When will I get to see the West Indies?
Akshai Mansingh, Contributor
One of the most coveted experiences for any cricketer is to receive the country's national (or in the case of the West Indies, regional) cap for the first time. It is only then that one can call onself a West Indies cricketer and accept all the honour that goes with it.
Likewise, the West Indies only play at the highest level, i.e. Test cricket, one-day internationals, or T20 internationals. Any other team is referred to as the 'West Indians', so the practice match played by the touring squad in England a couple of weeks ago was between 'West Indians' and England Lions. The Test match, however, is between 'West Indies' and England.
It is, therefore, assumed that when the West Indies is playing, it is the best West Indian cricketers on display. Based on that premise, I long for the day when I will get to see the West Indies again.
For successive seasons we have seen a severely depleted West Indies team lose to other teams, often in very close encounters. One wonders what the outcome would have been if the true West Indies were playing. Some of the blame may be attributed to competing interests for the players, namely the Indian Premier league (IPL), but some must fall to the unimaginative tour planning by our board.
Acommodating the competition
When the IPL started five years ago, the Board for Control of Cricket in India (BCCI) requested the International Cricket Council (ICC) to create a six-week window to accommodate the competition. This was denied, and inevitably, that year, clashes took place between international series and the IPL. The ICC, in its wisdom, figured that the popularity of international cricket would supersede the glamour of the IPL. It soon became clear that this was not the case.
Players from all over the world showed a preference for playing the IPL (obviously for financial gain rather than prestige). The first real test came when the Sri Lankan Cricket Board tried to force its players to play a series instead of going to the IPL but had to relent and postpone the series.
For some reason, the English Cricket Board (ECB) did not seem to pick up this trend and has overtly and covertly discounted the IPL. The ECB's own efforts to ignore the IPL were going well when, in conjunction with the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB), it went to bed with Allen Stanford. That effort has had to take a pause, interrupted by what is likely to be a lengthy jail sentence.
For other reasons, the Pakistan Cricket Board and Pakistani players also fell out of favour with the BCCI. As far as I know, there is no such ill will between the BCCI and the WICB.
And yet, the WICB continues to make its plans as if the IPL neither exists nor impinges on West Indies cricket. Nothing can be further from the truth. We decided to have a home series against Pakistan last year, dead in the middle of the IPL. The result was that Pakistan was able to send a full-strength team to the West Indies, but the West Indies could not field their best possible team as some of their players opted to play in the IPL.
By the earlier definition, therefore, maybe Pakistan did not play the West Indies but rather the West Indians. As tight as international schedules are, it seems that other teams are able to shift matches a few weeks this way or that to accommodate all or most of the IPL.
The Aussie tour
This year, the West Indians performed credibly, in my view, against Australia, considering that the best spinner in the West Indies (Sunil Narine), some of the best all-rounders (Dwayne Bravo, Kieron Pollard, and André Russell) and some of the best batsmen (Chris Gayle and Marlon Samuels) were playing in the IPL. Imagine if Australia actually played the West Indies instead.
Australia, of course, were able to have their full side as Cricket Australia is able to guarantee significant income to all their first-class players throughout the year, so the IPL is not as much of a necessity. In contrast, after a recent 300 per cent rise in match fees, a West Indian first-class player makes only US$15,000 if his team plays all matches in the competitions put on by the WICB.
So even if the interests of the spectators is not a priority, it is in the players' interest that the WICB should create a window to allow its players access to the most lucrative league in the world. A bit of imaginative scheduling could create this window. Indeed, such imagination was used to squeeze in an extra Test match against India last year to ensure an extra US$20 million in TV revenue.
Yet again the West Indians embark on a series, this time in England, devoid of its top players. When will I get to see the true West Indies play again?