Cricket: Simmons' success opens up a selection problem

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The Independent Online
PHIL SIMMONS' measured demolition of England's bowling yesterday has left the West Indies selectors in something of a pickle.

With Carl Hooper fit again and returning for President's XI in England's next tour match, they have to decide whether they need to accommodate his all-round talents in their team for the second Test and, if so, how to achieve it.

On the basis of statistics, Simmons appears the likeliest to make room should Hooper, out of the first Test and all the one-day internationals with a strained back, be reinstated. A muscular, powerful right-hander who hits the ball as hard as anyone in the modern game, Simmons has been Desmond Haynes' partner in all 15 Tests since Gordon Greenidge's retirement in 1991. Yet his record is unflattering - an average of 24.8 in 33 Test innings that include only one century, against Australia in Melbourne in 1992, and two half-centuries.

Hooper has similarly under- achieved. In his 40 Tests dating back to 1987 his batting average only climbed above 30 following an unbeaten 178 against Pakistan in Antigua a year ago and to bring him back at Simmons' expense would mean either promoting him or someone else to the opening position of which only Richie Richardson has experience.

If Hooper's batting was the only consideration, his case would not be half as strong but, in an all-pace attack, his off-spin has become increasingly vital. In his 11 Tests at the helm Richardson has used him more than any other bowler except Curtly Ambrose. He has claimed 14 of his 36 wickets in those matches and the Bourda ground that is the venue for the second Test has encouraged spin in recent times. In the only Red Stripe Cup match there this season Guyana's spinners bowled 95 overs between them and took all 10 wickets in Barbados's only innings. Hooper had 5 for 77.

There is one inevitable consequence, whatever happens. For the understandable reason that the West Indies team is made up of separate, independent nations, separated by water, fierce insularity is never far from the surface. For having the temerity to suggest Simmons' omission, your humble correspondent has had a rather uncomfortable weekend in Trinidad, his name chanted by the crowd as Simmons belted the ball around the ground yesterday - and clearly not with any fondness.

The next Test is in Hooper's home town, Georgetown. Stay tuned for the fireworks.

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