Captain Hooper is happy with what he has

Captain Hooper is unrepentant at the apparent denial of a great West Indian legacy.

Tony Cozier

``This is the make-up we've been using for the past eight months, it's been working for us and we'll continue to use it,'' says Hooper.-— Pic. N. BALAJI

FOR the host of retired players, now cosily transferred to the television commentary box and swarming over South Africa like extras from Ben Hur, the most staggering sight of the World Cup has been West Indies' bowling dependent on a couple of casual spinners and a gentle medium-pacer for a third of their overs.

As Carl Hooper, Chris Gayle and Wavell Hinds trundle through their allotments, Tony Greig, Ian Botham, Ravi Shastri and others, whose mental scars from years of pounding at their hands of Clive Lloyd's fearsome pace quartets are still audible, shake their heads and wonder why they should have been born at the wrong time.

Captain Hooper is unrepentant at the apparent denial of a great West Indian legacy.

``This is the make-up we've been using for the past eight months, it's been working for us and we'll continue to use it,'' he said, endorsing the old adage that if it ain't broke, don't fix it. His point is based on present realities.

Since the exits of Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh in the past three years, bowlers of the requisite pace and experience have been in short supply.

Merv Dillon has emerged as the leader of the attack but his speed is in the mid-80 mph range, rather than mid-90s as Lloyd's were, and he has had only 76 one-day internationals - compared, for instance, to the other spearheads, Wasim Akram (351), Javagal Srinath (216), Chaminda Vaas (205), Shaun Pollock (180).

The fastest West Indies bowler in South Africa at present - not counting the still streamlined Michael Holding and Ian Bishop whose energies are now directed into the microphone - is Jermaine Lawson, the raw, 21-year-old Jamaican. But he was not chosen in the first two matches against South Africa and New Zealand.

The situation has led to the recall, after seven years, of 33-year-old Vasbert Drakes, a shrewd bowler of just above medium-pace who has accumulated valuable local knowledge over six seasons of provincial cricket in South Africa with Border.

Hooper has come to appreciate that while fast bowling stocks are low, the cupboard shelves are suddenly filling with a group of exciting young batsmen, the powerful left-handed opener Chris Gayle, 22, the stylish right-handers Ramnaresh Sarwan and Marlon Samuels, the six-hitter Ricardo Powell.

Added to Brian Lara, Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Hooper himself, it constitutes a strong case for the strategy of packing the batting, first used with stunning effect in the 3-1 victory over New Zealand in the one-day series in the Caribbean last June.

It was again the reason for the 4-3 triumph in the one-day series in India last November when Gayle amassed three hundreds, Samuels stroked an unbeaten 108 off 75 balls in the deciding match and there were three totals over 300 and three over 280.

There was further evidence of its success in the exhilarating opening match against South Africa here. Even after such a funereal start that they were 67 for two after 25 overs, they still got up to a match-winning 277 for five.

Lara's breathtaking 116, in his first innings of any significance since his illness in Sri Lanka last September, was the inspiration. But some of the most audacious strokes in the tournament so far were from the bats of Sarwan and Powell who raised 63 from the last 28 balls of the innings.

There is an obvious drawback to such an imbalance between bat and ball. It has been evident in both World Cup matches so far when Hooper relied on Gayle's flat off-spin over the closing overs.

Lance Klusener clubbed him for three sixes in one over in his 57 off 48 balls that almost won the match for South Africa and Andre Adams hit him for two in his unbeaten 35 off 24 balls that was crucial for New Zealand. But Hooper isn't yet budging on the unusual West Indian strategy. ``Until we get ourselves into serious trouble, that's the balance we'll go with,'' he said.