| Carl Hooper with Vivian Richards, chairman of the West Indies selection board, in Mumbai Tuesday. (Reuters)
Mumbai: With the latest home series hours away, there are two ways of reflecting on what is past. That India have lost the last two Tests at the Wankhede inside three days; that India have won the last three series at home.
The choice is yours.
Predictably, Sourav Ganguly is looking at the more positive history-chapters. At the same time, the Indian captain isn’t underestimating the West Indies, nor is he taking anything for granted in the three-Test Exide Cup.
Carl Hooper, for whom the opening Test will be his 100th, is certainly aware of India’s amazing record at home. Equally, he is familiar with the Indians’ weaknesses. After all, Hooper was captain at home, earlier this year, when India let go a 1-0 lead and, eventually, lost 1-2.
Hooper, however, is rather amused by the buzz around town, which suggests the visitors will be steamrolled. Smiling, he endorsed what an equally bemused coach Roger Harper told The Telegraph: “When the coin is tossed, both teams will be on zero and, therefore, will be starting from scratch.”
Incidentally, Hooper will become the third cricketer, after Javed Miandad (Lahore) and Allan Border (MCG), to play both his first and 100th Test at the same venue. Wednesday is a big day for him.
Much, of course, is being made of Brian Lara’s absence but, really, the top gun hardly boomed in the last series. Specifically, Lara averaged under-30 (with a best of 55) and the most handsome contributions came from the captain himself (579) and Shivnarine Chanderpaul (562).
[The highest aggregate by an Indian was V.V.S.Laxman’s 474.]
Hooper, then, should remain the most prickly thorn. Not that the Wavell Hinds and Ramnaresh Sarwans, both of whom got big hundreds in Bangalore, are lightweights. As for Chanderpaul, who looked lost on the West Indies’ last tour of India, back in 1994-95, he has matured into a classy performer comfortable with responsibility.
The West Indies’ bowling does appear thin on quality but, then, even a Pedro Collins — who played the last three Tests — got Sachin Tendulkar in each of those games in the Caribbean. So, it’s foolish to assume reputation is the bottomline.
In any case, the other ‘Big Merv’, Mervyn Dillon, is a proven new-ball operator. And, with the re-laid Wankhede wicket promising much bounce, he should quite enjoy his first appearance in India. Dillon, by the way, will get higher marks if he isn’t judged by the yardstick applied to the Michael Holdings and Courtney Walshes.
Though the West Indies have a second specialist spinner (Gareth Breese) in their ranks, they will only field leggie Mahendra Nagamootoo. Hooper will surely have one more role to play, besides that of captain and frontline batsman.
Cameron Cuffy, ‘rested’ in Bangalore, is in the XI.
As for India, while conditions are vastly different, Sourav is hoping for the England-momentum to continue. Towards that end, the captain is especially pleased with the option Sanjay Bangar provides: He will open (with Virender Sehwag) and, if required, do duty as fifth bowler.
If anything, the task for the West Indies is cut out. Moreover, even if an early breakthrough is effected, the Dillons will run into the most classy middle-order in business. The job will be even more daunting if the Indians have first (and best) use of the track.
With the wicket being virgin — just how much purchase Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh will manage, is already a matter of some debate — it’s inconceivable that Sourav will not bat if the coin lands in his favour.
While the Test will be special for Hooper, it’s going to be a landmark of sorts for Jawagal Srinath as well. Actually, his return to Test cricket is at the very ground he did the star-turn against the West Indies eight years ago. That remains India's last win at the Wankhede.
Meanwhile, on behalf of the Board, president Jagmohan Dalmiya will present a silver salver to Sachin and Hooper — the former for having completed 100 Test appearances (at The Oval) and the latter for reaching the milestone here. The Mumbai Cricket Association is also expected to make presentations.
India: Virender Sehwag, Sanjay Bangar, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, V.V.S.Laxman, Parthiv Patel, Anil Kumble, Harbhajan Singh, Jawagal Srinath and Zaheer Khan.
West Indies: Chris Gayle, Wavell Hinds, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Carl Hooper, Ryan Hinds, Ridley Jacobs, Mahendra Nagamootoo, Mervyn Dillon, Pedro Collins and Cameron Cuffy.
Umpires: David Shepherd, Asoka de Silva.
Match Referee: Mike Procter.