February 15, 2009

Heads must roll for fiasco

Why weren't lessons learned from the problems at the ground in the World Cup in 2007 and from the Australian Test last year?
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The Antigua Recreation Ground being hastily prepared for it's unexpected return as a Test match venue © AFP
 

Like some neglected, forgotten old uncle suddenly invited to a function at Government House, the Antigua Recreation Ground (ARG) was being hastily prepared for its unexpected return to the limelight as a Test match venue.

For the third successive year, the costly white elephant a few miles away, along the road to nowhere, had failed in its purpose. To ease some of the unqualified shame caused by Friday's abandonment of the second Test, the ARG was quickly remembered and spruced up.

The white lines on the outfield marking a football pitch revealed its main role now. The decrepit state of the stands told of the years of neglect since the once vibrant ground, site of more batting records than all the others in the region combined, hosted its last Test in 2006.

Wary of the potential risk to spectators - the majority English, judging by Friday's turnout for the debacle at the Sir Vivian Richards Ground (SVRG) - the top deck of the popular double-decker stand will be closed.

The bottom deck is where Chicki blasted out his music from giant speakers and Gravy entertained with his cross-dressing gyrations. Given the circumstances, a dirge would be Chicki's most appropriate selection in the coming days.

As the fire brigade used their hoses to soften the rock-hard outfield and ground staff rolled a pitch prepared only for the teams' net practice earlier in the week, no one knew what to expect once what has become the third Test starts.

What is more certain is that all the administrators ultimately responsible for this debacle - West Indies Cricket Board president Julian Hunte and chief executive Donald Peters and Leeward Islands Cricket Association boss and WICB director Gregory Shillingford - will be comfortably seated off in the president's box.

Among them will be Haroon Lorgat, the chief executive of the ICC, who fatefully chose this Test of the series for his first visit to the Caribbean. Thick-skinned as they are, his West Indies counterparts won't be fazed by his assertion that "it's clear that it's the responsibility of the West Indies board to ensure the ground is fit to play".

Hunte has stated that resignation hadn't crossed his mind. Peters didn't have to repeat it. No matter how culpable they may be, accountability and resignation are two words that do not figure in the lexicon of Caribbean leaders, in whatever enterprise.

There was still no announcement from the WICB on Saturday of an inquiry, as there surely must be. That move came from the Antigua and Barbuda prime minister, Baldwin Spencer, coincidentally the chairman of CARICOM's sub-committee on cricket, whose government faces an election shortly.

"There can be lessons in today's aborted Test match that may pre-empt any such occurrence in cricket in the future," he said. But weren't lessons learned from the problems at the ground in the World Cup in 2007 and from the Australian Test last year? And was not a lot of public money spent each time to try and eliminate the problem of drainage?

 
 
There was still no announcement from the WICB on Saturday of an inquiry, as there surely must be. That move came from the Antigua and Barbuda prime minister, Baldwin Spencer, coincidentally the chairman of CARICOM's sub-committee on cricket
 

There are a host of other questions that need to be answered by the WICB. It appears that its directorate remained, literally, with their heads in the sand in spite of the reported concerns of knowledgeable, experienced individuals over the state of the outfield at the SVR Ground.

Steve Camacho, the former West Indies opener who was its chief executive for 18 years, has recently been recruited by the WICB as a consultant. He lives in Antigua and stated his disquiet at a WICB meeting in Georgetown last month.

Those more interested in protecting their own fiefdoms than the name of West Indies cricket - and others with votes in the upcoming election for board president possibly in mind - paid no heed.

Perhaps they were expected to be guided by reports from their own operatives. In that case, what was forthcoming, if anything, from Tony Howard, the WICB's cricket operations officer, and his deputy, Roland Holder, both former Test players?

If they, too, stated their worries and were ignored, they need to be exonerated from the blame that is being tossed around in all directions. If not, they should go, along with the president and the chief executive.

Last year, over an internal matter concerning spending on the upgrading of Hunte's office in St Lucia, Peters was sent on "administrative leave" and communications manager Tony Deyal was fired.

That was a petty affair. This has undermined West Indies cricket, even more than it has been by all the other, numerous instances of bungling by the board combined. Were it any other organisation, it would be inconceivable for no one to be held responsible and either forced to resign or dismissed. It doesn't happen that way around here.

That much was obvious over the Stanford-Digicel imbroglio a few months back. Even after the London International Court of Arbitration ruled against the WICB in the case, and in favour of Digicel, its main sponsor, Peters, far from being mortified, proclaimed that the board would have to review its sponsorship agreement.

Digicel's head, Denis O'Brien, publicly called for Peters and Hunte to resign. He was only wasting his breath, as is everyone who is doing the same over this latest fiasco.

Peters' reaction to the ending of sponsorship of the regional tournaments by Kentucky Fried Chicken and Carib Brewery was to state: "I have read that we are broke, and that sponsors are leaving us, but it really is that we are leaving them."

With that kind of arrogance, he is unlikely to appreciate the gravity of the present situation.

Tony Cozier has written about and commentated on cricket in the Caribbean for nearly 50 years