Carl Hooper: A delight for sore eyes, yet ruthlessly violent  © Getty Images
Carl Hooper: A delight for sore eyes, yet ruthlessly efficient © Getty Images

November 7, 1994. The match at Visakhapatnam started amidst confusion, when the West Indian team kit luggage arrived late at Indira Priyadarshini Stadium, Visakhapatnam. Then Navjot Sidhu scored a hundred, and West Indies were docked an over due to the prevalent laws. In what seemed a lost cause, Carl Hooper lit up the ground in fading lights, taking West Indies to the brink of victory. Abhishek Mukherjee recalls a day of incompetent management, faulty laws, a diligent hundred, a magnificent counterattack, and a finish that went down to the last ball.

India were in with a serious chance of claiming victory when Curtly Ambrose opted out of the 1994-95 tour. West Indies were led by Ambrose’s partner-in-crime Courtney Walsh, who had earlier visited the country in 1987-88. The centre of attraction, of course, was Brian Lara — and his contest for supremacy with Sachin Tendulkar.

The ODIs followed a bizarre schedule. West Indies beat India by 96 runs at Faridabad; India hit back with an 8-run win at Wankhede, but the bigger setback for the local fans was the fact that Tendulkar had registered two ducks.

Between the second and third ODIs, the organisers sandwiched the Wills World Series — a triangular tournament featuring India, West Indies, and New Zealand. India won the trophy beating West Indies at Eden Gardens, and all seemed well with Tendulkar winning Man of the Series as well as Man of the Match in the final.

Then came the third ODI of the near-forgotten series — at Visakhapatnam. Though the tie came 18 days after the second ODI, it had been only two days since the teams had faced last. To make things worse, the Eden Gardens match was a day-night affair, which was not the case in Visakhapatnam.

This meant that there was a solitary day between the two matches. In the greed for milking the ODI cow to its fullest, the administrators were probably not keen on keeping the players in mind. After all, they had two sponsors — Wills for the triangular series and Pepsi for the bilateral contest.

The usual Indian Airlines (IA) Calcutta-Bhubaneswar-Madras flight was routed through Visakhapatnam. IA made sure both teams — and kits of the Indian players — reached Visakhapatnam. Unfortunately, the same was not true for the West Indian kits, which ended up in Madras. Walsh and Mohammad Azharuddin waited for the toss for an hour. Not that they minded after the relentless cricket and travel.

The contest was eventually a 44-over affair. Walsh asked India to bat. After the match, Azhar would confess at the press-conference: “I was surprised they put us in.” However, Walsh stuck to his decision: “It was a fine decision going by the good batting wicket, albeit a slow one. I expected to chase any target set by India.”

Indians go berserk

Walsh entrusted young fast bowler Barrington St Aubyn Browne with the first over ahead of himself. Walsh later explained: “In Calcutta, Cuffy did not bowl well. Barrington Browne bowled with the new ball today because we are trying to create a competition among the players in the team so that they will fight for their spots.”

The decision did not work. Ajay Jadeja went after Browne from the start on a pitch that lacked bounce. However hard Browne tried, Jadeja kept driving him off the front-foot; he added 64 in 13 overs with Tendulkar before Anderson Cummins had him caught-behind for a 54-ball 38.

Tendulkar and Navjot Sidhu continued with the flow. After the former fell to Carl Hooper (Cummins took an excellent catch at long-off) for a well-paced 64-ball 54, Azhar took centrestage to play one of those cameos. Vedam Jaishankar wrote in The Indian Express: “The artiste supreme once again showed that he could wield the bat like a magic wand as he squeezed the ball into vacant spaces with ease.”

Sidhu pulled a muscle after reaching 93, and Jadeja was summoned as runner. With time running out, Walsh threw the ball to Keith Arthurton to speed up proceedings. By the time Azhar fell for a 42-ball 45, the pair had added 113 in just over 12 overs, and Sidhu had reached his fifth ODI hundred.

In the process Sidhu became the first Indian to score 5 ODI hundreds (Ravi Shastri and Krishnamachari Srikkanth had 4 apiece). He finished on 114 not out from 103 balls, then the highest score by an Indian against West Indies, going past Srikkanth’s 112. India finished on 260 for 4.

The cut-off for West Indies to bowl their 44 overs was 1.26 PM. They could squeeze in 42. Match referee Raman Subba Row sanctioned them an over’s ‘grace’ (time had been lost due to Sidhu’s injury), but not the other over.

As per the prevalent laws, this meant that West Indies had bowled 43 overs, which would be the number of overs in which they would have to score 261. An asking rate of 6.07 was seriously steep at that time.

On a side note, Browne finished with 5-0-41-0.

A bright start

Phil Simmons (51 in 77 balls) and Stuart Williams (49 in 60) provided a decent start, adding 86 for the opening stand. Young Venkatesh Prasad, who had replaced Kapil Dev after the Faridabad ODI (the great man never played again), was hit out of the attack.

Though Javagal Srinath maintained a tight line, Manoj Prabhakar took some blows as well. With Lara and Hooper to follow, it seemed West Indies were on track. Just when it seemed the Indian bowlers would never break through, Azhar threw down the stumps at the bowler’s end to run Williams out.

Runs dried up thereafter. Lara took his time, while Simmons lost his flow after Williams’ dismissal. Tendulkar, bowling medium-pace, hit timber, sending him back. Lara (39 in 55 balls) struggled on the slow-paced wicket. He finally skied one off Prabhakar, reintroduced into the attack, and was caught by Venkatapathy Raju on the edge of the circle.

178 for 3. Arthurton began aggressively before Anil Kumble snared him for an eight-ball 13. Walsh promoted Cummins to slog, but he perished first ball, trying to run three. Roland Holder fell first ball to Prabhakar.

Then, to everyone’s surprise, Walsh walked out himself. He was bowled almost immediately by Kumble, for 3. From 202 for 3 West Indies slumped to 230 for 7.

The finishing moments

Junior Murray, mysteriously held back till this point, was next. While all this was happening, Hooper had not stopped his onslaught. The asking rate kept mounting — for he could not score from both ends — but still the match seemed to be slipping away from India’s grip.

Meanwhile, confusion reigned. Hooper was, for some reason, under the impression that they were allotted 44 overs. In fact, Walsh admitted after the match: “We were caught up in the excitement of the chase and forgot to inform him until too late.” If the administration was unprofessional, the team management was no less.

Poor Hooper got to know of the match situation in the dying moments. Not that it had an impact on his demeanour. An astonished Jaishankar wrote: “What manner of man is this Carl Hooper? Totally unflappable, he revealed nerves of steel as he went about this task with a scintillating repertoire of silken strokes.” Carl Hooper: An enigma who could’ve done a lot more at the highest level

It came down to the last ball. West Indies needed 7 for a win, and 6 for a tie; unfortunately, Hooper could manage only a couple. West Indies lost by 4 runs as a dejected Hooper, unbeaten on 74 from 47 balls, threw his bat in despair, leaving the spectators at the ground confused — for no public announcement had been made regarding the reduction of overs.

A fuming Walsh came out lashing at ICC: “The team bowling second is protected by the law. Even if they bowl short there is no punishment.” There was substance in what Walsh said, but that hardly accounted for the carelessness of the think-tank that never bothered to inform Hooper when there was time in hand.

What followed?

– IA Managing Director PC Sen ordered a probe into the matter, ordering Visakhapatnam IA Station Manager and Madras IA Airport Manager to file reports. IA also provided a special officer to escort the teams to Cuttack to prevent further mishap.

– India won by 8 wickets at Cuttack and by 5 runs at Jaipur, taking the series 4-1. The fifth ODI was similar to the third: once again Hooper gave the Indians charge before he fell for a dazzling 88-ball 84.

– India won the first Test at Wankhede as well, and held on to the lead at Nagpur. However, West Indies bounced back at Mohali, squaring their series and keeping their unbeaten run in the longer format intact — till then.

– Browne finished his career with 2 wickets from 4 ODIs at 78 apiece.

Brief scores:

India 260 for 4 in 44 overs (Sachin Tendulkar 54, Navjot Sidhu 114*, Mohammad Azharuddin 45) beat West Indies 256 for 7 in 43 overs (Phil Simmons 51, Stuart Williams 49, Carl Hooper 74*) by 4 runs.

Man of the Match: Navjot Sidhu.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Chief Editor at CricketCountry and CricLife. He blogs here and can be followed on Twitter here.)