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Hooper gets backing from icon Richards

GEORGETOWN, Guyana, March 8 (AFP) - West Indian cricket icon Viv Richards acclaimed "the second coming of Carl Hooper" as he offered his support on Thursday to the controversial new West Indies captain.

Richards differed with fellow West Indian legend Sir Garfield Sobers and former fast bowler Michael Holding who both criticised the appointment of Hooper, who will lead the struggling Caribbean islanders in a five-Test series which starts at the Bourda ground in Georgetown Friday.

Hooper, at his first press conference since his appointment, expressed confidence that he could handle the job of lifting the Windies out of their slump, and also that he would be able to step back up to Test cricket two years after retiring from the international game.

"It's important for West Indian cricket to get back on its feet," he said. "I feel it and the other players feel it. We looked sharp in the nets today and there is a lot of anticipation in the team."

The series will be played for the Sir Vivian Richards trophy, as a tribute to Richards' contribution to West Indies cricket and the support he gave to black South Africans during the apartheid era by refusing to take part in rebel tours to the country.

Richards acknowledged that Hooper's appointment was a "hot topic", but he disagreed with Sobers and Holding, who accused Hooper of lacking commitment to West Indian cricket because of the way he quit the team shortly before the 1999 World Cup.

Holding withdrew as a commentator on the series in protest at the appointment.

Richards, who like Sobers was named one of Wisden's five cricketers of the 20th century, stopped short of giving unqualified support to the new captain, however, saying he felt Hooper had "underachieved" during his first 12 years with the West Indian team.

But he said the team needed a batsman of Hooper's class.

"When a team has been wounded like the West Indies team you look at the situation and you havent seen much class among the individuals, notably in our batting," said Richards.

"I felt when Carl left the scene he was a little bit immature. I believe at this point it will be the second coming of Carl and I believe he will be most welcome in the team. As a class batsman, he can be of tremendous benefit to the young individuals."

Interviewed later, Richards said he felt Hooper would bring a calm, steadying influence to the team.

He said he believed the current performance - the poorest since the West Indies' glory days of the mid-1980s - stemmed from the way the transition was handled when senior players like himself retired.

"When I retired, they should have kept someone like Desmond Haynes in the team to help the young batsmen find their feet."

Hooper earlier conducted his first net practice as captain after only arriving in Guyana late on Wednesday, together with seven other members of the 13-man squad. They had all been playing in the Busta Cup final in Jamaica.

Hooper admitted it was not ideal preparation. "There are quite a few young fellows in the team who I don't know. It would have been better to have had three or four days to relax together before the Test match."

But he was confident the team could bounce back after suffering 5-0 whitewash defeats within the past three years in away series against South Africa and Australia.

Hooper was pleased with his own form. "While I spent 18 months living in Adelaide, Australia, it was always my intention to play for the West Indies again. My performances in the Busta Cup were no surprise to me. I have trained hard."

He dismissed what he termed "negative comments". He said: "Whatever Mr Holding or Mr Sobers say has no bearing on what I do." But he acknowledged that he would be under pressure to perform as captain.

The first Test is in his home country where he is assured of plenty of support but he agreed it was possible crowds in other West Indian countries might be hostile.

"If we go to Trinidad and Barbados and the reception is not as it should be then I have got to deal with it," he said.

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