Thu | Dec 8, 2016

A painful anniversary for West Indies cricket

Published:Wednesday | January 7, 2015 | 12:00 AM
Charles Wilkin
Marlon Samuels (right) celebrates his century during day four of the 2nd Test match between South Africa and West Indies at St Georges Park on December 29, 2014 in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.
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Charles Wilkin, Contributor

2015 will bring a significant but painful anniversary for West Indies cricket. It will mark 20 years since the West Indies team was beaten by Australia at home and lost top position in Test cricket.

No real follower of West Indies cricket will ever forget the wicket keeper, Courtney Browne, dropping a simple catch off Australian Steve Waugh at Sabina Park.

Waugh was then on 42 and went on to score 200. That was the beginning of the end.

We could not remain world champions forever but no lover of West Indies cricket would, in his or her darkest nightmare, have dreamt that 20 years later we would be languishing miserably at the bottom of the pile with no sign of progress.

In that period, we have seen Australia rise and fall three times. We have seen England rise and fall and India the same. We have seen South Africa, who in 1995 had not long returned to Test cricket, produce a number of top-class teams. These teams are tired of whipping us. Our team has gone from bad to worse and is now close to terminally ill.

The team has been referred to in derogatory but true terms as playing 'calypso' cricket (as happened on day four of the second Test in South Africa) and as pulling defeat from the jaws of victory. West Indies have been tolerated by the other major cricketing countries only because of their fond memories of the performance of our great teams and the style in which they played the game.

Those memories are fast fading after 20 years. Responsibility for the lengthy decline lies squarely with West Indies Cricket Board (WICB), which, particularly since 2000, has proven to be a failed and dysfunctional body.

Shake-up overdue

There would be a shake-up in any institution, be it government, business or otherwise which presides over rank failure for so long. The WICB should be no different. But it has been allowed to fail year, after year, after year, and to retain its dysfunctional state.

Since 2000, it has had six presidents and seven CEOs. In that time, too, the WICB has had constant disputes with its players and suffered three player strikes, several others averted and many lawsuits, nearly all of which it has lost. Now it is facing the mother of all lawsuits, that for US$41.9 million from India for the financial loss suffered by the abandonment of the recent tour.

That claim, which WICB has not challenged, makes it effectively bankrupt and exposes its directors to personal liability for its debts. But not even that will wake them up to the need for change.

We are shortly to enter another ICC Cricket World Cup with the team in disarray because WICB, instead of listening to its own task force and instead of honouring its commitment to CARICOM, has decided spitefully to victimise the one-day international (ODI) captain Dwayne Bravo for his part in the aborted Indian tour.

But, true to form, the president remains firmly in place, despite his arrogance and ineptitude in dealing with the latest crisis, and despite his having insulted the Board of Control for Cricket in India and helping to bring on the lawsuit.

West Indies cricket is a regional resource. It belongs to the people of the region. It is a business and a cultural asset. It is run by the WICB but does not belong to the WICB.

I say this with a heavy heart because the Caribbean governments do not have, in terms of regional cooperation, a much better record than the WICB. But only the governments have the leverage to force the WICB to change.

Business as usual

That leverage comes from their control of most of the major cricket facilities in the region. It was the governments which developed those facilities at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars to enable the WICB to host the 2007 Cricket World Cup. It is interesting to recall that the WICB was forced to set up a separate company with a separate board to direct the organisation of that competition. But after the competition had left the WICB with a handy profit, which the governments allowed it to keep, it was back to business as usual.

Prime Minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Ralph Gonsalves, has shouted to high heaven about the latest insult to him and the governments who helped restore peace after the India fiasco. Let's look at what he said in his recent letter to the WICB president about the dropping of Bravo.

"The meeting arrived at several conclusions or agreements. One of these was the solemn undertaking by the WICB, through you, that none of the 'India 14' would be victimised or discriminated against because of the tour's premature termination ... specifically, you agreed that the selection of the teams (Test, one-day, T-20) for the imminent tour of South Africa would be done on the merit from the available pool of players, including 'the India 14'.

"Your solemn undertaking was honoured by the WICB in the selection of the test team for South Africa. But it is evident to all objective observers that the WICB has dishonoured the undertaking in respect of the recently announced touring party for the ODI series in South Africa."

He concluded: "It is not too late for you and the WICB to correct the egregious error in respect of Messrs Bravo, (Kieron) Pollard and (Darren) Sammy. I urge that you initiate steps to effect a reasonable corrective. The days of men riding horses with cork hats across plantations, are, metaphorically, over. The WICB must stop functioning as a virtual private club and be responsible and responsive to the people of the region."

And so say all of us.

The time has come for more than words from CARICOM. It is time for CARICOM governments to use their leverage to force the Board to become relevant. If not, the time is not long when the other cricket countries will relieve West Indies cricket from its misery and force it into permanent second-class status. That would certainly kill cricket as a regional institution.

The region must not allow that to happen. The people of the Caribbean must call on their governments to back up the words of Prime Minister Gonsalves with strong and effective action.

Charles Wilkin, QC, is a former chairman of the West Indies Cricket Board's governance committee. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.