West Indies Cricket Must Reform or Die


Published: Sunday | June 19, 2011


Marlon Samuels greets Chris Gayle (second right) at the end of the fifth ODI between the West Indies and India at Sabina Park last Thursday. - Ricardo Makyn/Staff Photographer

Things are never so bad that they can't get worse. It's a lesson West Indies cricket fans have learnt ad nauseam over the past 15 years. Since 1995 we have watched in disbelief as unimagined new depths are regularly plunged. First Test series defeat in more than 10 years. Series whitewash. All out for 47. Beaten by Bangaladesh. Not even fielding our best 11. What will the next low be? The loss of Test status?

The players are not blameless. But the ultimate responsibility for poor results in any organisation must always lie with management. When a major company starts losing money, shareholders don't clamour for all the workers to be fired, but for the chairman and CEO to be replaced. The buck stops at the top, with the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB).

It's hard to point to a time when West Indies cricket was logically and competently managed. Before 1995 or so, natural talent, and the amateurish way cricket was run everywhere, papered over the faults. But most cricket boards have modernised their attitudes and learnt to treat players as partners in a common endeavour. Which is why Australia, England and India are not only excelling on the field, but making more money than ever off it.

In contrast, 'my-way-or-the-highway' teams like Pakistan and the West Indies keep losing matches and money. The Pakistan board head recently boasted about having 'crushed player power', which is apparently also the WICB's goal. No wonder both are near the bottom of the Test and ODI rankings.

The Mighty Sparrow's brilliant Kerry Packer makes it clear that the WICB mentality has changed very little in 30 years.


'Cricket court say Packer is right

But in sport we have grudge and spite

Tell Packer that I am sure

I ain't obeying no law

He hire some of my best men

I going to victimise all a dem

The selectors obey me like children

That is why they ain't pick Bernard Julien

I ain't negotiating I told them

If they get money we can't control them

A West Indian cricketer must always be broke

Is then he does bowl fast and make pretty stroke

And even so they must all get down flat on they knees

Beg me, please, let them play for West Indies

Sobers, Worrell and Learie get title

But money we give them very little

When they dead write a book

Say how good they used to play

My position is all cricket no pay'

This song might also remind well-off ex-players like Michael Holding and Viv Richards of how shabbily they were treated as players, and the tough times so many retired players have fallen on - including Bernard Julien. In his day, Richards often stood up for his teammates against perceived WICB injustices, so it's sad to see him criticising Chris Gayle for doing the same. 'Flat on they knees, beg me, please'? Say it ain't so, Sir Viv!

Sensible organisations don't try to get rid of their best performers and biggest draws. But that's just what the WICB has done and keeps trying to do. Since 1995, only five players have averaged over 40 with the bat - Brian Lara, Jimmy Adams, Shiv Chanderpaul, Ronnie Sarwan and Chris Gayle. Yet all have been treated by the WICB as the problem! Cricket is essentially about scoring more runs than your opponents. So replacing 40-average batsmen like Gayle and Chanderpaul with sub-30 ones like Devon Smith, Kirk Edwards and Danza Hyatt is insanity - unless you are deliberately trying to lose.

It's a mystery why so many West Indian cricket fans, writers and commentators seem to resent our top players trying to earn as much as they can before their inevitable retirement at usually about age 35. They will lionise US$20-million-a-year-plus mercenaries like LeBron James, but then speak angrily about Gayle earning a possible US$1 million per year and building a big house.

striking for change

All sport was once run on plantation lines, with owners collecting nearly all the proceeds and giving as little as possible to players. American sports only changed when players struck - the National Football League in 1982 and 1987; Major League Baseball in 1994; National Basketball Association, 1998; and National Hockey League in 2004. The essential cause in all cases was a dispute over the percentage of gross revenues that the leagues gave to their players, and only strong unions won players their proper share.

But here many vilify the West Indies Players Association (WIPA) as 'confrontational' for trying to get basic rights for players, and for being led by someone the players have democratically chosen. Among the things the Dinesh Ramnarine-led WIPA agitated for and successfully achieved are increased first-class fees for regional cricketers, retainer contracts for top regional players, a bigger share of sponsorship monies to players, and protection of players' intellectual property rights.

West Indies cricket has, essentially, been going through a similar process as the rest of the sports world, with players using the only leverage they have, withdrawing their services, to get their fair share of the pie. Unfortunately, the weird structure of the WICB, a geographically fractured entity beholden neither to shareholders nor even national politicians, has allowed it to continually divide and conquer. The Stanford Millions 20/20 league and the Indian Premier League (IPL) have given some of our players financial independence. But there are so many 'bruk-pocket' cricketers around the region that the WICB has always been able to scrape up 11 yes-men to fulfil its contractual obligations.

change in attitude

My attitude towards West Indies cricket changed when the WICB sent a second 11 to the 2009 ICC Trophy in South Africa, despite all the top players declaring they were willing to play. If the people in charge don't care, why the hell should I spend sleepless nights agonising over second-rate mediocrities?

So the West Indies brand name keeps sinking lower, and the crowds get smaller, and fewer and fewer people even give a damn. If the Julian Hunte, Ernest Hilaire, Darren Sammy, Hilary Beckles and Ottis Gibson regime continues as is, soon the only people following West Indies cricket will be St Lucians and Barbadians.

Is there any hope for the dwindling band of West Indian cricket lovers? Well, only if the WICB is restructured along the lines of the 2007 Patterson Report. West Indies cricket is now a US$20-million-plus-a-year business and needs to be run as such. The Patterson Report's main recommendation is a revamped board that would consist of one representative from each of the six regional cricket boards, and seven business professionals. This would both reduce regional divisiveness and ensure matters were run in a commonsensical, bottom-line manner.

no interest in report

So far, the WICB has predictably shown no interest in the Patterson Report, nor has the 'back-in my-day' old guard media. Well, only the blind cannot see that West Indies cricket must reform or die.

The game of cricket will survive. Chances are the IPL is only the beginning of a worldwide multibillion-dollar boom in 20/20. But to me, cricket is just another sport to watch. A go-it-alone Jamaica team would have no appeal to me. It's only West Indies cricket that truly touches my heart and sends my spirits soaring with each win and crashing with each defeat. But thanks to the to-hell-with-the-fans attitude of those in charge, the flame burns weaker each year.

Of late I've even begun to think the unthinkable, that I could actually stop caring about the team I've loved passionately all my life. Maybe I'm just subconsciously preparing myself for the seemingly inevitable death of a loved one.

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