July 20, 2014

Who gets to represent a nation?

Can a franchise that includes players from several countries use a country's name in its title?

Dwayne Bravo has suggested political leaders should deal with more important things than T20 franchise names © Getty Images

The CEO of the Caribbean Premier League and the new director of cricket of the West Indies Cricket Board came face to face last week with the complex peculiarities of West Indies cricket.

Damien O'Donohue of the CPL is Irish, Richard Pybus of the WICB is English. Both are relative newcomers to the factors that unite and divide these former British colonies. West Indies cricket encompasses ten of those colonies, all jealously guarding their independence and their own self-interest.

O'Donohue and Pybus have separate roles. O'Donohue's bosses, the Irish mobile phone company, Digicel, own the CPL. Operating under a 20-year license from the WICB, they are spending millions aiming to create a T20 tournament to compare, indeed outdo, those that continue to spring up across the cricketing globe.

Pybus came to his position last November with a reputation earned mainly in South Africa, but his name evoked a general West Indian response of "Py who?" He has energetically thrown himself into his mission, preparing a comprehensive report to the WICB on the changes needed to halt the continuing decline of West Indies.

With no previous experience of cricketing politics in the region, the Irishman and the Englishman could scarcely have believed how easily molehills can be transformed into mountains; the issues that have now surfaced will have come as a shock. They involve nothing more weighty than what individual domestic teams should be called and how they should be constituted.

The CPL's decision to preface the names of its six franchise teams with national titles was simply not a concern in its first season, in 2013; that changed as the second started in Grenada nine days ago.

There was indignant objection from Trinidad and Tobago's sports Minister, Anil Roberts, over the Red Steel squad carrying the prefix "Trinidad and Tobago", as it did in 2013, and the contrasting protest from captain Dwayne Bravo when, in his words, the CPL "stripped off our team" of the national title.

At least for the time being, none of the five other CPL franchises (Antigua Hawksbills, Barbados Tridents, Guyana Amazon Warriors, Jamaica Tallawahs and St Lucia Zouks) have had questions raised about their names.

At the same time, the directors of the WICB were reconsidering a similar matter, a proposal in Pybus' report for a limited draft system for the six territorial first-class teams that would "equalise the regional distribution of players to the betterment of West Indies cricket". Pybus' report envisaged an eventual "free market… as per best practice in overseas first-class cricket". In other words, unrestricted movement of players from team to team, as it is in the other nine Test-playing countries.

It is what the CPL was about from its inception: filling each of its franchise squads with a mix of players of different nationalities.

The WICB directors were unconvinced that it is the way to go; after approving the plan in March, three months later they baulked at such a revolutionary change. The view seemed to be that West Indies cricket has a history of more than a century of intense rivalry between teams made up, with a few-and-far-between exceptions, entirely of born-and-bred locals.

Roberts based his position on similar tenets; he had strong support from the Trinidad and Tobago Cricket Board (TTCB).

"The name Trinidad and Tobago is reserved exclusively for citizens and nationals of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago," he explained. "The Trinidad and Tobago brand, as it relates to national, regional and international sporting competition, is for the exclusive use of national governing bodies which are duly constituted and recognised by the government and people of Trinidad and Tobago as the representatives of their respective sports."

He put it to O'Donohue that no team could claim to be representative of Trinidad and Tobago in the absence of its finest players. Kieron Pollard is captain of the Barbados Tridents, with Ravi Rampaul in his squad; Denesh Ramdin leads the Guyana Amazon Warriors, who also include Sunil Narine and Lendl Simmons.

"If we are not offering our best, how is it possible to even suggest that this franchise team is worthy of donning the name of our sovereign nation?" he queried. "Why would we put that out there as a representation to the world of who we are?" He described the CPL as "a private organisation engaging in a for-profit enterprise" that intersperses players from "other countries across the globe" in its franchise squads. As such, it "cannot include the use of our beloved country's name to distinguish their Red Steel franchise".

The players from "other countries across the globe" in Bravo's 2014 Red Steel squad of 15 are Nasir Jamshed (Pakistan), Ross Taylor (New Zealand) and Kevin O' Brien (Ireland).

Even though they happen to be fellow members of the Caribbean Community (Caricom) and play together with their Trinidadian colleagues for West Indies, Sulieman Benn and Fidel Edwards of Barbados and Delorn Johnson of St Vincent would not qualify under Roberts' criterion for any team carrying the Trinidad and Tobago prefix.

Bravo first knew of the change at the toss for the opening match. He declared himself "very disappointed", a euphemism for livid with anger. The decision was uncalled for. Those who made it were a "bunch of jokers"; they needed to understand sports. He added that "there are other things they should be taking on".

They were words guaranteed to poke the hornet's nest. Roberts predictably said he expected Bravo to retract "his unfortunate outburst". Bravo remained defiant. "Every time I am leading this team, I am going to use Trinidad and Tobago and ensure that my country gets full mileage from this big international tournament."

Ironically, Bravo's Red Steel lost to Ramdin's Guyana Amazon Warriors in a topsy-turvy T20 under lights at Guyana's Providence Stadium on Thursday night. It went into a Super Over; Narine, the Trinidadian, clinched it with a wicket maiden.

Significantly, the noisily packed stands waved their Guyana flags and enthusiastically supported the Amazon Warriors, among whom were two New Zealanders, a Pakistani, three Trinidadians and a Jamaican.

At least these fans didn't concern themselves with political posturing. The response of those at the Queen's Park Oval when the Red Steel return to Port-of-Spain during the week for three matches will be instructive.

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

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