Carl Hooper bats

Oh so fine: Hooper bats in Port-of-Spain, 1990

© Getty Images
30

Hate to Love

Carl's mighty promise

And the mightier disappointment

BC Pires

The 1990s, the Queen's Park Oval, West Indies playing - India, if memory serves, but mine is more likely to spit in my soup - and Carl Hooper slid down the wicket, like a cobra on cocaine, to lift some poor sap - Anil Kumble? - back over, first his head, then long-off's, then ours in the press box, which fell silent, everyone listening for the ball crashing onto the roof, except we did not hear it: either it was caught unseen on the top tier of the then Republic Bank Youth Stand or the ball cleared the peaked media building roof, sailed across St Clair Avenue and landed unheard in the grass of then King George V (now Nelson Mandela) Park.

It might have been the stroke that inspired the young Kieron Pollard, today's hardest hitter, whom I like to imagine sitting that day, open-mouthed, in the Schoolboy's Stand; but however far anyone hits the ball, no one, then or since, could match Carl's careless, flowing grace in that accelerated, unpredictable glide down the wicket. Australian spin legend Shane Warne even when he too was hit clear out of the ballpark, publicly admired the athletic elegance of the man his captain Steve Waugh included in his 100 Best Cricketers list.

The Oval crowd, which back then knew a bit more about cricket and a bit less about how to get on TV by wearing embarrassing outfits, went crazy. Slowly the cheering subsided and Hooper tapped his bat. The person sitting next to me (Tony Cozier? Christopher Martin-Jenkins? Peter Roebuck? I can't ask those three now) leaned towards me and asked, "Do you know how you can tell Carl Hooper is going to be out next ball? He looks to be in astonishing form."

It wasn't the next ball, but it wasn't that much longer before Hooper, who on that form ought to have made a double-century, was slouching back to the pavilion - and even then with the unconsidered grace of the ballerina turning heads in the supermarket - out for one of the many unmemorable scores that lowered his Test average from over 50 to the mid-30s.

None of the modern West Indies players who habitually throw away their wickets, even Marlon Samuels, can hold a candle to Carl when it comes to letting us down

There was never a cricketer who looked as good as Hooper. Next to him, Jacques Kallis, the only other man to have scored 5000 runs, taken 100 wickets, held 100 catches and collected 100 caps in both Tests and ODIs, seems an oaf. In the slips or covers, players like Jonty Rhodes, Gus Logie and AB de Villiers may have approached Carl Hooper at his best - and all three would probably admit that Hooper looked better; but those men, and most others, with only a fraction of his ability, consistently did better.

This was an athlete with a physique so fine, they wouldn't have to Photoshop his image for the Carl Hooper video game: broad shoulders, prominent chest, ridiculously narrow waist, a six-pack before the term was popular, long, strong limbs rippling with muscle, and all of it wrapped in an elegance more befitting of a gymnast, if not a ballet dancer. Indeed, you have to leave humankind altogether to find his natural physical comparisons: a barracuda slicing through the water; a cheetah racing so fast it seems not to be moving at all - or even the jeté-jumping gazelle it chases. Carl Hooper could get out caught off a thick top edge more stylishly than most batsmen could late-cut between the slip and the wicketkeeper.

And he did. Often. Get out stylishly.

It was as enraging to tally his score as it was enthralling to watch him bat, however long or short his innings might be; and it was usually not just too short, which you might forgive, but shorter than it ought to have been, which you could not forget. Just watching him walk towards the wicket, swinging his bat like a baton, you could hear, in your mind's ear, the string section being tuned for a symphony - which was almost always not just left unfinished but ended before its own overture!

All too many Hooper innings were shorter than they ought to have been

All too many Hooper innings were shorter than they ought to have been Adrian Murrell / © Getty Images

After his first few appearances at the Oval, as he walked to the middle, you would hear, from the then-knowledgeable crowd, what sounded at first like an affectionate contraction of his surname - "Hoops" - until you realised people were dismissively predicting the usual, unnecessary, entirely avoidable way he would soon get himself out: Oops!

But there were and are many West Indian cricketers who I could theoretically hate to love ahead of Carl. The great Viv Richards, e.g., who could have grounded a criminal charge of chewing gum with intent, seemed not to notice that Brian Lara could carry his bat as easily as he could towels and water bottles.

None of the modern West Indies players who habitually throw away their wickets, even Marlon Samuels, the closest I've seen to Hooper in unrealised potential, can hold a candle to Carl when it comes to letting us down. Because no one I've ever seen was potentially as good as Carl Hooper. Not Viv, not the legendary Sir Garry, not the otherworldly Kanhai, who caused a generation of West Indian sons to be named Rohan and handed a cricket bat in the crib. Not even Lara, who took back the record from Matthew Hayden just to prove that he could, or Mikey Holding or Malcolm Marshall or Curtly Ambrose or Courtney Walsh, all of whom could take ten wickets for fewer runs when needed most.

Carl Hooper was beauty and grace personified. In most of the cricket world, that beauty would have been nurtured, that grace finessed, that explosive potential developed carefully, so as not to set it off prematurely and waste it. In the West Indies, though, our interest is in denying potential, in stifling possibility, not in shaping it. You couldn't run successful slave societies for 300 years without acquiring the knack, and the habit has stuck.

Every time Carl Hooper walked to the wicket, he filled me with the hope that makes all West Indians go on, even as our little economies grind to a halt

Every time Carl Hooper walked to the wicket, he filled me with the hope that makes all West Indians go on, even as our little economies grind to a halt. Because I could see in Carl his beauty, because he had shown it to me himself, so often, over so many games, in a century in his second Test, in yet another impossible catch in the covers, in awe-inspiring sixes; in his grace, I saw our own hope.

And, too many times, the glory that should have been his slipped away from him because he lacked the concentration, or the professionalism, or whatever it is he had to lack that day to be sure he would not do as well as he ought to.

He would be shot down before he could soar. And usually it was he who'd pulled the trigger.

You could line up all our greats and none of them would be as great a disappointment to me as Carl Hooper - because Carl was the most West Indian of them all. Carl Hooper is me; if I ever stopped loving him, I'd have to hate him.

BC Pires is a Trinidadian writer living in Barbados with one wife, two kids, three cats, four dogs and a parrot. He writes about cricket from beyond the boundary

 

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  • POSTED BY Cricinfouser on | November 22, 2016, 7:32 GMT

    What a tragedy! What a pity! What great regrets! I am a great fan and admirer of the great West Indian batsmen of the past, such as Sobers, Headley, Weekes, Walcott, Worrell, Walcott, Richards, Kanhai, Lara, and others. I also recognize the talent and greatness of many international batsmen. But the batsman I would most rather pay good money to watch bat is Carl Hooper. I would rather pay to watch Hooper make just 100 runs than to watch almost any other batsman make 300 runs (with the slightly possible exceptions of Sobers and Richards). The exquisitely sweet timing of Hooper's shots, the sheer aesthetic artistry of his strokes, the ease and the disdain with which he sometimes dispatched both fast bowlers and sinners alike, the way in which he made it all look so simple and easy is a pure joy and delight to behold. Hooper's strokes should be used as illustrations for any cricket manual on batting. A pity he left us feeling unfulfilled. Stanley A George III. Bolans, Antigua

  • POSTED BY Jpizel on | November 21, 2016, 14:21 GMT

    ROSH000 ON Hooper had more potential than viv. lara, sobers, kanhai, you get what i mean. Hooper is the only west indian to look comfortable against reverse swing my friend. Lara hit a few odi centuries and a near hundred vs akram and waqar(96 bowled by a spinner ironically) and viv scored a hundred vs imran in pos but they never looked totally at ease. I saw hooper in barbados hit akram for two fours in an over, akram who rarely bowled it, resorted to a bouncer that was emphatically hooked for six. All batsmen go through a period where they struggle again a particular bowler: viv vs lillee, lara vs mcgrath, tendulkar vs mcgrath and kohli vs andreson. I've never seen hooper struggle or beaten for pace, ive seen gim giving his wicket away, i saw him give it however, too many times

  • POSTED BY Raghuvir Khanna on | November 21, 2016, 3:20 GMT

    Never saw anyone dominate Anil Kumble like Hooper could.looked real comfortable .Inzy would be a distant second in that list of batsmen who played Kumble well.talk about stats not doing someone justice.The line was probably made keeping Hooper in mind.But life not a just a bunch of numbers.Its about experiences. So thank you for the memories

  • POSTED BY Alex Alleyne on | November 20, 2016, 21:41 GMT

    Hooper, Rowe, Samuels and Williams all very pleasing to the eye and all came up short for WI.

  • POSTED BY rosh000 on | November 20, 2016, 21:40 GMT

    Carl Hooper. Ah, what a player he should have been, though I do not think he had more potential than Viv or Sobers or Kanhai but he did seem to have that elegant grace about him, more than the three greats mentioned. David Gower, Mark Waugh, VVS Laxman, Mahela Jayawardene were some of the others of the past three decades who come to mind. But Hooper was even more elegant. Sadly for the West Indies and for pure cricket lovers, he just seemed to throw it all away when looking totally dominant.

  • POSTED BY cheguramana on | November 20, 2016, 18:15 GMT

    I have 2 particularly vivid memories of Carl Hooper. One was a Test series when England visited in 1998; there was a shimmy down the track and whiplash drive for four. Hooper did very well in that series, which Windies won 3-1 (i think). The other was when India visited Windies. Hooper was the captain (was Lara injured ?); Sachin and Saurav were batting to draw the Test (& series). Phil Collins was the bowler and Hopper made him change his bowling side often : around the wicket, then straight; that and something else distracted Sachin and Collins had him LBW. I thought him a canny/cunning captain to trap Sachin that way. Never seen Saurav so distraught on the field, he lashed out at the bowling and perished. India lost the Test and Series (1-2). There was one other instance i recall : when Kallis out-thought him and suckered him into reaching for a wide ball, getting caught in the slips. All in all, a delight to watch. Some rumours of ego clash with Lara, cutting career short.

  • POSTED BY analyseabhishek on | November 20, 2016, 18:04 GMT

    I fully concur with Pires! The way Hooper batted (I'm from India so mostly saw him batting here only), he almost never, ever looked like getting out. A guy like him deserved to be in the category of greatest ever. I also remember Kapil Dev waxing eloquent about his batsmanship during an ODI in 1994 when he scored an unbeaten 74 in 47 balls (lightening in those days). I felt the same about Mark Waugh as well. While playing in India, it always seemed to me that he got himself out- no bowler seemd to be having much trouble for him! May be this is the price of 'beauty' and 'gracefulness'. In reality, a batsmen becomes susceptible to succumbing to differents kinds of bowlers or deliveries. And in Cricket statistics, it all gets counted as dismissals.

  • POSTED BY Ram2212 on | November 20, 2016, 16:19 GMT

    Carl Hooper and Mark Waugh were two of my favorites who made viewers feel that playing cricket is very simple and easy. They carried out their business on the field in a very non-serious, no-nonsense mode. Both of them were great all-round fields, especially amazing slip catchers. Both of them bowled useful off-spin, often disrupting the settled batsmen. Both of them were effortless hitters of the ball all around the wicket. Both also did not achieve what their talent promised.

    Hooper and Lara batting together was one amazing scenery those days. Both of them so good at dispatching balls to the boundaries, even the good balls bowled by bowlers. If only Hooper had played to his potential, Lara would have ensured that West Indies converted their losses into at least draws.

  • POSTED BY thestunner316_15 on | November 20, 2016, 8:40 GMT

    he was a pretty player wasnt he... he did reinvent himself after he came back from retirement in 2002/03, he did bat a lot better and captained west indies with grace in those years... they were unlucky not to qualify for the super sixes... but in my mind Mark Waugh was the most graceful player of all time... He had style written all over everything that he did... And the way he caught in the slips one handed was just mind blowing...

  • POSTED BY elsmallo on | November 20, 2016, 0:32 GMT

    I have stronger memories of the later Hooper, slightly overweight and out of keeping with the modern cricketer, and as captain during a turbulent period for West Indies where Lara was the one dropping in and out of the team. I saw him get 70-odd as captain in a Test against South Africa at Bridgetown in the early 2000s, he batted with Lara for a while, I remember him cutting the ball powerfully. I think Hooper was evocative of a distinctive kind of cricketer - the languid, graceful type, a quiet man who could nonetheless crash the ball around with ease. The fact that he seemed a pretty nice, unaffected, ego-light fellow made him likeable - unlike the 'bad boy' posturer Samuels. The fact he so ofter flattered to deceive just meant you had to watch every ball because it might be over any minute. In that same match I remember Cullinan and Pollock scored hundreds; you wanted it to be over any minute but they ground on and on and on.

  • POSTED BY Cricinfouser on | November 19, 2016, 17:11 GMT

    Carl was the model of mediocre consistency. If every West Indian batsman can give 30 odd runs on every occasion, we will win more matches.

  • POSTED BY tappee74 on | November 19, 2016, 13:14 GMT

    Reading the posts,it is clear that people recognized his finesse,grace and beauty,but still not believe he is the best. Of course one is entitled to his opinion. I saw the mention of Lawrence Rowe whom I saw bat,he was phenomenal,but did not last long. What about the mighty Lara and Richie Richardson? Rohan Kanhai was miraculous and gracious,remember the six that lands him on his buttocks? Naming kids Rohan had to be an inspiration. Gavaskar who was a classy act named his son Rohan . As classy as Hooper was,there are bats around the world whose impeccability and charisma cannot go unchallenged. I have seen Hooper in his glory and for me he was awesome if not the best.

  • POSTED BY madhuiyer on | November 19, 2016, 11:14 GMT

    Yes he batted beautifully, he played so many small pretty ones. And as super fit

  • POSTED BY Tests-are-best.Bounderno:6 on | November 19, 2016, 7:26 GMT

    Once again we are treated to a beautifully written article about a cricketer. I have been following our wonderful game for a long time both as a player and spectator but now get as much pleasure from reading about it as I ever did. As a subject, Carl Hooper has brought out the best in Mr B C Pires and if you had never seen him play, as I fortunately did, you would now know all about this outstanding player who gave so much pleasure with doses of utter despair when he once again threw it away. Such is genius.

  • POSTED BY B.C.G on | November 19, 2016, 4:30 GMT

    The JP Duminy of the 1990s. Complete with useless bowling.

  • POSTED BY nareshgb1 on | November 19, 2016, 3:05 GMT

    I absolutely knew exactly all these things about Hooper........I just never found the words for what I felt. Beautifully written.

    I remember the tension of egging him on every time he came out........come on, get that average to 40 you.....

    Hooper's batting was beyond beautiful - Mark Waugh was a distant second. Damn you Carl, damn you.

  • POSTED BY Randy Bridgeman on | November 19, 2016, 3:03 GMT

    Superb talent as everyone will attest, but your classic underachiever. High on promise, low on delivery. I'll take style/class plus run production every time over just plain elegant shots. Hooper's 36 average in 100+ Tests doesn't cut it for me. Nevertheless, I used to like watching him bat in his prime.

  • POSTED BY DextersLab on | November 19, 2016, 2:53 GMT

    He was an absolute treat to watch. I remember his score heavily and elegantly against India. Getting him out was a big relief then because he was very consistent that series. But to come to think of it, he was just not elegant, he had great skills in negotiating against pace and spin. While some may come to compare his stylishness to that of Rohit Sharma, Carl got out because of his own rather than his weakness.

  • POSTED BY MaruthuDelft on | November 19, 2016, 2:42 GMT

    Carl Hooper's appearance and batting style was exceptional but have all forgotten David Gower? Gower was way better.

  • POSTED BY gwd80 on | November 19, 2016, 1:50 GMT

    Still though, he was awesome. Probably my favourite player, even though he drove me wild. And I was about 13 at the time. And I'm from Wales. So why would I care about Carl Hooper? Because he's awesome!! He hit two straight sixes off Phil De Freitas at Headingley in 1994 I think. I remember them so vividly. WI were only chasing a small total (they were playing 1990s England after all) and romped it. That was a great example of how good he could be - but often wasn't. He used to rip county sides to shreds when he played for Kent. And he was so cool too. Yes, fair play, I love Carl Hooper. http://www.espncricinfo.com/ci/engine/current/match/63684.html

  • POSTED BY Thesonofg on | November 18, 2016, 22:46 GMT

    I have said this numerous times, cricket needs someone like Carl Hooper. We always long to see batsmen, not only making runs, but doing so elegantly. In that group, I rate Carl as second best. He was classic, truly classic. I, too, wished that he had made some longer innings and do hope that someone will step in his shoes, exhibiting comparable class. Sorry, I almost forgot; occupying number one place in that group demonstrating unbelievable class. He is Mr. Lawrence 'Yagga' Rowe.

  • POSTED BY gagarux on | November 18, 2016, 22:00 GMT

    What's the writer's point here?

    "In most of the cricket world, that beauty would have been nurtured, that grace finessed, that explosive potential developed carefully, so as not to set it off prematurely and waste it. In the West Indies, though, our interest is in denying potential, in stifling possibility, not in shaping it. You couldn't run successful slave societies for 300 years without acquiring the knack, and the habit has stuck."

    Too cute by half. Conflating the habits of slave masters with those of the enslaved in an attempt at self-deprecation is way off the mark. Not to mention the analogy does not work. Hooper's potential was not denied, or stifled by anyone but himself.

  • POSTED BY jpvallabh on | November 18, 2016, 21:08 GMT

    As many times as I think of Carl Hooper's batting the only quote from Sunil Gavaskar comes to my mind "If batting were a beauty contest, then Carl Hooper would be Miss World." Yes.. this quote comes from the Great Sunil Gavaskar

  • POSTED BY cricket_pass on | November 18, 2016, 20:45 GMT

    Sometimes we forget that sport, ultimately, is a spectacle. I'd rather remember Carl Hooper for what he did than what he could have done.

    His shimmy down the track to hit an off-spinner over mid-wicket should make it to the highlight reel of the most beautiful cricket shots ever played, should such a film ever be made.

  • POSTED BY tappee74 on | November 18, 2016, 20:18 GMT

    I love the writer's pristine description of the supposedly great Carl Hooper. Carl at the wicket made batting look so easy,yet in the middle of grace and charisma, a charged crowd goes from 100 to zero as he gives his wicket away. He has been the center of discussion from time to time and today will not be the last. I saw him hitting a six at Bourda in Guyana. The stroke was one of Carl's signature best.It fell way outside the ground and smashed the windscreen of a Benz belonging to the manager of The Bank Of Baroda. The manager said it was Ok, because it was Carl Hooper the best.It was also said that if batting had a miss world,Carl Hooper will wear the crown.

  • POSTED BY Stumay on | November 18, 2016, 18:42 GMT

    That was beautifully written. It really is only cricket and batsmen in particular that take us to such memorable highs and moments of utter breathtaking admiration then plunge us back down to despair and seething frustration. If a Carl Hooper didn't exist, cricket would have had to make him up to justify the nature of this fickle, glorious game.

  • POSTED BY cricfan37015843 on | November 9, 2016, 5:35 GMT

    I can't remember who said it, but the best quote I heard about Carl Hooper was:

    "If batting were a beauty contest, then Carl Hooper would be Miss World."

    Very true.