.

With the Busta first innings rule turning this game effectively into a one innings match, England A's first day effort was some way short of the target and the final three batsmen will have to hang around well into the afternoon tomorrow to stand any chance of qualifying for the final.