June 1, 2014

The Narine conundrum

Nineteen years ago Desmond Haynes failed to meet a WICB deadline and never played another Test. Now Narine finds himself in the eye of the storm

There are striking similarities in the West Indies Cricket Board's suspension of Sunil Narine for the forthcoming home Tests against New Zealand and that of Desmond Haynes 19 years ago, prior to the 1995 series against Australia.

Both involve the players' failure to meet a deadline for returning to the Caribbean, in Narine's case for the squad's preparatory training camp, in Haynes' for all matches in the domestic first-class tournament (then the Red Stripe Cup).

Narine has chosen to remain with the Kolkata Knight Riders for today's final of the Indian Premier League; Haynes, at the time a professional with Western Province in South Africa's Castle Cup, missed only one match, Barbados' first.

Each pleaded his case for dispensation; each was turned down by an inflexible board that pointed out that its relevant regulation was in place for good reason and was known by both.

The WICB's director of cricket, Richard Pybus, asserted on Friday that Narine's ineligibility for the three New Zealand Tests was in keeping with the "West Indies First" policy approved by its directors in March.

"The onus of the WICB is to protect the integrity of international cricket at all times," he said. "International cricket, and specifically Test cricket, is priority and requires dedicated preparation which is integral to team success. The WICB policy requires players to commit to sufficient preparation leading into a series as part of a culture of excellence."

The reasons for Haynes' issue were similar, if a little broader.

The words of Stephen Camacho, the board's CEO at the time, almost exactly echo Pybus'. He pointed out that the regulation that led to Haynes' suspension had been in place since 1983 and was "guided by its commitment to its sponsor and, more particularly, its responsibility for the long-term development of West Indies cricket.

"Now, more than ever, it is essential that the best players participate in our domestic programme where possible so as to enhance and protect the quality of our game," he added.

The Haynes issue immediately set off furious debate. He had, after all, played 116 Tests, more than any other West Indian at the time. He was an outstanding opening batsman, one half of the renowned partnership with Gordon Greenidge in the golden era of West Indies cricket.

The contemporary West Indies captain Richie Richardson asked that "special consideration be given". The Barbados Cricket Association successfully pressed for a review but the original decision was upheld by a committee of three. Radio talk shows and newspaper columns were filled with comment, mostly critical of the board, which held its ground.

Haynes never played another Test. He subsequently took legal action against the board that dragged on for seven years before it was settled out of court; by then, the all-matches requirement had been dropped.

It is unlikely the present situation will end Narine's fledgling career of six Tests; it will, almost certainly, generate reaction comparable to the furore on Haynes.

Narine may not, as yet, measure up to Haynes' formidable statistical record but he is a highly regarded spinner with a mysterious mixture of deliveries that have bamboozled the finest batsmen in the game's shortened versions to the extent that he is ranked by the ICC as the No. 2 bowler in T20 Internationals and No. 3 in one-dayers.

When the West Indies board gave Chris Gayle permission to extend his IPL stay in 2009, he arrived in London two days before the first Test. Such an arrangement brought the WICB heavy criticism; its contrary decision on Narine is also likely to be condemned

His overall record in his six Tests is far less impressive (21 wickets at 40.52) but, in his only three Tests against the same New Zealanders who he would otherwise have engaged with in the series that starts in Kingston next Sunday, he has taken 18 wickets at 24.33.

Like Haynes, who was active with Western Province prior to his belated return, it is not that Narine has been twiddling his thumbs in the past six weeks. What he has been twiddling are his fingers that impart the confusing each-way turn that have made him one of the leading wicket-takers and the most economical bowler in the IPL (of those who have played at least five matches) and helped propel Knight Riders to the final.

As for his fitness, T20 is a very distant relation to Test cricket but the IPL provides intense competition and franchises look after their players with top international coaches, trainers and physiotherapists.

So why would the WICB stick so inflexibly to its position?

This is the first Test of the "West Indies First" policy and it is obviously not inclined to give in on it at first time of asking. Other considerations would have influenced its intransigence. When it gave Chris Gayle, captain at the time, permission to extend his stay for one more IPL match in 2009, he arrived in London two days before the first Test at Lord's. Such an arrangement brought the WICB heavy criticism; its contrary decision on Narine is also likely to be condemned, a case of damned if it does and damned if it doesn't.

Another underlying factor was likely to have featured.

It was the recent assertion by Ernest Hilaire, who resigned as the WICB's chief executive two years ago, that "the bold initiatives required to fix regional cricket were often thwarted by pressure from territorial boards" during his term.

He charged that "insularity and narrow nationalism" continued to permeate West Indies cricket.

"There comes a time when some people believe the consequences of re-organising and restructuring is too much for them and therefore they want to go back to the old order and that's what we keep doing in West Indies cricket," he had said in a television interview.

Such attitudes led to the rejection of the main points in the 2007 report on restructuring of the WICB by a committee headed by the former Jamaica prime minister PJ Patterson. Another more recent paper, commissioned by then president Sir Julian Hunte and prepared by Queen's Counsel, Charles Wilkin, got the same treatment.

It is certainly not out of the question that Narine's home administration, the Trinidad & Tobago Cricket Board, would want to hear more about the reasons behind the WICB's decision. It might even ask for it to be reviewed, as the Barbados Cricket Association did in Haynes' case.

A new dispensation under president Dave Cameron has been in office for just over a year. As vice-president for six years, Cameron would have experienced the frustrations mentioned by Hilaire.

It will be instructive whether he now finds, as Hilaire did, that "the bold initiatives required to fix regional cricket (are) thwarted by pressure from territorial boards" and that, because of "insularity and narrow nationalism", Pybus' "West Indies First" initiative goes the way of others from Patterson and Wilkin.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Sheldon on June 5, 2014, 19:43 GMT

    WI Board has to eat some of the responsibility for Narine not being back on time, there was a set return date and the WI board extended it for the players, you set the date and then extend it now you want to make example of players. However Narine had a decision to make and I am sure he knew the consequences, but when you get an offer of double WI salary to stay what will you do. People who keep claiming Country first ask all those some retired broke Cricketers who still have to pay bills how does it feel, Haynes played for Barbados and was treated like crap when he went to the oval, Narine you go boy because when you retire people will move on to support the next superstar and you still have to live. while you are in that zone at this stage make your money not one of those sorry WI Board members will ever take care of your family. I support the Cricketers who is about MONEY because this is the world we live in today.

  • Channan on June 4, 2014, 21:55 GMT

    Were I in Narine's position, I would forget about playing for the West Indies. Concentrate on my own life and finances. Let us suppose for one moment that Narine had left the final game and returned to the West Indies, what are his chances of making the test team. Zilcho. A GENUINE RIGHT ARM SPINNER AND A LEFT ARMER. The board is actually happy he did not return. Narine would not make a test team in the WI unless injury strikes. To see this in any other way is stupidity. Any fool in the WI knows this.

  • Dummy4 on June 3, 2014, 18:32 GMT

    The 1st Test Match starts a week after the IPL final. Presumably the dates for this series were agreed between the respective boards so as not to clash with the IPL. So why set a deadline to be in camp a day before the final, why not two days after it ! What would have happened if Gayle and Dwayne Bravo had been in the final ? West Indies would have been back to square one, in the same predicament as before with feuding between the senior players and the board and the best team not on the park. Narine would have been in camp albeit late so the sanction is too severe.A fine or missing the 1st test would have been enough. He shouldn't have been put in that position in the 1st place. Let's hope the board don't make the same mistake again. Don't hold your breath ! On a cricketing note it's solves the conundrum of whether to play him and Shillingford and he has not yet proved to be a dominant force in tests...yet ! It's up Benn to take his chance. What will they do if he has a bad game !

  • Reg on June 3, 2014, 17:37 GMT

    I've already stated, more than once, that i understand and have no problem with Narine's choice. And I've already stated, more than once that i am not a huge fan of T20. But the standard of cricket - lovely lovely cricket - in the last few games of the most recent IPL was extraordinary. VivGilchrist: mate, you've missed a treat!

  • Tajal on June 3, 2014, 1:24 GMT

    Playing for your nation should be first priority. But guess what, these West Indian players are getting paid LOADS off of league cricket. Of course they would rather play the IPL, there's MONEY in it. WI dont pay well, from what I hear, so what are these players (many who grew up poor) to do? They'll cash in on their T20 riches. Bang a ball for six, win thousands of dollars. If I had a choice, I would choose the money. A WI player is not in the same position, money-wise, as an England or Aussie player. Back in the old days, WI players got paid CRAP, but they played their hearts out and won for Caribbean pride. Very commendable. However, The modern players are not gonna sit there and stay poor while in their primes. They'll chase the money and become rich like Gayle, Pollard and Bravo

  • Basil on June 2, 2014, 21:53 GMT

    I'm from Australia, love cricket, and I would have to say no one here follows IPL. It's not on TVas it doesn't rate. It's a glorified domestic league full of mercenaries that is compromising International cricket because of the lure of $$$$$.

  • Dummy4 on June 2, 2014, 19:12 GMT

    Prybus in Narine out No Narine no Cricket . Come on Trinis lets send WICB a message of what we can do

  • Dummy4 on June 2, 2014, 18:45 GMT

    Rally_windies..."Narine owes KKR and T&T everything ..... those are the people that developed him and showed faith in him !"

    This is very true..Narine represented T&T at the Champions Leaque in India where KKr saw him..he had not played for any West Indian team at that time..

  • Neeraj on June 2, 2014, 6:36 GMT

    Over 100 years cricket is being played in a certain format between two countries, there was no way to incorporate a professional league like IPL or BBL. That landscape is changing and cricket can now have professional leagues like Soccer, MLB, NFL, NBA, etc. This scene is changing in front of our eyes and it is changing very fast, whether people like it or not. Within next 10 years both IPL and BBL will expand like other major leagues to be played over six months period. On Narine case, any professional competitive sports person would love to perform in front of 50K packed house and millions watching on TV as compared to 500 people in stands for a test and in free world has right to choose. Except Aus-Eng test series there are hardly any people in stadium watching test match, while every game of IPL (even in UAE) was sold out. Test cricket is surviving on the money generated by IPL and it will not be the case in 10 years. Test cricket has to generate its own money to stage matches.

  • David on June 2, 2014, 2:48 GMT

    b4u8me2 The West Indies series with New Zealand is not a friendly, it is part of the World Test Championship ladder. For New Zealand it is a chance to try to move up from their number 6 ranking towards the number 5 ranked country, which is India.

    In football FIFA is absolutely firm and inflexible in ensuring release of players by clubs. The national team coach announces his roster, and FIFA requires that the club free the players 21 days prior to the start of a World Cup or continental championship.

    There is a reason why the Spanish league finished on 17 May: this was 26 days prior to the World Cup, and one further week would have resulted in the clubs fielding teams decimated by national call-ups.

    By the way, I believe it actually is the real Shane Bond. It's linked to his Facebook page and he has been contributing nicely in recent months.

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