October 1, 2012

Full plate for new WICB boss

Michael Muirhead, who succeeds the contentious Ernest Hilaire, will have his work cut out with the various perennially thorny issues of West Indian cricket

The reins controlling West Indies cricket have been officially passed over now, from Dr Ernest Hilaire to Michael Muirhead. The West Indies Players Association (WIPA) must be cautiously breathing a sigh of relief.

It is fair to say that "contentious" best describes the tenure of the Hilaire, whose contract ended on September 30. That his last days in office should have been characterised by judgements in favour of three players - Ramnaresh Sarwan, Lendl Simmons and Narsingh Deonarine - in arbitration was an apt commentary on Hilaire's time in office: largely a fractious, unsuccessful battle to dictate terms.

In one of his last statements before demitting the post, Hilaire noted that when he agreed to take up the CEO's job three years ago, he told WICB president Julian Hunte: "We need to take tough decisions. Are you ready to make those decisions? It will be painful, it will be brutal but somebody has to be able to take those decisions and transform the board."

Clearly, arbitrator Seenath Jairam SC did not agree with the legality of the methods the WICB under Hilaire used in making some of those "tough decisions" and bringing about greater player discipline.

The doling out of cash to its players may not yet be over for Hilaire's former employers either. Still to be settled is the matter of the US$20 million lawsuit WIPA has brought against the board on behalf of some of its players - including Chris Gayle - over WICB's handling of no-objection certificates that players require to participate in tournaments such as the Indian Premier League. Muirhead will inherit this case, and indeed an expensive legacy overall.

"The next CEO should not be afraid to take decisions and to ensure that the right processes and procedures are followed," said Hilaire. That policy may not have worked all to well for the ex-CEO himself, given what has transpired in recent matters of arbitration, but he is right. Muirhead will have to be tough, but he must also operate within the rules. In his zeal to deal with what he clearly saw as an imbalance in the relationship between the players and the board, Hilaire oversaw the infringing of players' rights - to the cost of the WICB. And rather than bringing WIPA to heel, he has left it looking triumphant and unbowed.

Bringing civility and mutual respect to the player-board relationship will be the principal challenge for the new CEO. It would be a mistake for Muirhead to treat WIPA as a tiger to be tamed. But how he will approach this critical issue is anybody's guess.

He comes from a career in accounting and banking, but is an unknown in cricketing circles. In introducing him to the public, president Hunte said: "Michael brings a wealth of experience in a range of sectors in Jamaica, is an accomplished, astute and measured executive on whom the board will rely to execute its programmes and policies, and further build capacity at the WICB Secretariat...

"The interview panel was most impressed with his résumé, clarity of thought, broad understanding of the sport, communication skills and overall skills set, and specifically, his capacity for judicious management." Muirhead's "communication skills" and "judicious management" will probably be his most needed qualities.

He comes to the job when a new sponsorship agreement with Digicel is still not concluded; when the three senior regional competitions and the Under-19 and Under-15 tournaments are all without title sponsors; and with the now expired Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) and Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) with WIPA the subject of another court matter, to be heard this month. The outcome of that MOU/CBA issue could be critical to how Muirhead's tenure goes.

Yes, the new CEO has come into an organisation still in a fragile state, even as small steps forward have been taken on the field. The establishment of the Sagicor High Performance Centre under Hilaire and the reactivation of the West Indies A team has been a plus for the game. In theory, at least, talent in the West Indies is being developed at a faster rate and in a more coordinated way than in previous years. The coming together of a more focused international team under Darren Sammy and Ottis Gibson has been encouraging - but no more than that.

West Indies cricket is still a sick, vulnerable patient, whose recovery can be set back seriously by the slightest relapse - like a players' strike, for instance. The collective agreement, with its provisions for arbitration, has prevented such disruption over the past three years. Without it, the game in the Caribbean could be back on a very sticky wicket. So how this matter is settled will be critical. It could define Muirhead's time in the job.

He will not have the combative style of Dinanath Ramnarine to deal with, which could be an advantage. But Muirhead will find WIPA under current president Wavell Hinds and CEO Michael Hall no less resolute.

Hilaire reckons he had done the dirty work, so to speak, and says: "I trust there will be less fights for the new CEO and there will be less challenges than I had."

He sees the next big hurdle for his successor as being the restructuring of the WICB. One suspects Mr Muirhead may get not time to restructure. He will be too busy just holding his ground.

Garth Wattley is a writer with the Trinidad Express