May 13, 2009

West Indies' leadership crisis

If the captaincy is a burden to Chris Gayle, he should step down right away

Let's mark this moment, shall we?

We have a West Indies Cricket Board president who isn't sure what's at stake in England, and a captain who, apart from not caring too much whether or not the Test game survives, views the responsibilities of leadership as a burden that he is more than ready to give up.

After enjoying the unexpected spectacle of Chris Gayle holding the Wisden Trophy aloft at the Queen's Park Oval just five weeks ago, these latest developments are enough to make you just want to get away from it all and jet off to, I don't know, maybe Germany or Austria and stay there until the controversy blows over in about nine days' time.

In case you missed it, WICB boss Julian Hunte, when questioned by cricket writer and broadcaster Tony Cozier as to whether or not the Wisden Trophy is up for grabs in the current two-Test series, was reported as stating in these pages yesterday: "So far as I'm concerned, I don't believe it was discussed," adding that he would check with stand-in CEO Steve Camacho for confirmation.

As if that isn't enough, Gayle took the opportunity of an exclusive interview in the Guardian of London yesterday to make clear his views on Test cricket and the West Indies captaincy.

"I wouldn't be so sad," was his response to the suggestion that Test cricket is being threatened by the growth of Twenty20, adding: "I like Twenty20 since it come about now. I like it. Who doesn't?"

And on the matter of leadership of the regional side, this is what he is reported to have said: "To be honest with you there's a possibility I might give it up ... I will be giving it up shortly ... It's definitely not something I'm looking to hang on to. I need some time for myself, to be honest with you, it's a lot of travelling. There's always something you have to go and do, you know, extra. Lunch or dinner, some other thing, there's always something for the captain. I'm not that type of person. I can't take on too much things. So soon I will be handing over this captaincy. I soon finish with it."

Take nothing away from the fact that, on the field, he has made a definite positive difference since, ironically, the one-day series on the last tour of England two years ago. But if that's how he feels, Gayle should do West Indies cricket a favour and step down now. Yes, right now, and let someone else represent the tourists at this morning's media conference ahead of the second and final Test starting tomorrow in Chester-le-Street.

It doesn't have to be vice-captain Denesh Ramdin. It could be anybody, just someone who at least has an appreciation of what being West Indies captain means.

Let me reiterate that, compared to those who occupied the position in recent years, Gayle has been a success on the field over the past 18 months as full-time captain. But leadership of the regional side, or any sort of leadership role for that matter, is never limited to a specific activity. Like Australian legspinner Shane Warne, who clearly has tremendous skill as a tactician but believes off-field activities shouldn't have any bearing on his status in the side, Gayle can't have his jerk chicken and eat it too.

With leadership comes responsibility and expectations that extend well beyond the boundary ropes, and having made crystal clear that these are burdensome and uncomfortable, he should be prepared to function as a regular player from tomorrow morning.

What message is he sending to his team-mates when, as also appears in the Guardian interview, he not only gripes about wanting to give up the job, but harps on the fact that it was only at the insistence of unnamed officials (selectors? President? CEO?) that he accepted the position in the first place?

Of course, I could be very, very wrong in this assumption in that Gayle may still very much be the players' player and the one they would most want to be in charge, whatever his attitude off the field towards the responsibilities of captaincy.

Yet to leave things unchanged on that basis would be to accept that we have sunk to an even lower low, and that not even the leader is really expected to behave in a manner associated with real leadership.

But, hold on. What am I saying? The leader of the WICB isn't sure that we're defending the Wisden Trophy even though the England and Wales Cricket Board have been publicising the series as such all the while.

That's just the tip of the iceberg, though. The leader of our government speaks of a new energy boom on the horizon even as regular folks are preparing for the full effects of the economic downturn. The titular Head of State follows the finest tradition of bewildering choices by West Indian selectors in appointing members to the Integrity Commission, all of whom have resigned within 11 days of being sworn in, yet has nothing to say by way of explanation and, so far, apparently feels no compunction to return home to clean up the mess he has created.

Skippering a cricket side would normally appear trivial by comparison, except that, around here, the status of West Indies captain rivals that of presidents, prime ministers and chief ministers for pre-eminence in many people's eyes. From Max to Gayle, or vice-versa, we really are in a leadership crisis.