TWENTY YEARS ago, the West Indies were the best in the world.
They had been for the previous 12 or so years, and in those days the deeds of the Windies, the names of Clive Lloyd, Viv Richards, Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Haynes, Jeffrey Dujon, Michael Holding, Andy Roberts, Joel Garner, Colin Croft and Malcolm Marshall echoed around the globe.
Today, however, that is not so. The West Indies are at the bottom or near to the bottom of the standings. They have been there for a long, long time and the West Indies cricketers are little known and hardly respected outside of their own backyard.
The question on everyone lips, as it has been since Australia defeated the West Indies at Sabina Park in 1995, is this: will the West Indies ever return to the top, or even near to the top?
To some, they will, and according to successive presidents, coaches, captains, sponsors and public relations experts, it will not take too long - maybe three or four years.
To others, however, based on their assessment of the board and the territorial boards, the lack of skill of most of the players, the lack of commitment of some of the players, the failure to support the clubs and the schools and the decline in spectator support for the game, it will take a long, long time for a turn-around in the fortunes in West Indies cricket.
Apart from the problems listed above, one reason why it will take a long time for West Indies cricket to get back to where it was up to the 1990s is the lack of money in the region - the money to provide, for example, proper facilities, to run a competition that is strong enough to hone talent and to pay players a decent wage, not only at the club level but more so at the first-class level.
Another reason, however, is the money now on offer to players around the world for their skill with bat or ball and in the field.
Thirty-one years ago when Australian Kerry Packer came on the scene, he offered money which many players, and particularly so the underpaid West Indies players, could not refuse.
As mind-boggling as that offer was, however, what is being offered today by the illegal, according to the ICC as "instructed" by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), Indian Cricket League (ICL), and by the legal, according to the ICC and the BCCI, Indian Premier League (IPL), is like a fairytale - like a dream come true for the players.
US$30,000 to a West Indies cricketer for a tour, or a series, lasting every day for seven hours a day for two months is a pittance in comparison to the hundreds of thousands of dollars for a tournament involving a few 20/20 matches spread over 40 days.
That sort of money is like honey to the players. Some of them have gone to the IPL with the best wishes of their state, their county and their country. Although it is considered a rebel league with the players from places like Australia, England, India and Pakistan banned from playing cricket in their own country, some of them have gone to the ICL, and although the ICC has said that it will never recognise the ICL and that the IPL will have to fit into its calendar, you can bet your bottom dollar that the time will come when, like the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) and the Stanford 20/20, the ICC will have to bow.
Even in countries like Australia, England, South Africa and India where the players are well paid, with players earning between US$1 million and US$100,000 for a few days work, no amount of patriotism, no amount of talk that cricket, real cricket, is Test cricket, will prevent a player from walking away if he has to make a choice.
It is as simple as that, and unless those with the cash are like the good Samaritan, cricket will end up with the better players parading their skills in the twenty20 cricket, the not so good, the less talented in Test cricket, and especially so as far as the West Indies are concerned.
It is difficult to see the WICB even attempting to prevent West Indies players from earning so much money.
And, more importantly, it is even more difficult to see the West Indies players even agreeing to work out any kind of deal which would see them losing even a cent.
There is one answer, it appears, to the problem and in the interest of the game, it is for the ICC, the ICL and the IPL to respect each other, to sit down together, and to organise their tournaments so that they do not clash.
In other words, the ICC, like FIFA, has to take control of the game and make it possible for the players to earn good money while still playing for their country.