Garner looms in WICB presidential race
On January 22, speaking to Jamaican television channel Sports Max, WICB president Dave Cameron said: "I hope we do have some challengers. I hope so. Because the truth is, I don't believe that I am the only one that can run West Indies cricket." Cameron was speaking about the WICB elections, to be held on Saturday in his hometown of Kingston, Jamaica during the board's annual general meeting. Without spelling it out, Cameron indicated he remained the favourite to win a second term.
He might still get re-elected but, as desired, Cameron does now have a challenger. Joel Garner, the former West Indies fast bowler and a current WICB director, has been nominated by the Barbados Cricket Association to stand against Cameron. Two years ago, Cameron unseated the longstanding incumbent Julian Hunte, who had occupied the president's chair for three two-year terms, in a tight contest, winning by a 7-5 vote.
Despite the Cameron camp's optimism, the contest could once again be close, especially as Garner has the backing of the powerful Trinidad & Tobago Cricket Board (TTCB), which voted for Cameron in 2013.
A total of 12 votes will be cast in a secret ballot with each of the six WICB members, the territorial boards - Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, Leeward Islands, Trinidad & Tobago and Windward Islands - getting two votes each. The Jamaica Cricket Association (JCA), Guyana Cricket Association (GCA), Leeward Islands Cricket Association (LICA) and Windwards Island Cricket Board of Control (WICBC) have publicly voiced their support in favour of Cameron. They cite the main reason for wanting Cameron to continue as his efforts to professionalise the sport and also the structure of the territorial boards.
But Cameron would be aware that his once-strong support base is not as secure. He was nominated by Guyana and seconded by Windward Islands - not his own board, Jamaica. In fact the JCA directors voted 10-6 in favour of supporting Garner earlier in February. But that decision was overturned at the JCA AGM at the end of the month, where members voted to back their countryman Cameron.
Another key ally, the TTCB decided to switch sides, having backed Cameron two years ago. TTCB director Baldath Mahabir has been nominated as Garner's deputy to fight against the incumbent Emmanuel Nanthan, who is both the chairman of the WICB's cricket committee as well as the president of the Windwards board.
Cameron has highlighted the "two big ticket items" during his tenure he is proud of: putting together a fresh Memorandum of Understanding concerning the player contracts, which offers incentives to franchises and clubs, and repairing the once-fractured relationship with the West Indies Players' Association (WIPA). Cameron said that the trust and mutual respect WICB has developed with WIPA has never been seen before.
Yet the relationships between players and the WICB have grown worse under Cameron. West Indies removed head coach Ottis Gibson before the India tour. Then the West Indies selection panel omitted the senior pair of Dwayne Bravo and Kieron Pollard for the World Cup, citing the lack of impact and performance. When Chris Gayle publicly questioned that move, the WICB pulled up for breaching the disciplinary code in the middle of the World Cup.
The clearest example of this failed relationship was evident when the controversy over signing of the new MoU triggered Bravo to pull his team out of their tour of India last October. Cameron was criticised by not just his own people in the Caribbean but even an annoyed BCCI, which demanded a $42.7 million penalty as punitive claims for the losses incurred due to the abandoned tour.
Not only the BCCI, but even prominent voices like Brian Lara and Michael Holding felt the WICB could have doused the crisis only if Cameron had flown out to sit down and sort the issue with Bravo and the players in person. Yet Cameron maintained that he was right in channelling all communications with players through the WIPA.
Cameron might believe he was being professional with his attitude, but his opponents argue it has proved to be potentially damaging, especially now that the relationship with BCCI has been fractured. Azim Bassarath, the TTCB president and one of the WICB directors, admitted that the main reason his board had decided to discontinue support of Cameron was due to his adverse handling of West Indies' pullout from the India tour. "The TTCB executive decided that the debacle of what happened in India and all the negatives going around with Mr Cameron, it was not doing West Indies cricket any good. The board considers this as the darkest hour of West Indies cricket," Bassarath told ESPNCricinfo.
According to Bassarath, dealing with the BCCI, the most powerful member of the ICC, was the most crucial thing for WICB and Cameron's stance had actually created more barriers than pathways for fruitful negotiations. "Any cricket board that has $42 million hanging over its head, especially in these fragile times that West Indies cricket is going through, it is very dangerous," he said. "It can wipe the entire WICB out of existence."
That is the reason that the TTCB has decided to back Garner - because he could influence discussions with BCCI. This is the second time Garner has contested a top WICB position. In 2013 he stood for the vice-president's post but lost to Nanthan by an 8-4 margin. Soft-spoken, Garner has always opted to stay under the radar but he has remained concerned by the stagnant growth of the game in the Caribbean.
Immediately after he was re-elected as BCA president for a fourth term in February, Garner decided to pit himself against Cameron. Garner believes cricket has been the biggest loser as the WICB tries to wriggle out of the various controversies. As part of his plan, he has outlined ten broad points for consideration in his mini manifesto.
One key element is Garner wants to establish "definitive standards of performance and conduct" agreed between the WICB and the players, which will consequently enhance the team's results and rankings. He also wants to communicate clearly and openly with the territorial boards who remain an integral part of the WICB. "The WICB will be respected as a high quality playing entity, both men and women, and respected as a business organisation, capable of efficient planning and implementation, to keep pace with the dynamism of the modern business environment within the sport," Garner told Barbados newspaper Nation News.
The TTCB has placed its faith in Garner. "We feel that as a means of getting respect back to the game and the administration in the Caribbean the executive was of the opinion Joel might be the ideal person who might bring that back to West Indies cricket," Bassarath said. "We should look to put a West Indies icon who can open doors that no one else can open. We think Joel Garner will be respected in India. The BCCI is really in control of world cricket. They are the one really who have all the money in cricket."
When he took over as the WICB president, Cameron said that people would judge him based on West Indies' performance on the field. If that is so, then clearly Cameron deserves poor marks, with West Indies continuing to occupy the No. 8 position on the ICC rankings in both Test and ODI formats. Since June 2013, West Indies have won just three Tests out of 13, while losing eight of those. In 39 ODIs over the same period, they have 16 wins, 21 losses with two tied matches. Only in Twenty20, their strong suit, is their win-loss ratio close to level, with nine wins and 10 defeats.
Garner now has ambitions to check West Indies' decline. Will he be given a chance?
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo