Hooper's brilliant all-round display puts Guyana in charge
The most exciting day's cricket in the Busta tournament so far saw England A's early afternoon advantage snatched away by an electric partnership between Guyana's Carl Hooper and Ramnaresh Sarwan.
In a packed Bourda stadium, the veteran of West Indies cricket and his young protegy added 157 for the fifth wicket to leave the game intriguingly balanced after two days in this Busta International Shield semi-final at Georgetown.
Hooper was finally dismissed in the over before stumps, just nine runs short of his century which not only deprived him of a $100,000 (Guyanese) prize, offered by a local pharmaceutical company if he made 100, but also left him with 111 runs still to get to win the big US$50,000 prize put up by the West Indies Cricket Board for the first Caribbean batsman to 1,000 runs.
His 91 from 136 balls was full of both power and subtlety as he punished the spinners with a confidence that has grown as he has run into the best form of his life. He was eventually out to a ball from Chris Schofield that came over the wicket and bounced into the rough, popping up high to give Vikram Solanki an easy catch running round from first slip to silly point.
By the time he departed, Guyana had recovered from their potentially disastrous position in the early afternoon of 33 for four in reply to England A's first innings total of 293.
At the fall of his wicket, they were in a more comfortable zone at 190 for five, still trailing England A by 102 but with Sarwan still at the crease, having made his sixth half-century of the season, the tourists still have much to do before they can claim victory at the half-way stage, which may earn them a place in the final.
Schofield spearheaded the action for much of the day when he added another 36 runs to his overnight total to close the innings unbeaten on 64. But he was involved in two run outs which saw Chris Read depart in the third over of the morning for 24 after gambling unsuccessfully on a risky single and then after making a stylish 32 from 69 balls, Alex Tudor was also dispatched by a fielder's rapid return.
"That was very disappointing," said Schofield afterwards. "The atmosphere was very loud so we were relying more on eye contact than hearing the calls. There was a quick second when you couldn't hear your partner and that's when we ran into trouble. These things happen and you apologise and get on with it but it is a pity it happened twice in the same day," he said.
There were two more near misses but Hooper missed a return from Mahendra Nagamootoo to let Tudor off the hook and Ryan Sidebottom made his crease by a whisker shortly before he was lbw to Hooper, a wicket that wrapped up the innings and gave Hooper figures of 5-49.
With Hooper, Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Sarwan in the Guyana line-up, the 293 total looked well short of a winning first innings one but a remarkable spell from the England A bowlers led to the demolition of the top order with four wickets falling for just six runs.
Graeme Swann captured opener Seonarine Chattergoo with an easy caught and bowled chance, then had Travis Dowlin caught at extra cover by Michael Powell for a duck. Chanderpaul, back from a three-month absence after injuring his foot in Australia, edged Tudor to the wicket-keeper Read, who took a brilliant catch just millimetres of the ground and Usman Afzaal took another excellent catch at third slip to dismiss Azumeel Haniff, opening Sidebottom's account in the match.
But then, to an overwhelming reception from his home crowd, Hooper arrived to partner the 18 year-old Sarwan. They played watchfully to tea but returned from the interval to inflict a major assault on the bowlers. In the first five overs, they blasted 37 runs to all parts of the ground, the Northamptonshire off-spinner Swann heaved over the boundary fence twice by the mighty Hooper.
The partnership was enthusiastically urged on by the crowd who were relishing the big hitting by two top-class batsmen but despite the onslaught, England A never gave up hope of breaking the stand with skipper Mark Alleyne maintaining pressure throughout with a regular rotation of his bowlers.
But they had to wait until the penultimate over of the day before they were rewarded with Hooper's wicket, which saw him depart to stunned disappointment from his doting supporters.
England A's bowling figures reflected a heavy day's work. Swann yielded just seven runs from his first six overs but by the close, 62 runs had been picked off his 13 overs after Hooper's brutal assault.
"Hooper and Sarwan attacked us and I think we were a bit stunned by that and let them get away to a 157-run partnership," said Schofield.
"But hopefully we can come back tomorrow and get them all out before they get to 290 and win on first innings.
"We knew that if got to 270, it would go right down to the last day and I think if we do get them out, even if they win first innings, there is still a lot to come. We are still confident we can get an outright win from this game," Schofield said.