They call the shots

VIJAY LOKAPALLY

CARL HOOPER and Shivnarine Chanderpaul were interacting in the middle, making an intense picture, while charting the course of their innings. The Indian captain, looking concerned, also made an intense picture while marshalling his field.

V. V. KRISHNAN

Hooper and Chanderpaul, with contrasting styles, have a common goal.

Hooper is all grace and elegance as he times the ball sweetly and finds the gaps. There is no grimace on his face even when he belts the ball with awesome power. Chanderpaul, an ungainly sight for a left-hander, has the habit of adjusting his pads after an awkward sprint. But he gets his runs and that counts.

For Hooper, it is a journey to establish his credentials as a leader. For Chanderpaul, it is an eternal pursuit to showcase his potential, establish himself. These two taught the Indians an object lesson at Bourda in the first Test. It was an encore by them at the Kensington Oval.

The Indians had no clue how to deal with Chanderpaul. He just walks in briskly, full of confidence, surveys the field and takes charge instantly. He just relishes the Indian bowling and makes no secret about it.

Hooper is a class act. Though he is an underachiever in West Indian cricket, he is a man on a mission - his cricketing acumen guiding him through. He is out to prove that he has the qualities to lead the West Indies in international cricket. He has been doing an earnest job.

The Indians arrived in the Caribbean islands worrying about the ways to tame Brian Lara. To some extent Hooper too. But they forgot about Chanderpaul. But the left-hander from Guyana, proved he is a force to reckon with. In fact Hooper too hails from Guyana.

These two Guyanese have left a deep impression on the Indian bowlers. Hooper is known to be a quality batsman, but the responsibilities of captaincy have transformed his overall approach to the game, even though he shall regret the stroke that he played at Port of Spain when so much depended on him.

At the other end stood Chanderpaul, carrying the hopes of his team, but the left-hander fell short of completing the task. He was unable to give the chase a meaningful direction in the company of tailenders and in fact came in for criticism from Hooper. "I thought he should have been more positive," Hooper had remarked. So, the next time they came together, Hooper ensured he and Chanderpaul made amends.

Chanderpaul was the scourge of the Indian bowlers in 1997. And has remained so on this tour too as well. His innings of 140 at Bourda was his first century at home ground and went a long way in exposing the limitations of the Indian attack. Hooper too joined the run-making spree and slammed his maiden Test double century. "It felt great to score a hundred in front of my home crowd," said Hooper.

The two carved a 293-run partnership at Georgetown which was a record for the fifth wicket between the two countries. This inning reaffirmed Hooper's pledge to redeem the image of West Indies cricket, after losing the second Test in the current series. There was no doubt about this pair's wherewithal.

A sequence of 140, 1, 67 not out and 101 not out speaks for Chanderpaul's form. A few niggling injuries may have hampered his career but he has drawn inspiration from the manner in which Hooper has staged a remarkable return to the West Indies team.

Hooper has remained an enigma from the time he made his debut in India in 1987. When he quit the game in disgust before the 1999 World Cup, Hooper was criticised by some former players for his attitude. He was condemned as a selfish cricketer and his return to the Caribbean caused heartburn among a few colleagues. Hooper was given the charge of the side because the West Indian administrators were looking at someone with experience and the vision to carry the team with him. Hooper fitted the job perfectly.

At the start of the series, the Indians knew they would have to contend with Hooper's class. A brilliant batsman against spinners, he has the rare ability to convert good deliveries into scoring ones and he proved it with innings of 233, 50, 22 and 115 in his four visits to the middle. He was indeed leading by example.

How did he look at the aggregate of runs and the impact on opposition? "I'm not one for figures. I always say that figures sometimes really don't tell the true tale. I just want to do the best that I possibly can. If it means that the average has jumped it does. If it means that it remains the same place, so be it," says Hooper.

His batting philosophy has been simple. Make the best of good form. And he has grown as a captain following his ability to motivate the team to become a cohesive unit. As popular in Barbados as in Guyana, he is known to look after the interest of the players and the youngsters feel quite comfortable in his company.

Hooper's century at the Kensington Oval effectively shut India out of the match. He and Chanderpaul came together to compile a partnership of 215 runs, which proved formidable for the Indians. Hooper was obviously delighted. "This one is different. Home is home at the end of the day. There's nothing like scoring a hundred in front of your home crowd. I'm not Barbadian, even though I've got a lot of supporters here. It's good to score a hundred in Barbados, but if you ask me if this was just as special as the one in Guyana, I would say no."

How did Chanderpaul look at his innings which left the Indian attack frustrated. The Guyanese was quite humble. "I thank God for that," was his reaction. There were reports that Chanderpaul was under pressure at the start of the series to keep his place, what with Ryan Hinds staking his claims. "I don't worry about what people say. Whenever the day comes for me to play, I just go out there and do what I've to do. It's just that I'm happy to get runs whenever I can and wherever I can, was Chanderpaul's quick response."

With an experience of 95 Tests, Hooper, 35, can easily qualify as the senior statesman of West Indies cricket.

For Chanderpaul, 29, it happens to be an important stage in a career which has not taken the course he would have wished after his debut in 1994. Figuring in 54 Tests, he has remained an integral part of the West Indies team but he was not consistent. It is time he stepped into the big league.

The Guyanese connection is working very well as the West Indies strives to find a place for itself in world cricket. In Hooper and Chanderpaul, the team has a very successful pair in the middle order. Good omen for the West Indies in the season which ends with the World Cup.