By Orville Higgins
Cricket is a strange game. It thrives on maintaining archaic values and traditions and sometimes those who administer the game seem reluctant to do anything that brings the game into modern times. Here in the West Indies, for example, there is a crippling rule which needs to be changed now. The current selection policy stipulates that if you want to play Test cricket for the West Indies, then you have got to make yourself available for your territory for every game in the four-day tournament preceding that Test series. The same is true if you want to represent the West Indies in one-day internationals or 20-20 cricket, where you also have to make yourself available to play for your country in every game prior to playing for the West Indies in those formats of the game.
Is there any other rule in sports that so infringes on the player's rights to market and promote himself globally and benefit financially from his ability? There is no other sport that is played in the West Indies that seeks to do this. The equivalent of this in football would be the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) telling footballers on contracts abroad that, before they can be eligible to play for the Reggae Boyz, they must come home and play a full season in the Red Stripe Premier League! This rule would mean that maybe 90 per cent of the current national football squad would not be eligible for Jamaica, since they ply their trade in overseas competitions!
just not fair
Can you imagine the Jamaica Amateur Basketball Association telling Samardo Samuels that he can't play for the national basketball team because he currently represents the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA? In other words, if Samardo wants to play for Jamaica, he would then have to give up his contract in the NBA, reportedly worth half a million US dollars, and come home to play, for say, the Urban Knights for nothing! What nonsense that would be! Can the Jamaica Netball Association, in all fairness, tell Romelda Aiken that she can't be a Sunshine Girl unless she gives up her contract in Australia with the Queensland Firebirds in the ANZ championship and come home to play a full season for Jamalco?
Football and netball and basketball officials in the region understand that professional athletes are exactly that - professionals, and they have to maximise their earnings while they are good enough, and young enough. Those sports administrators understand that, if you can't match the offers these people are getting elsewhere, then you cannot stop them from going where the market demands them. So why does the West Indies board persist with this 'fool-fool' rule?
What is sad is that I have heard high profile people in media in Jamaica defending this rule with the proviso that the cricketers must remember that it is the West Indies that gave them a chance to be global stars, and, therefore, insisting that these cricketers come home and play for four or five months of the year as a prerequisite for West Indies selection is justified. The argument that those who support this rule come up with is that these stars should come home to help develop cricket in the region and to prove form and fitness.
This theory has one glaring oversight. The onus on who should develop cricket in the region should be placed on cricket administrators, not cricketers. Cricketers are paid to bat, bowl and field to the best of their ability, not to develop cricket. Again, no other sport in the region demands that star players stay home and develop the sport. As to proving form and fitness, that is a non argument. This is the global age. One doesn't have to be playing in the West Indies for West Indies administrators to know if you are fit and playing well. This rule was conceptualised when West Indies was the best team in the world with arguably the best league, and, therefore, playing in the West Indies was probably the best way to prepare for international assignments.
This is no longer the case. We are a 'bramble' team with a low standard domestic league. Surely sending the cricketers to play in higher-calibre leagues elsewhere would make them better prepared for international cricket and ultimately make West Indies a stronger team. The West Indies needs to change this stupid rule now!
KLAS sportscaster Orville Higgins is the 2011 winner of the Hugh Crosskill/ Raymond Sharpe Award for Sports Reporting. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.