Carl Hooper: West Indies cricket is on the way up
A one-nil victory Test series victory against lowly Zimbabwe, and a triangular final win against professional big stage flops India, is not the kind of success that the West Indians of yesteryear would boast about, but captain Carl Hooper is convinced that the team has turned the corner.
Carl Hooper,left, and Ricky Skerritt
The Caribbean has watched in horror as their once great team, which had arrogantly and stylishly dominated world cricket for two decades, started a painful decline in the mid-1990's, from world beaters to international whipping boys. The process reached its humiliating nadir when they were dismissed for 54 in Lords and 63 in Leeds last year against an efficient but no means special English side.
It appeared that Carl Llewellyn Hooper, who had played with the team in its pomp, could no longer stomach failure when, on the eve of the 1999 World Cup, he called it a day and disappeared Down Under to play club cricket. Then, in March this year, after a prolific Busta Cup performance for Guyana, he came out of retirement and was immediately and controversially inserted as captain. He was given responsibility for leading the side out of a spiral of failure; a process that he firmly believes is well underway.
Beads of sweat running down his forehead, as he sat in the shade after the end of the teams three-hour session at the Sinhalese Sports Club, he didn't tell the rastas back home to start cranking up the bass and rolling their sound systems through the streets in triumphant expectation, but he offered West Indian supporters everywhere a cheering puff of hope.
"I can see that our young players are developing," he said. "In two to three years this side will be something to be reckoned with. There will be ups and downs, but we can get stronger and better and bring this side back to what it once was.
"We haven't done too badly in the last 6-7 months. We began with a home series against South Africa and even though we didn't win it, we were more competitive (West Indies had been pummeled five-nil in South Africa) and then had a good African tour.
"From the South African tour we have been trying players who would form the nucleus of the 2003 world cup squad and I think we have gone a long way towards identifying certain players. The likes of Chris Gayle, Marlon Samuels and Ramnaresh Sarwan are very exciting prospects.
"We lost a lot of stars in recent times, including the likes of Greenidge, Haynes, Walsh and Ambrose, but I am sure these youngsters will soon be able to fill their shoes.
"It is hard to say how quickly these young players will develop, but I can see that they are. You only have to look at guys like Chris (Gayle) and others and you can see that they have become better players."
The West Indies now faces a tough challenge against Sri Lanka in their backyard. The pitches are unlikely to suit the West Indian fast bowlers and Sri Lanka are full of confidence after their recent series win against India.
"Sri Lanka could be a good test for us," agrees Hooper. "But playing the likes of Muralitharan is what Test cricket is all about. We have come-up against some world-class bowlers in recent times and I don't think we need to get too worried.
"It's a challenge for the younger players, but it's also a good tour for them to figure out how to play world class spinners and, if they get some runs, it will do wonders for their confidence."
Ricky Skerritt, team manager for the last 19 months, is also confident about the West Indies future: "I have seen a lot of progress and I am confident that in 12-24 months the world is going to be pretty impressed with what they see coming out of the West Indies."
"We have been trying to bring in some systems and standard formats so we could have greater planning and continuity, which tended to be an area of weakness in the past. It's a steep learning curve and you cannot create cricketers overnight, but if you prepare scientifically, properly and appropriately then you are helping them come through quicker."
Neither Hooper or Skerritt pretend the garden is all rosy, but their upbeat early tour talk appears convincing. Now, though, the cricketers must follow.