St. John's: West Indies captain Carl Hooper believes their opening match against South Africa on February 9 could decide if they have a successful World Cup. "I think we are ready to go," the 36-year-old Hooper told the West Indies Cricket Board website following a two-week camp in Antigua. "I think it is important to win our first game against South Africa. I've got a feeling that how well we do in the first game is going to set the tone for the rest of competition, so it is important for us to try get off on a positive note and no better than beating the South Africans," the Australian-based Guyanese batsman added.
Hooper defended the decision to have a camp rather than playing a series. "We just came back from a tour of Bangladesh and India so we are really not short of cricket. The guys have had only a Christmas break so while we may want to play as much cricket as possible we have got to be careful not to burn ourselves out," he said. Hooper, who missed the last two World Cups in 1996 and 1999 for personal reasons, believes West Indies cricket had pulled out of the doldrums.
"We have slowly but surely turned the corner," he said. "This is going to be good launch pad to show West Indies cricket is back and a force to be reckoned with." And he believed star batsman Brian Lara would be on song for the opening game. "Brian had two knocks here and didn't post a big score. But a player like Brian Lara come the first game against South Africa, I'm sure he is going to be ready," Hooper said. Double world record holder Lara was sidelined by illness from the West Indies tours of India and Bangladesh after being hospitalised with suspected hepatitis during the ICC Champions Trophy in Sri Lanka.
Hooper has also had fitness problems, having had surgery on his knees last December but he said they were holding up. Hooper said batsman Marlon Samuels' withdrawal because of injury was a blow but he was confident his replacement Ryan Hinds could fill in. "I think Ryan Hinds is quite capable of filling his shoes." Hooper, an international since 1987, was unexpectedly appointed West Indies captain for the 2001 home series against South Africa. Having suddenly quit international cricket on the eve of the 1999 World Cup, his detractors felt he should not have been given the job.
A former player for Kent in the English county championship, Hooper is the fourth captain since Richie Richardson resigned during the 1996 World Cup in Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka. Courtney Walsh, Brian Lara and Adams were tried before him. Hooper was vice-captain to Lara for the 1998/99 tour of South Africa that was preceded by a players' revolt at Heathrow Airport and ended in a 5-0 whitewash in Tests and 6-1 defeat in the Limited Overs series. West Indies face Sri Lanka, New Zealand, Bangladesh, Kenya, Canada, and South Africa in Pool 'B' of the World Cup.