Pay cricketers their worth
The more things change, the more they remain the same. Another tour by the West Indies team (this time, the upcoming Twenty20 World Cup) and another dispute about money at the eleventh hour. Who isn't tired of this? Who isn't inclined to say sometimes, "Get rid of this bunch of money-grabbing, low-performing mercenaries and just pick a next team!" I admit I never feel quite that radical, but sometimes it's tempting.
The players are up in arms that their World Cup remuneration has been cut by as much as 80 per cent if team captain Darren Sammy is to be believed. If that's true, who can blame them? No professional will be happy with a slash in certified earnings of that magnitude. The West Indies Cricket Board has put in place other performance incentives to soften the blow, but those are not guaranteed. The WICB has defended this salary cut by saying it had to find money to 'professionalise' regional cricket. For dozens of regional cricketers, they are not complaining. They are now earning a monthly salary.
One has to understand the board's position. The West Indies Test and one-day teams have been struggling badly for years. We hover close to dead last among the elite countries in both categories. Something had to give.
It is difficult to continue to pay a man well when his performances continue to be dismal. The board still earns money from sponsors and the ICC and the senior players are insisting that they get their standard 25 per cent. The real deal is that the board isn't averse to paying out 25 per cent to players, but to which players? That is the real question.
Do they continue to give the bulk of it to players who are free-falling from one embarrassing performance to another, or do they spread the wealth around so that the non-Test players will also earn a share of the pie in the hope that they will be encouraged to train properly and one day become world-beaters?
It's a difficult but reasonable call that the board has gone the route it has. I understand the thinking. I, however, equally empathise with the players who have found their salaries slashed. No matter how noble the reason, no worker gladly gives up earnings, no matter how rich he is. Pollard, Narine, and Sammy have all pulled out for different reasons.
It's difficult not to think that the ongoing disputes haven't helped. Why complain now, as opposed to last year, when the changes were mooted? I have been told by at least two players that they didn't want to protest until the team was named because they feared victimisation.
MARKET VALUE AND WORTH
Where then is the middle ground in all this? Where is the compromise that can be reached that would make both sides happy? Or, if not happy, what is the most reasonable position that both sides can arrive at? I think I have found the answer.
The WICB has to negotiate differently with the Test and one-day international players on the one hand, and the T20 players on the other. The Test and one-day teams are struggling badly, and the board has a 'right' to feel they are not entitled to the kind of package they were getting. That is almost like rewarding failure.
The board also has a duty to make cricket attractive to young boys in the region, and one way of doing that is to make it possible to earn a decent living from first-class cricket. Pumping money into first class cricket is, in itself, a good thing. That, in the long run, can't hurt at all.
The Twenty20 team is, however, different. Here, we are world-beaters. Here, we have a team that is among the most feared in the world. Here, we have some of the game's biggest names, most of whom don't want to negotiate through WIPA anymore. The board can't treat this set of players the way they do the Test and ODI players even if some of the names overlap. The Twenty20 players must, therefore, not suffer the cut the way the Test and ODI players have. They must be paid based on their market value and their worth.
If they don't want WIPA to negotiate for them, the board must be prepared to negotiate with them individually, or as a group, represented by another body. It's simply the nature of business that star performer and 'show opener' have to be treated differently by the promoter. In this context then, Sammy, Russell, Gayle, Pollard, Narine, Badree et al cannot be seen in the same context as Shai Hope in the Test format. Going forward then, the WICB should be prepared to isolate the formats and negotiate based on ranking of team or even ranking of individual players.
- Orville Higgins is a sportscaster and talk-show host at KLAS ESPN Sports FM. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.