Tue | Feb 18, 2020

Heaven’s surprising stranglehold - JCA boss still has much to do after securing third term

Published:Saturday | March 2, 2019 | 12:15 AM

For those of us who have our ears on the ground in local cricket circles, it was not surprising that Wilford ‘Billy’ Heaven was returned as president of the Jamaica Cricket Association (JCA) on Thursday night.

The challenger, Mark Neita, ran a good campaign. He was saying all the right things, but those in the know felt that it would have been difficult for him to break the stranglehold that Billy seems to have over the club and parish delegates. Neita did have some traction in the urban areas, but his popularity with the voters clearly does not extend in any significant way to the rural areas.

Heaven has now staved off two challenges for the presidential post. He first got the better of Milton Henry for the JCA’s top spot in his first term. He then saw off the challenge of Fritz Harris a couple of years ago and has now sent back the challenge of Neita. Both Neita and Harris were voicing confidence in the lead-up to their respective elections, but come the day of reckoning, neither could find the number of votes. What’s interesting about all this is that Heaven has now defeated three people whom you could genuinely call ‘cricket people’, while he himself is not seen by many to be a passionate supporter of the game. Both Milton Henry and Harris had worked as administrators at the national level. Neita is a former national player and now presides over Melbourne Cricket Club, arguably the top cricket club in the country at the moment. Billy Heaven is hardly seen at cricket matches and he does not play too big a role in any of the cricket clubs in Jamaica, and yet, the delegates keep turning to him, as opposed to those with greater cricket credentials.

Truth be told, Jamaica’s cricket, at all levels, has not seen the best of results under Heaven’s watch. Even his biggest supporters cannot deny that. Those whom he has defeated have all come with glowing promises of how to make the cricket better, and yet, they are all being beaten. It does beg the question, how much of these election results is an endorsement of Billy Heaven, and how much of it is a rejection of his challengers?

In other words, is it that the cricket electorate keeps returning Mr Heaven because they are just not in favour of those who are prepared to challenge him? If the answer to that is ‘yes’, then why do these cricket administrators find so little favour among the cricket community and keep getting beaten by a man who is not seen as having a strong résumé in cricket administration outside of the JCA presidency?

Billy’s supporters will point to the franchise system, which has been introduced into the cricket calendar, as one of his legacies. They will also point to the fact that national age-group competitions are now part of the cricket schedule. Those are good things, but the truth is that the results on the field and crowd support have not improved under his watch. None of this is meant to be a critique of the process. The delegates have spoken and their voices must be respected, but as a neutral and a diehard cricket follower, while I congratulate the president on being given another mandate, I’m hoping that Heaven’s third term will see the national teams giving a better account of themselves.