Very rarely do you come across a player with unbelievable power. Yet, it looked as if Carl Hooper was merely caressing the ball away © Getty Images
Very rarely do you come across a player with unbelievable power. Yet, it looked as if Carl Hooper was merely caressing the ball away © Getty Images

Carl Hooper, born December 15, 1966, was one of the cleanest strikers of the cricket ball in the modern era. Coming from a region that is known to produce batsmen with their trademark flair, Hooper was yet another batsman with that typical Caribbean style. Nishad Pai Vaidya looks back at the career of the former West Indian captain who was an able all-rounder with a particularly noticeable bowling style.

The nonchalance with which Carl Hooper could smash a cricket ball left spectators awestruck and bowlers bewildered. That he did not fulfil his potential at the highest level is a mystery and he remained an enigmatic figure during his time at the top.

Hooper made his Test debut for the West Indies at Mumbai on December 11, 1987. It is interesting to note that he played his first innings on his 21st birthday — a few days later. The West Indian line-up still boasted of some legends such as Viv Richards, Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes. Thus, Hooper was walking into a formidable side — with promise to carry forward its legacy in the years ahead.

The promise was evident when he smashed a hundred in only his second Test — at the iconic Eden Gardens in Kolkata. Here was a man who could effortlessly smash the bowling, bowl a few useful overs and was a fantastic fielder. While he was more renowned for his batting, he could contribute with his off-breaks. Perhaps his hopping delivery stride is what made his bowling more famous.

Very rarely do you come across a player with unbelievable power. Yet, it looked as if Hooper was merely caressing the ball and working it away. Some of the shots he would play through the off side looked as if he had merely touched them. It didn’t matter if it was a spinner or a fast bowler, he played them with similar nonchalance and ease.

Numbers do tell the story and in Hooper’s case, they do reflect a failure to play to ones highest potential. Here are his numbers in both formats:

M Runs Avg 100s 50s Wkts Bowl.Avg
Tests 102 5762 36.46 13 27 114 49.42
ODIs 227 5761 35.34 7 29 193 36.05

An average in the mid-thirties in both formats shows that Hooper didn’t fulfil his talent. A player of his calibre should have averaged a lot more and scored many more runs. A number of cricketers pointed out that he could play some of the most unbelievable shots and also get out in the softest of methods. This video is a true account of what the other cricketers felt about the Hooper conundrum.

And then, there were his innocuous but effective bowling, and superlative slip catching skills. Hooper was the first to reach the 5,000 run-100 wicket-100 catch treble in both Tests and ODIs. Even today Jacques Kallis is the only other person to have done the same.

During his career, it wasn’t only his inability to translate his performances that frustrated West Indian fans. His withdrawals from the West Indies team on two occasions left them angry as it came when the team would have needed its senior player the most. He withdrew from the squad for the 1996 World Cup — one during which West Indies came agonisingly close to qualifying for the finals.

In 1999, Hooper dropped out of the World Cup squad yet again and also announced his retirement from international cricket. However, the reasons were emotional this time as his young son wasn’t keeping well and his family needed him. At 32, one felt Hooper’s career was over as he headed towards a different direction.

Then came one of the most unexpected moves. Hooper returned to the West Indies setup in early 2001 — that too as captain. West Indies were going through a bad phase and they entrusted the responsibility on Hooper to take them through. He had to lift this team and make them do justice to his talent – something he had to do as an individual as well.

It can be said that the responsibility of captaincy brought the better out of him. On his return he was more consistent and he averaged close to 46 in Test cricket. He held the reins for almost two years until the 2003 World Cup — where West Indies were knocked out in the first round. In the aftermath of that tournament, there was a lot of talk surrounding his future. The team management retained him in the squad as a player for the Test series against Australia. Hooper dropped out yet again and this time he said that it was to allow a younger player in. Those were the final curtains on his international career.

After international retirement, Hooper played for Lancashire in County Cricket and his last official game was in 2004. He has now settled in Australia with his family. The West Indian supporter will always wonder what this talent could have achieved.

(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and an analyst, anchor and voice-over artist for the site’s YouTube Channel. He shot to fame by spotting a wrong replay during IPL4 which resulted in Sachin Tendulkar’s dismissal. His insights on the game have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. He has also participated on live TV talk-shows on cricket. Nishad can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nishad_44)