West Indies losing an unfair game
To misquote Bill Woodfull: there are two teams out there, one is playing cricket for good money and the other is not. ESPNcricinfo can reveal the vast pay imbalance between the Australian and West Indies teams taking part in the New Year's Test at the SCG, a divide emblematic of the way the Caribbean side has been emasculated by reduced ICC funding, competing regional demands, poor incentives for players and the lure of Twenty20.
In a comparison between this summer's three Test-match combatants, the West Indies players come out a long way behind their Australian counterparts. They are even comfortably shaded by those of New Zealand, a cricket economy of comparable size, with similar issues about how T20 tournaments have afforded opportunities for far greater earnings away from international competition.
Australia's cricketers speak often of their love for the baggy green, and how Test cricket is always their No. 1 priority. However this idealism is backed up by the hard truth that it is still more lucrative to be a top-tier Australian Test cricketer than anything else. As the former captain Michael Clarke once said: "Governing bodies must prioritise player performance and payment in Test cricket."
But as the likes of Chris Gayle, Andre Russell, Dwayne Bravo and Lendl Simmons earn anywhere between Aus $65,000 (US $47,300 approx) and $120,000 (US $87,300 approx) for six weeks' work in the Big Bash League, the West Indies Test players are paid relatively meagre sums. Match fees were slashed from US $17,500 to $5,000 in 2014 as a result of an agreement between WIPA and the WICB that led to a mass walkout from that year's tour of India. By comparison, Australian cricketers are awarded Aus $15,450 (US $11,200 approx) per home Test, or $21,631 (US $15,700 approx) for overseas matches.
Contract retainers, meanwhile, provide an even wider discrepancy. The 12 WICB-contracted players are split into three categories earning between US $100,000 and $140,000. By contrast, the lowest ranked Australian contracted player, or the earner of an incremental contract like Peter Siddle or Usman Khawaja, will be the recipient of a deal worth Aus $250,000 (US $182,500 approx) in addition to their match payments. The top-contracted players, meanwhile, earn around Aus $1.5 million (US $1.1 approx).
Discontent over West Indian player payments has simmered ever since the catastrophic events of the India tour abandonment, which effectively ended the international careers of numerous players including Bravo. The deal struck between the WICB and WIPA had been intended to share the Caribbean game's revenue more evenly, factoring in the introduction of a fully professional regional first-class competition that is now in operation.
However the players, having agreed to a cut in their match payments without settling on the precise figure, argued that the reduction of their Test match fees by 65% had eventuated without their approval. Since that time Wavell Hinds, the head of WIPA, has had a strained relationship with international players, many of whom prefer their agents to negotiate contracts.
Clive Lloyd, the West Indies chairman of selectors, admitted that the WICB was simply unable to compete with the sort of money available to T20 freelancers. "I think that if you're a young person, that's your dream to play Test cricket for your country - money is a subsidiary of success," he said. "The point is if you do well you're going to be offered certain things and we have to have contracts so we can keep our players.
"Other countries' players are still playing for their country, they still want to play for their country. That is the problem that we have. Our guys are moving away from playing for their country, so we've got to fill that gap. I think this T20 competition has probably decimated our cricket as such."
Complicating all of this were the "Big Three" changes to the governance and financial structure of the ICC, leaving all nations other than India, England and Australia with a significantly smaller cut of the revenue pie from global tournaments. The subsequent reduction in funds - offset only slightly by a Test match fund made available for the staging of five-day matches in the "small seven" nations - has intensified pressure on the WICB's finances.
Lloyd described a few of the problems experienced in the Caribbean region. "Well they can give us some more money for starters," Lloyd said when asked about how the ICC could help. "To run cricket you have to have quite a lot of money. People must realise where West Indies is concerned, we have a plethora of islands... We can't drive anywhere, we have to fly everywhere. To fly from Guyana to Jamaica takes four to five hours. And each island has different cultures.
"So we need to have more money to help us because, don't forget, when we play our cricket it is high season and hotel rates are very exorbitant. We're not as wealthy as the other countries. We did well in the '70s and '80s because we were coming as champions and if you're coming as champions you can demand something. So now if you're not champions you don't get things thrown at you, and unfortunately we need things thrown our way so we're able to compete with the bigger countries.
"The money should be equally distributed because we're all playing Test cricket... The money you will get will see you through really, so I feel that is the way we should go. You can't have three countries doing extremely well and then the rest not getting a fair whack."
Another problem Lloyd highlighted was that of preparation time for tours. West Indies played their first Test in Hobart off the back of only one fixture in Brisbane, which a jetlagged XI lost conclusively to a team of developmental Australian players - many of whom making their first-class debuts. The expense of accommodating players for longer tours is a problem for West Indies, as is a poor bargaining position when scheduling tours with stronger nations.
"If a team comes to any country they should be able to play enough warm-up games to get accustomed to the conditions," he said. "We've travelled 12,000 miles and it's different here. We have jetlag, there's the heat, the hardness of the grounds, it's just getting accustomed to a lot of things and two four-day games would probably have put us in good stead.
"I've said that when I was chairman of ICC [cricket committee], that if we have young players - you can't blood a player on tour any more. We had a four-day game and two-day game, we had to play the guys we think will be good enough in the Test matches. Gone are the days when we came here in September or October and left in February. After the first month, we'd eaten everything on the menu.
"The point is we played a lot of games, we got accustomed to the conditions and you give a good account of yourself. It showed in the last game [at the MCG], we batted fairly well on a pretty good Test pitch, so I'm sure the guys will give a good account of themselves in the long run. It will take some time to build a Test team because we've lost - what, 10 of our players are playing the one-day format of the game. We have to try and look to build a team that's going to stand us in good stead for the future."
How much of a future West Indies can have remains to be seen. But as the figures show, they are presently playing - and losing - an unfair game.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig