West Indies Board has faith in Hooper

VIJAY LOKAPALLY

CAPTAINCY can make all the difference to a team's fortunes, especially in cricket where the man at the helm decides every step on the field. Modern day cricket may have its cricket managers and computer analysts to assist the captain but the ultimate decision falls on the leader. A captain is certainly accountable, if not the rest of the members of the side. Success brings bouquets, where as failure invites brickbats. Often the captain is made the scapegoat.

To lead the side is the highest honour an individual looks forward to. When Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi was appointed captain, overlooking a few seniors, he had hardly expected the responsibility to come his way. That he did a good job speaks of the excellent judgment by the selectors then. Cricket history is full of such happenings and the trend has continued with Steve Waugh emerging as one of the finest captains. Captaincy is more about motivating a player than dictating him.

It does look a glamourous post since the players are at the command of the captain and certain privileges make the job quite attractive. But then it is not all that rosy too, for a captain has to set examples and be at his best more often than not. In the sub-continent, the appointment of a captain involves plenty of behind the scene acts. In India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan, being captain of the national cricket team brings instant celebrity status. A cricket captain is accorded a special place in the society and often the individuals have come to enjoy the responsibility for this reason. But there can be exceptions too.

Sachin Tendulkar, for example. A fine cricketer in all forms of the game, he never seemed to enjoy his two stints as captain. Sometimes he lamented lack of support from certain quarters and on other occasions suffered because the circumstances went against him. His brilliance as a batsman could not help him assume the role of a successful captain though, and it did not surprise when he quit the job and then turned down the offer when it came to him later.

In Zimbabwe, captaincy has become a seat of mockery for a couple of seasons now, what with very man appointed giving it up for lack of motivation. Of course, giving up the captaincy has also been a way of Zimbabweans registering their protests over selection. But few teams would have seen so many captains in its eleven. And interestingly, they all seem keen to give up than take up the responsibility.

For Carl Hooper, the thought of leading the West Indies was a dream he had nurtured from the time he began making news as a talented all-rounder from Guyana. But he was overlooked for the job and it was hardly surprising when he decided to give up the game in disgust. But it was the offer of captaincy which paved the way for his return from retirement.

The West Indies cricket has had a legacy of some fine captains, even though Hooper assumed the role in a most distressing times of the game in the Caribbean. Sir Frank Worrell, Sir Garry Sobers, Clive Lloyd, Sir Vivian Richards, all led the West Indies with distinction. Courtney Walsh kept the tradition going with his sporting approach to the job before the mantle fell on Hooper at a difficult juncture. It was indeed ironical that the man who was all along ignored for the job was now being seen as the messiah to lead the team through this dark period.

Leading the West Indies can be a tough job. Quite similar to the Indian set up where a captain has to have the vision and the character to accommodate individuals of various backgrounds. In the Caribbean, the players come from various islands and carry a lot of competitive flair to their approach. To get these bunch of individuals to perform collectively is what Hooper rates as the greatest challenge.

To the credit of the West Indies Cricket Board, it has decided to back Hooper for a fair amount of time before deciding on a change. Success has eluded Hooper thus far but the cricket administration has backed the Guyanese in his effort to bring about a sense of discipline and commitment among the players. Hooper alone may not be the answer to the woes that have afflicted cricket in the Caribbean but he is considered the ideal man for the job.

Australia and South Africa are known to groom their candidates for captaincy. Steve Waugh learnt it from Mark Taylor and passed on his wisdom to Ricky Ponting; Hansie Cronje was prepared for the post before he disgraced himself. In England too, the job is given to a man who has to be an excellent communicator and above all has to be a mentally strong individual with the quality to get the best out of his players.

For someone like Steve Waugh or Shaun Pollock, leading the side means a lot more than just making bowling and fielding changes. It means they have to set example and they have been quite successful in this regard. The ability to motivate the players is what sets Waugh and Pollock apart. The Pakistani speedster, Waqar Younis, also falls in this category. He has set some wonderful examples as a skipper to inspire the team and has come to earn respect from every quarter. The India-West Indies series is being projected as a clash between Tendulkar and Lara but it might well turn out to be a duel between the two skippers - Carl Hooper and Sourav Ganguly.

There is much at stake for them. A triumph in this series could well mean the passage to World Cup as captain of the side.

On the personal front too, Hooper and Ganguly would be under pressure to perform with the bat.

The pressure could well increase as the series progresses and it would be a true test of their characters, for their performance might well have a lasting impact on the course of the series and the fate of their team, what with the World Cup being the ultimate goal at the end of the current season.