February 3, 2014

A bright new future for West Indies? Think again

The West Indies board is pleased with the potential revenue from the ICC revamp, but given its team's serial underperformance, will it really?

A bright new future for West Indies cricket dawned last week. At least that's how the WICB interpreted the comprehensive overhaul of the ICC - initiated unequivocally for their benefit by India, England and Australia - that it enthusiastically supported ("after extensive discussions and careful consideration") at the directors' meeting on Tuesday and Wednesday in Dubai.

There is a certain irony to its ready acceptance of such a radical transformation to the way the world game is administered. Twice it has commissioned independent committees to advise on just such change to its own organisation. Twice it has utterly ignored them.

The remit of the first, headed by the former Jamaica prime minister PJ Patterson, was "to consider the composition and structure of the WICB and to make recommendations which will improve its overall operations, governance effectiveness, team performance and strengthen its credibility and public support". The committee presented its comprehensive report in October 2007. Last year, a frustrated Patterson charged: "I challenge anyone to point out a single iota or even the semblance of change which has been made to the composition and structure of the WICB as a result of our report."

A similar brief was subsequently given to a team of three, under the chairman of the board's governance committee, Queen's Counsel Charles Wilkin. It presented its report in January 2012. It has gone the same way as Patterson's. "The territorial board directors flatly rejected the recommendations of the governance committee as to the restructuring of the board and refused to make any change at all to the current structure," Wilkin, understandably irate, stated in his letter of resignation.

The main reason for the WICB's contrasting positions is easy to spot. Patterson and Wilkin both proposed a reduction in the number of directors, who were not about to vote themselves out of their prestigious positions. Under the superpowers' takeover of the ICC, the WICB's internal business was not an issue. The board was obviously marginalised as a result but it saw financial and other benefits from toeing the line. Beggars, after all, can't be choosers.

It noted that while the all-powerful BCCI would take a "central leadership responsibility" of the ICC, the West Indies board would remain a Full Member with all the attendant rights; its candidates would even be eligible for election to the presidency and the chairmanship of the Executive Committee (ExCo) and Financial and Commercial Affairs Committee (F&CA), both recently established under the restructuring - though not for at least five years, during which these top posts are reserved for the Big Three.

The WICB's optimistic take on what has emerged from Dubai sounds too good to be true. It has enough previous experience to appreciate that it often turns out to be. Remember the name Allen Stanford?

There was the assurance that West Indies are no longer in danger of losing Test status, gained in 1928, or of slipping into a proposed second division - that, it explained, only applies to those ranked ninth and tenth in the ICC Test rankings, and, it pointed out, West Indies are presently seventh (proudly adding that they are also the World Twenty20 champions).

What is more, under the new "mutually agreed" and "legally binding" Future Tours Programme, it is possible for West Indies to play more Tests, ODIs and T20s against higher-ranked opponents, both home and away. The WICB asserted that, after "initial discussions", India, England and Australia, "have all committed to increased tours to the West Indies over the next eight-year cycle [2015-2023]", in addition to those currently on the existing FTP. They are the only three guaranteed to earn the WICB a profit on visits by their teams to the Caribbean.

Two additional points are that there are no longer obligations to host either unprofitable tours - those against anyone but Australia, England and India - or any during the hurricane season, as has obtained for the past 20 years.

The clincher, inevitably, involved money.

It came through the proposed sharing of the ICC's revenue between its members over the eight-year cycle from 2015 to 2023; the WICB has projected an increase of at least 100% on what it got under the previous arrangement, between 2006 and 2014. No figure was given; it is reportedly between US$70 and $80 million. While these numbers pale in comparison with the $568 million that is slated to go to India in recognition of the estimated 80% it contributes to the ICC's revenue, mainly through its media and commercial rights contracts, and even England's $173 million and Australia's $130.5 million, it is a tidy sum for a region comprised of small islands with struggling economies and limited populations.

The question is: how will it be utilised? The WICB's answer is that it will allow the board "to realistically examine the possibility of a menu of initiatives and expansions", principally increasing the number of regional matches in all formats.

Richard Pybus, the new director of cricket, has already recognised the constraints of the current Nagico Super50 in Trinidad, with its maximum of five matches a team, minimum of three. It needs to revert to its 2013, non-sponsored format in which each team met the others prior to the semis and final. The same holds true for the first-class tournament, now limited to one round.

The promise of an annual Test match fund, conceived to support members other than the Big Three in hosting loss-making series, provides what the WICB described as a "financial buffer" for hosting unprofitable series against lesser teams. At present, West Indies' faltering standards are part of that equation.

The WICB's optimistic take on what has emerged from Dubai sounds too good to be true. It has enough previous experience to appreciate that it often turns out to be. Remember the name Allen Stanford?

We eagerly await further developments.

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