Cricket: Hooper back in fray

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EVEN THE news that the reliable left-handed batsman Shivnarine Chanderpaul has once more been ruled out by a lingering shoulder injury could not diminish rekindled West Indian optimism on the eve of the critical third Test against Australia, starting at the Kensington Oval today.

The 24-year-old Chanderpaul was included in the squad only to have to withdraw yesterday because of the injury he has carried since the end of the South African tour in February. He is the accredited No 3, with an average of 42.05 in his 35 Tests, and his continued absence will be keenly felt by a team with batting that relies too heavily on captain Brian Lara.

It was Lara's magnificent 213 that inspired a thoroughly unexpected victory in the second Test in Kingston and levelled a series in jeopardy of developing into another one-sided embarrassment for West Indies' cricket. Prolonged despondency as a result of a 5-0 thrashing in South Africa and their lowest Test total - 51 - in the first Test against Australia was replaced by instant euphoria, a mood change no more obvious than yesterday morning when the mounted police had to be summoned to disperse the enthusiastic crowds encircling West Indies' final practice session. Banners of support span main roads in Bridgetown, the radio call-in programmes are filled with optimistic predictions and tickets are sold out.

Carl Hooper, like Chanderpaul from Guyana, does return to the West Indies team after missing the first two Tests while away in Australia with his wife and seriously ill infant son. A quality batsman and steady off-spinner with 78 Tests to his name, Hooper confirmed his readiness with a century and nine wickets for the West Indies A team in the match against the Australians last weekend.

The West Indies change their unreliable opening pair for the ninth time in the past 23 Tests, bringing in the 27-year-old Barbadian left-handed Adrian Griffith in place of the right-handed Suruj Ragoonath.

Australia's main concern is the form of Shane Warne. The leg-spinner has had a powerful psychological impact on opponents through his career but last year's shoulder operation has clearly taken its toll. His 44 overs brought him only one wicket for 129 runs in the first two Tests in which he was less threatening than the other leg-spinner, Stuart MacGill. Yet it would be unthinkable for Australia to drop the most successful spinner in Test history.

Greg Blewett, the middle order batsman, is doubtful because of an injured hand. Ricky Ponting stands by.

AUSTRALIA (probable team): S R Waugh (capt), M J Slater, M T G Elliott, J L Langer, M E Waugh, G S Blewett or R T Ponting, I A Healy, S K Warne, J N Gillespie, S C G MacGill, G D McGrath.

WEST INDIES (from): B C Lara (capt), S L Campbell, A F G Griffith, D R E Joseph, C L Hooper, J C Adams, R D Jacobs, N O Perry, C E L Ambrose, P T Collins, C A Walsh, C D Collymore.