Cricket / Fifth Test: Hooper needed for right balance: Tony Cozier sees the West Indies attack suffer without the variety of a spinner

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The Independent Online
RICHIE RICHARDSON and Desmond Haynes are absent, but the West Indies hardly noticed it as Brian Lara did as he pleased. The player the West Indies have missed most in conditions as good for batting as they are - and as they were in Barbados - is in England, being treated for the back injury that kept him out of the series, and hoping to play for Kent in the coming season.

Carl Hooper has always been an enigma, a cricketer who hasn't made the most of his

obvious all-round talent. In his 40 Tests his batting average is 30 and he has taken 36 wickets at an expensive 55.6 each. But such figures camouflage his essential value to the balance of the present team.

If he has under-achieved, Hooper remains a quality batsman capable of big scores. His last innings on the Antigua Recreation Ground was an unbeaten 178 against Pakistan a year ago. At slip he is a sure and spectacular catcher. But it is his off-spin bowling that the West Indies now miss most.

When the attack contained Malcolm Marshall and Ian Bishop, along with Curtley Ambrose and Courtney Walsh, he was mostly redundant. Marshall's retirement and Bishop's chronic back problems have weakened the bowling resources for the two Benjamins, good bowlers that they are, are not of the same class.

Since taking over the captaincy, Richardson has used Hooper more than any other bowler except Ambrose. In his last eight Tests he took 21 wickets, providing the variety now needed.

Depressed by the evenness of the pitches at Kensington Oval and now here and possibly lacking some motivation after securing the series in Trinidad, the West Indies have conceded three consecutive totals in excess of 350 - and that after the 46 demolition in Port of Spain.

They play their next Test in India come October and can anticipate even less helpful surfaces than the one here. There will be little pace or bounce and plenty of turn. Hooper's return will be accordingly welcomed, but they must also find a specialist spinner or two from somewhere. Two leg-spinners, Rajindra Dhanraj, a Trinidadian whose 30 wickets were the best haul in this season's Red Stripe Cup, and Rawle Lewis, the 19-year-old from Grenada who claimed nine wickets for the Board XI against England over the Easter weekend, are the only two who realistically qualify and both are short of international experience. A more difficult series than this one has been is in prospect.