As the cricket world turns its attention to the bowling action of Sunil Narine, his coach at the Guyana Amazon Warriors is getting ready for the Caribbean Premier League where the West Indian spinner is set to be the fulcrum of their bowling attack. Carl Hooper, veteran of 102 Tests and 227 ODIs for the West Indies, will be leading the team when the tournament gets underway at the end of the June. When asked if he is worried that he will be without his star turn he said he remains hopeful that Narine will play a full part in the West Indies flagship domestic event.
“At this point in time I don’t think it is a major concern,” Hooper told me. “I get the feeling from all reports, this is what I have been reading, that hopefully he will be playing again before the IPL season is over. I understand that he took a test on the stock ball, which is the off spinner [in the last few days] and that gives me a lot of confidence.”
The readiness with which Narine underwent the testing suggests to Hooper that he thinks the problem is a minor one that can be easily rectified. “I am going to assume it is not something major that he feels can’t rectify almost immediately, hence the reason why he took the test again so quickly. So I remain optimistic that he will be playing again before the IPL season is out and then come and play for us at the CPL because he is a huge attraction to the crowd levels in the Caribbean and he is obviously one of the key members in our squad.”
Without Narine, the Amazon Warriors will still have the talents of Devendra Bishoo and Veerasammy Permaul in their squad, both of whom have played for the West Indies in the current Test series against England. The fact that the likes of Narine and Chris Gayle are not available for selection for these Tests has had an impact on the West Indies, something that Hooper says isn’t going to change any time soon.
As far as West Indies cricket goes we are not as fortunate as, say, an Indian, Australian or English board where we can contract our players and have them right through the current series against England at home,” Hooper said. “There is obviously a choice to be made now by the players, whether they want to be part of the lucrative IPL or do they want to stay home and play for the West Indies. Now I’ve got me views on that, but at the end of the day it is time we understand that the IPL is here to stay. Looking forward 5 to 10 years down the road we will have young players that have to make that decision again and ask themselves if they want to stay home and play a series or do I want to go and play for the Mumbai Indians or whatever franchise there is in India.
For Hooper there needs to be some planning that is put in place to allow the West Indies to come to terms with this new reality. “This is a matter for the West Indies board to deal with, and the sooner they can deal with it the better it is for us. As a West Indian I would love to see a full strength side playing Test, 50 over and 20 over cricket.”
The decline in West Indies fortunes in Test cricket is not anything new, in fact Hooper says the downward spiral began as far back as the 1993 loss of the Frank Worrell trophy to Australia. Despite this long standing trajectory Hooper is still optimistic. “We are beginning to see a little bit of green shoots, we are beginning to feel a bit optimistic for what we are seeing. I like the move with Jason Holder being one day captain. He is an exciting talent, he is young and he is going to be around for a long time. I just get the feeling they are trying to build something around people like Holder, Kraigg Brathwaite, Jermaine Blackwood from Jamaica who scored a hundred in the first Test. So you have a few young ones there, but at the end of the day I think we have to plan and we have to persist with them. A little bit of long term planning and a little bit of persistence and hopefully, fingers crossed, we can turn things around.”
When asked if he felt that the passion to play for the West Indies was as strong now as it was when he made his debut in the late 1980s, Hooper says he feels that the desire is still there amongst players from this archipelago of little bits of paradise.
“I think it is still strong. I don’t think anything has changed. I still think people are passionate and desperate to pull on the maroon cap and play for the West Indies. Cricket is still the number one sport in the Caribbean; you just have to look at the CPL competition. The crowds have been great and the cricket has been great,” he told me. “There is still the passion to play for the West Indies in whatever form, be it Test cricket or limited overs cricket. Obviously that would help if we were having a bit more success in the long form of the game.”
The interest in T20 does not signify a terminal decline in interest in the longer forms of the game as far as Hooper is concerned, and he doesn’t consider such a movement of fan interest as inevitable. “You have to give the CPL credit for the way they have put together the T20 competition in the Caribbean. The quality of players that they have been able to assemble over the years is getting stronger and I think it also helps that the West Indies have some of the best T20 players in the world and they are playing in the competition.”
This strength in talent has not always been on show in Tests, and for Hooper this is part of the reason for the decline in local interest. “When it comes to Test cricket you want to see your strongest eleven on the park at all times. You have to ask yourself the question if Narine was available for the West Indies would he be playing in these Tests, the answer is probably yes. If I was just a fan I would want to make sure I was seeing the best possible eleven players that we can put on the park at all times”
The biggest selection controversy in recent times has been the omission of Kieron Pollard and Dwayne Bravo from the World Cup squad, and while not wanting to be drawn into specifics, Hooper did express disappointment that it was not the best possible group of players who travelled to Australia and New Zealand.
“I can’t comment on the selection process, whatever happened or whatever transpired or the reasons that it happened, I don’t know. I still strongly believe that a full strength West Indies 50 over side would have competed with any side that they came up against during the recent World Cup. So from that perspective I was a little bit disappointed that we didn’t pick the best possible squad, but whatever the reasons that resulted in that I don’t know. It is just a shame.”
Carl Hooper is coach of the Guyana Amazon Warriors in the Limacol Caribbean Premier League. The Biggest Party in Sport runs from 20th June to 26th July.