Crisis in the West Indies July 20, 2009

Windies cricket in its death throes

A reconstituted body, West Indies Cricket, must be formed to oversee governance of cricket in the Caribbean, as outlined in the PJ Patterson report

To be in the company of Lance Gibbs, Ian Bishop and Jeffrey Dujon this past week has been to empathise with heart-broken men waiting for the inevitable demise of a close, revered but seriously ill relative, once strong and vigorous but in progressively deteriorating health over the past decade.

The melancholy mood of these three champions of eras when West Indies cricket was the envy of the world pervades the Caribbean as a decimated West Indies team contests so-called Tests against Bangladesh.

It is purely through the malfunctioning of its two most critical organs, the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) and the West Indies Players' Association (WIPA). From every indication, the game in these parts is now in its death throes.

Dr Rudi Webster, himself a former first-class cricketer and West Indies team official, used a fitting medical analogy in an article last week to advance a reason for the crisis. It is worth repeating.

"If the epitome of good teamwork is found in the human body, its antithesis, selfishness and arrogance, is found in the cancer," he wrote last week. "The common goal of the human body is to grow, perform well, stay healthy and reproduce itself. Its many cells, organs and systems perform highly specialised functions that are well-coordinated and strongly focused on the achievement of the common goal.

"Good internal communication and close monitoring and stabilisation of the body's activities enhance that process. The cancer is not interested in the health or well-being of the body. It is committed only to its own growth, power and control in achieving its selfish goals, the cancer destroys and eventually kills the body. And in the end, it kills itself because it cannot live in a dead body."

That is where West Indies cricket is at present. The WICB and WIPA have, for years, spent time, energy and money trying to convince the West Indies' cricket family that the other side is the source of this particular cancer.

Up to last week, instead of attempting reconciliation and revival, the WICB issued a pompous demand for an apology from the players who withdrew from the Tests against Bangladesh, the upshot of the latest impasse, and the WIPA responded with a supercilious reply "dripping with sarcasm", as one website put it. The circumstances were so dire that Jimmy Adams, the former West Indies captain, now WIPA official and president of the Federation of International Cricketers (FICA), recommended euthanasia.

His take was to "stop the cricket" if there could be no settlement - and, for all their public statements, there was no hint that either would give an inch.

The implications of such a move are too devastating to contemplate.

As much as it claims to be in the right, as much as it feels it has been goaded by the WIPA, as much as it is adamant that it cannot bow to player power, it would be a move in the right direction for the WICB now to announce that it intends to change its stance and immediately act on the main recommendation of the PJ Patterson report which it had commissioned.

Headed by the former Jamaica prime minister and asked to recommend changes to the governance of West Indies cricket, its main proposal was the formation of a reconstituted body, West Indies Cricket, consisting of a council and a board.

The council, comprising 23 members - drawn from a wide cross-section of stakeholders would meet once a year "to review all aspects of the game and its management". The new board, to run the day-to-day affairs, would number 13 under a president, vice-president and chief executive, to be appointed by the council.

Six executive directors would be nominated by territorial boards (as against two for each at present), another three - chosen for their special expertise in operational areas - and one each put forward by Caricom, a group of cricket organisations and the WIPA.

This was all too radical for WICB officials keen to maintain the status quo. That has patently failed. The present crisis must prompt action.

Several issues would still have to be resolved with the WIPA but it would be a start. Surely the WIPA would be constrained to respond positively.

The bland reality is that, unless the cancer is cured, West Indies cricket as it has existed for more than 100 years is dead. It cannot survive by putting second-rate teams in the field, as the WICB has been forced to do by the WIPA against Bangladesh.

Already there are whispers from those in authority in Trinidad, the WIPA's base, advocating they seek to split from the WICB and seeking separate associated status from the International Cricket Council (ICC).

Pertinently, not a single Trinidad and Tobago player made himself available for the makeshift team against Bangladesh. It might seem a far-fetched option but, in the present circumstances, not to be discounted.

Trinidad and Tobago presently possess the strongest structure in West Indies cricket and the sponsors to support it. By their triumph in the last regional Stanford 20/20 tournament, they have qualified for the international Champions League in India in October.

"We cannot play at the moment in the World Cup or in any other international competition," their captain, Daren Ganga, noted just before they beat the English champions, Middlesex, in the Stanford Super Series. "But, who knows, with the advent of Twenty20 cricket, club championships and private cricket leagues , there might be a possibility of that changing." There are words the WICB needs to heed.

At precisely the same time as they issued their latest warning to the players about alleged breaches of a memorandum of understanding and the code of discipline, Don Lockerbie, the new chief executive of the United States Cricket Association, was announcing plans for a franchise-based Twenty20 tournament. It would be another alternative for West Indies teams and players outside the mainstream.

No one has to be reminded of the consequences of Dr Eric Williams' calculation of one minus ten equals nought as applied to the short-lived West Indies Federation.

A cricketing equivalent would arguably be even more crushing to the West Indian psyche - and not just to Gibbs, Bishop, Dujon and their colleagues from the glory days.

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