June 29, 2014

West Indies' welcome off-field reconciliation

After nearly 20 years of infighting the West Indies board and the players' association are showing signs of putting aside their differences

The prolonged civil war, what former Jamaica prime minister PJ Patterson refers to as "this internecine warfare", is at an end. Peace has broken out in West Indies cricket.

The warring factions, both under new leadership, have agreed to a ceasefire after the better part of 20 years of furious infighting. Finally, the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) and the West Indies Players' Association (WIPA) have recognised that their constant confrontations were one of the principal reasons for the deterioration of a game, one that is ostensibly their responsibility to protect.

Over the past couple of years, Dave Cameron has become the WICB president and Michael Muirhead its chief executive, succeeding Sir Julian Hunte and Ernest Hilaire; Wavell Hinds has taken over as WIPA's chief everything, replacing his former Test team-mate Dinanath Ramnarine.

All three are Jamaican. It makes a difference.

The hostilities were at their most damaging during the conflicts between Hilaire and Ramnarine, two strong-headed individuals. Hilaire has moved on to a diplomatic posting for the St Lucia government in London, Ramnarine to less stressful pastures in Trinidad.

Those who have taken their positions are less militant, more conciliatory.

Patterson, head of the committee whose commissioned report in 2007 recommended changes to the structure of the WICB, was guest speaker at the annual players' awards in Kingston on June 6, a joint undertaking by the WICB and the WIPA.

"Thankfully, this strained relationship seems to be a thing of the past," he said. It is optimism supported by strong evidence.

Hinds made no public hue and cry over the pressure placed on the players by the shambolic scheduling of the back-to-back tours of India and New Zealand last year.

When Sunil Narine delayed his return to the team camp prior to the current New Zealand series in order to turn out for Kolkata Knight Riders in the IPL final, Trinidad and Tobago's sports minister Anil Roberts made a strident case for the decision to be overturned. Hinds simply noted that all the players were aware of the WICB's rule.

It is not that Hinds and the WIPA won't pursue issues that affect their members; it is just that Hinds appreciates that there is nothing to be gained from washing dirty uniforms in public.

There are other unmistakable signs of change. Lawsuits that characterised the previous relationship have vanished. Chris Gayle, Jerome Taylor and Sulieman Benn are back in the team after long periods of exile, triggered by problems with the WICB.

There hasn't been so much as a hint of the strikes, actual or threatened, that decimated several West Indies teams and put player against player.

The transformation has been most obvious in the renewed involvement of the great players of the past who for so long had felt alienated by the board.

The alienation of greats of the past was just a sampling of the disruptive issues. More times than was good for the sport, prime ministers intervened to save more embarrassment

Viv Richards was on the sidelines since he was dismissed as coach following the ill-starred tour of New Zealand in 2000-01 and as selector in 2003 after the WIPA alleged that he and others on the panel "verbally belittled and threatened" some of its players in public.

He returned as he was placed in charge of the WICB's High Performance Centre (HPC) team for the series against Bangladesh A in Barbados in May. They won the first four-day match by 351 runs, were one wicket away from victory in the second before making it 3-0 in the 50-overs version.

Kraigg Brathwaite, the 21-year-old opener, specifically referred to Richards' influence at the HPC in expanding his range of strokes; his next three of four innings were 164 against the Bangladeshis, 129 and 68 in the Tests against New Zealand.

If Jermaine Blackwood, 22, needed no encouragement from anyone to play his shots he listened carefully to Richards' advice on making it count.

He reeled off 140 and 147 against Bangladesh A before hoisting his seventh ball straight for six off Trent Boult on his way to 63 on his resulting Test debut against New Zealand.

Curtly Ambrose, the enforcer during Richards' tenure as captain, was initially bowling coach to the HPC and combined universities' team. He was promoted to the West Indies' job for the current series against New Zealand.

His rallying orations in the huddle prior to the team taking the field epitomise his infectious enthusiasm. On their comebacks, Taylor and Kemar Roach have clearly benefited from his input and that of head coach Ottis Gibson.

After his 103 in the second Test ended something of a run drought, Darren Bravo spoke of the effect of the wisdom passed on before the match by his celebrated cousin, Brian Lara, and Garry Sobers; there are no better tutors for a left-handed strokemaker.

There is certainly a transformation from the days when some damaging disagreements were never far away.

They led to the players' standoff at a hotel at London's Heathrow airport prior to the first major tour of South Africa in 1998-99, and strikes in 2005 and 2009. There was the disruption of the domestic first-class tournament in 2003 that then WICB president Wes Hall called "the darkest day ever in West Indies cricket". Repeated court actions against each other resulted in arbitrations that usually went in favour of the WIPA, to Ramnarine's obvious delight. The WICB's actions and Hilaire's censure of supposedly difficult players sidelined Gayle and Taylor and earned Ramnaresh Sarwan a sizeable payout for damages.

The alienation of greats of the past was just a sampling of the disruptive issues. More times than was good for the sport, prime ministers intervened to save more embarrassment.

Five years ago, Trinidad and Tobago boycotted the WICB's annual general meeting. It contended that the WICB was not functioning effectively and warned that if it was not "properly restructured", it would have "no choice of playing as an individual territory on the international scene". Ramnarine once charged that his organisation was "facing a tyrannical and despotic WICB that has suspended its discretion, jettisoned all reasoning and is hell bent at all costs to do the bidding of its sponsor". The WICB accused him of physically attacking Hilaire at one meeting in Kingston and refused to have any further dealings with him.

Yes, it was as bad as that.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Clifford on July 4, 2014, 17:10 GMT

    Beck, Windies problems stem from a certain mentality. Aside from Chanderpaul and Lara in the modern era, my opinion is that, none of the current cricketers, can be professional. Their desires to succeed, vacillates. No one possess the steely nerves to grind, to play each shot on it's merit. Their moods appear to resonate with an inner Carribean tempo. Psychology is my field and this decidedly points to insecurity. Both players mentioned above, I will bet, despite not knowing them, dance to their own rhythm. No one influences them! This is the attitude the other players lack. They seem to be swayed by superficial influences, much like the aforementioned American sportsmen.I agree with your assessment re businessmen, however, Windian, cricketers, have a syndrome of 'Big fish in a small pond'. Little achievement brings great rewards and a lifetime of bragging rights. They exist on talent alone, but only hard work converts talent into true success. Great article, Mr. Cozier, as usual!

  • Ellery on July 1, 2014, 18:22 GMT

    WI cricket will continue to flounder until systematic changes are made by those in charge. Changing captains, coach and selectors are only cosmetic and will not fundamentally alter the results of the test team. The new director Prybus seems to have good ideas so it is left to be seen if the powers that be have the patience to let them take root. Long term fixes, which is what is needed, takes time to have any effect. I watched parts of the game and it is incredible how the likes of Ian Bishop, Walsh and Dujon can point out the flaws in the techniques of Gabriel and Holder and both have had extended stints in the HPC. Here are some solutions. 1). Get rid of the HPC and open an academy. We need to get the talent into a system by the age of 14. Its too late after they have developed bad habits. 2). Assign the players that are under contract to the WICB to different territories similar to the CPL. It will improve competition, create more excitement and reduce insularity on the WI teams.

  • Steven on July 1, 2014, 4:23 GMT

    I feel sorry for the windies fans that they have bad administrators n selectors they are running the game in to the ground they needs lean out from top to bottom from the outside looking in I see some talented players but I can't c the windies improving anytime soon unfortunately cos I love they way the windies play there cricket it's going to get worst before it gets better cos my favourite player in the world who keeps the low totals half respectable unfortunately the rock of the middle order the very underrated crablike shiv is on his last legs no one will respect what's he giving to windies until he's long gone when the scores will go from 250 to 150 then people will realise shivs gone and they haven't prepared for life after shiv and gayle also prob only has 2to 3 years left then there's not much experience left

  • Ellery on June 30, 2014, 23:24 GMT

    Thesonofg the issue with WI cricket is not due to businessmen controlling it. Look at the 4 major sports in the US (football, basketball, hockey and baseball) not a single one is controlled by an individual who played the sport. I could go on and on. Who controls the IOC? An Olympian? Hardly. Do not confuse the lack of ability of the individuals controlling WI cricket with the fact that they did not play cricket at the highest level. Go check the backgrounds of the leaders on the four major sports organizations I mentioned above and see what you find. While it may be helpful to have played the sport it is clearly not a requirement to be a successful CEO.

  • Clive on June 29, 2014, 19:23 GMT

    I have always said that West Indies lost their way when businessmen started to control cricket. The game is secondary to them. What a foolish stand to take. Cricket is the business not the other way around. This is good news for world cricket. I, or I dare say, we hope that this is long term.

  • Dummy4 on June 29, 2014, 16:28 GMT

    now they must keep team spirit and learn to fight it out

  • Dummy4 on June 29, 2014, 14:08 GMT

    Hope that all you speak about is sustainable Mr.Cozier and it's not a case of "one swallow does not a summer make". Fans have been on a roller coaster ride for almost two decades hoping for a return to the days of West Indies cricket dominance. As soon as we believe that we are turning the corner, alas, there is a massive collision with the proverbial freight train.

  • Supratik on June 29, 2014, 13:30 GMT

    World cricket needs nothing more than a great West Indian team again. And I'm saying this as an Indian fan. Let me say why. 30-40 years ago when Eng & Aus boards were doing as they pleased, it took WI to storm the world and set new benchmarks on the field. Later on, the Aus team took this further and created their own legacy in the 90s and 2000s. During those periods, it was always one team dominating the rest, but the quality of cricket involved between those teams AND the rest was something else. These are depressing times for cricket with petty politics and corruption off the field. Cricket badly needs strong performances on the field to cheer up the fans. Pak, Ind are not up to it because of corruption issues. SL cannot do it because of debt. Eng have always never been very good. Aus are going through a low period and NZ doesn't have a big enough talent pool. SA and WI are the only 2 teams which can make cricket ON THE FIELD strong again.

  • Dummy4 on June 29, 2014, 12:37 GMT

    I agree with this article. I'm surprise though that W.I. doesn't see the value of the psychological make up of the team. How do you drop Blackwood to play an extra bowler in an unbalanced and unpredictable batting line-up? I'm baffled.

  • Dummy4 on June 29, 2014, 6:56 GMT

    WI cricket needs to be saved at all costs. Whoever and however small the contribution, those who plated a positive role with WI cricket in heart needs to be complements. First task first. WI needs to win the on going test match at Barbados.

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