Door ajar for full-strength Windies squad
West Indies could yet field a full-strength squad at the Champions Trophy, with the ICC willing to accept a "revised" line-up in the event the industrial relations dispute between the board and the players is resolved. Despite setting an August 11 deadline for national boards to nominate their 15-man squads for the Champions Trophy, the ICC has advised the WICB it would take into account the exceptional circumstances brought on by the labour dispute and allow the likes of Chris Gayle, Denesh Ramdin and Shivnarine Chanderpaul to play at the tournament.
For that to happen, the WICB and the players would need to end their stand-off before West Indies' tournament opener against Pakistan at the Wanderers Ground on September 23. The recent breakdown in mediation talks between the two parties raised fears of a damaging and protracted split, although WIPA's announcement this week that it would accept CARICOM's six-point resolution plan may yet mark a turning point in the labour crisis.
Both the ICC and its broadcast partner, ESPN STAR Sports, have impressed upon the WICB their desire for a full-strength West Indies team to compete at the eight-team, two-week tournament in South Africa. The Champions Trophy has been criticised in the past for lacking context and prestige in an already crowded international calendar, and the ICC is hopeful the streamlined format - and the $4 million prize purse - will reinvigorate the appetite of both the players and the public for the embattled tournament and the 50-over game in general.
A weakened West Indies squad is hardly in keeping with that ambition. The WICB controversially named a second-string squad for the Champions Trophy while locked in mediation talks with WIPA - a move criticised by Bharrat Jagdeo, the Guyanese president CARICOM chairman, and Sir Shridath Ramphal, the former Commonwealth secretary-general and CARICOM-appointed mediator - but an ICC source told Cricinfo hope remained that an 11th-hour settlement would allow West Indies to field their elite squad.
The ICC has played a behind-the-scenes role in the WICB-WIPA dispute, although Haroon Lorgat, the council's chief executive, would not be drawn on the specifics of their involvement. He did, however, call upon the West Indian board to restore senior players to the Champions Trophy squad; a move that would enhance the tournament's objective of pitting the best versus the best.
"We would be disappointed if the best team is not taken to South Africa, but we understand the complex situation that exists," Lorgat told Cricinfo. "The West Indies have the unfettered right to select whomever they choose."
Any move to return their elite players to the field would present the WICB with a sizeable logistical and cost issue. The Floyd Reifer-led West Indies squad have already arrived in South Africa and played two practice matches against provincial sides. The bulk of those players would presumably be recalled to the Caribbean should the path be cleared for the Windies' striking cricketers to return - a scenario the cash-strapped board could do without.
But there is much at stake - not least the desire of ESPN Star Sports to protect its reported $1.1 billion broadcast deal with the ICC through to 2015. Manu Sawhney, ESPN Star Sport's managing director, delivered a veiled criticism of West Indies' current stance by stating his hope that "the unique position of the ICC Champions Trophy in the international cricket calendar will remain intact with the full participation of best available squads from all the competing teams."
"We firmly believe that the ICC Champions Trophy should be a premium international event where the best players from the top cricketing nations compete for the honours and are confident that the ICC and the cricketing community in general shares that belief," Sawhney told Cricinfo.
"As highlighted by you, lately there have been concerns regarding West Indies that have been raised in the media. As ICC's leading commercial partners, we continually maintain a dialogue with the ICC on various aspects of our relationship. However, it is our policy not to publicly comment on such discussions. We are proud of our association with the ICC and very much value this relationship."
Alex Brown is deputy editor of Cricinfo