April 12, 2016

Darren Sammy, WICB-slayer?

Will the West Indies captain go down in history as the man who brought the board to its knees?

Sammy's words after the final have rung out as a call to arms in the Caribbean © Associated Press

Wouldn't it be interesting if Darren Sammy makes history as the man who finally dismantled the West Indies Cricket Board?

Choosing the one place he could be guaranteed an audience of millions - the World Cup T20 final - Sammy fired what might prove a fatal salvo at the cricket board. He gave praise and thanks but there was an edge in his voice when he launched into a sorry tale of mistrust, of feelings of abandonment, neglect and betrayal. It has had dramatic reverberations and implications for West Indies cricket. For the euphoria of that day of triumph - both the women and men's teams plucked trophies out of thin air - to find voice in this emotionally charged ventilation was a powerful call to arms.

Sammy is known to be a measured man. He chooses his words and he marks his moment. Maybe it was because he had seen the script for the scene that had already begun to play to international audiences. It was being written by WICB president Dave Cameron after the semi-final matches, as he informed the Times of India of his "robust system" that would eventually "churn out" good results, and that the success of the three West Indies teams, men, women and Under-19s, was proof.

The president putting his own spin on things in the hope of churning out the results he wants - a happy dressing room and settled players - might have been the straw that broke Sammy's back. He had not heard from Cameron up to the day of the finals. Cameron had gone to India when West Indies reached the knockouts, but had not visited the players.

Cameron and the WICB rely on the often-undeserved respect for office that creates the dreadful silence that allows bullies and tyrants to thrive. This is the way of Caribbean leaders, and Sammy knew the weight of the old boys' network would come down on him once he opened his mouth. He was right: Cameron and his vice-president, Emmanuel Nanthan, denounced him, calling his statement inappropriate, irrelevant, demeaning, insulting and unfortunate.

But Sammy must have expected this - coach Phil Simmons' experience is recent enough - and he had to have accepted that he would probably lose his job.

His troops have come out too - Dwayne Bravo, Chris Gayle, Sir Viv Richards, cricketers and supporters have raised their voices. Social media has been rocking with comments. An online petition started on April 4 to dissolve the WICB and implement the CARICOM Review Report accumulated 6699 names in a few days. This may not seem a high figure, but it is, given the general apathy and the sense of disenfranchisement that reigns.

"All rope got an end" is a saying in the Caribbean. The tag team of Cameron and Nanthan has managed to finally take West Indian cricket supporters to that end. West Indians, who have supported the Lucky, Wilkins, Patterson, and most recently CARICOM, review reports, have not been as incensed as they have been since Sammy has spoken.

Cameron described his relationship with the players as fine, as the kind that normally exists between a president and his players. It suggests a state of mind that has no grasp of leadership or management. He condescendingly said he wanted to have a discussion with the team so he could explain to them how things were. This, incredibly, from the man who did not stay at the team hotels and communicated through the manager that he was "available" to the team. In the face of almost unanimous criticism, Cameron has declared that history will vindicate him.

It will certainly take note of him.

After the matches on that fateful Sunday, listening to stories from cricket lovers and people who don't understand the game, or care little about it, but who still watched the finals, it was obvious that the impact of the wins at the WT20 finals had less to do with cricket than it did with an arousal from the doldrums.

A combination of factors within the region has reduced Caribbean people to a collective of despair. Economic recession, unemployment, rampant corruption, and growing divisiveness among the nations, fuelled by unscrupulous politicians, have created a climate of helpless rage. Just as the brazen posturing of the WICB struck a raw nerve with Sammy, so has Sammy's courageous stance struck another within the West Indian community.

Enough is finally enough is the sentiment. People do not want the WICB to even be near West Indies cricket, and it is time the ICC recognises, acknowledges and respects that fact. As the private company set up in 1927 to organise and manage the logistics of sending the first West Indian Test team to England in 1928, the West Indian cricket board fell into a practice and philosophy of management that is still based on the plantocracy model that was its genesis. That is why the gut reaction is indignation at the audacity of players to want better terms and conditions, and heaven forbid, respect!

Just as the brazen posturing of the WICB struck a raw nerve with Sammy, so has Sammy's courageous stance struck another within the West Indian community

Although people in the region are understandably reluctant to entrust West Indies cricket to politicians, they are hopeful that an interim system might be set up to facilitate a new process and structure. Given the nature of Caribbean politics, it will require constant vigilance.

Sports psychologist Rudi Webster sent me an article he wrote, calling for the WICB to "wake up from their self-induced hypnotic sleep":

"If self-interest or self-preservation is not the real cause of the Board's defiant attitude and behaviour, one can only assume that its members do not yet understand the significance of organizational structure and structural reform, or the importance of the fundamental principles of development, improvement planning, and successful performance."

The WICB is not the sole cause for the decline in West Indies cricket; other factors have contributed to the fall in Test performances. In 2010, maybe a month or so before Sammy was appointed West Indies captain, I spoke at a Sir Frank Worrell memorial lecture and said that I felt that in Test cricket West Indies were a spent force, who were atrophying at an even faster rate than international Test cricket is wilting.

But I believed that T20's time had come and that it had come for West Indies.

"It fits today's culture, and West Indian cricketers are well suited for it, and with the right guidance can dominate it," I said back then. "Test cricket requires strategy, technique, discipline and long periods of focus; the difference with T20 is that it asks for short, intense bursts of concentration - and how often have we lamented that our cricketers can only hold it together for a few overs? We can channel this Test flaw into a T20 strength, I think. I am not saying this is all we need. We have to appreciate that excellence comes with a strong foundation of hard work and discipline, and the kind of character epitomised by Worrell."

Sammy is not Worrell, and his captaincy has in the past been greeted with opposition because critics felt that technically he was not a sound enough player to even make the team consistently. Sir Viv had a way of saying that you have to choose horses for courses. Sammy's strength has been his capacity to build bonds and bring a measure of harmony and camaraderie, like Worrell did. The team Sammy entered was riven by rivalries and disputes and jealousies. The players were infected by the distrust that marked the overall environment of West Indies cricket. Sammy brought those skills to the team (those man-management skills that Sir Wes Hall described as one of Worrell's great strengths as a captain), and it was evident throughout this tournament that he had built something.

So even when commentators were criticising his performances in the tournament - and his figures are not appealing - I continued to think that he had somehow infused in the side a will to win that I had hardly seen in recent times.

And when he took that microphone and exposed the WICB, even as Cameron was possibly preparing to rip off his own shirt and beat his chest, Sammy was bravely standing up for his team and for West Indies cricket, knowing the fallout would come.

And he will go down in history as the first captain to have taken a team to a World T20 title twice, but he will be most likely remembered as the man who took on the WICB and aroused the West Indies from its sleepless slumber.

Vaneisa Baksh is a freelance journalist based in Trinidad

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