October 19, 2014

A rock, a hard place and the WICB

The board's latest standoff with its players has had embarrassing consequences internationally, so any resolution now needs to be approached thoughtfully

Demanding retribution for the players' decision to refuse to play in India isn't going help the WICB win back any goodwill from the BCCI or the ICC © BCCI

Through the clouds of confusion that enveloped the West Indies players' final decision to abandon their tour of India after the fourth ODI on Friday, a few relevant points are apparent.

First and foremost, as the WICB, the leadership of the WIPA and Dwayne Bravo and his aggrieved team in India carried on their angry, long-range war in cyberspace over the signing of a new Memorandum of Understanding/Collective Bargaining Agreement (MoU/CBA), all three clearly failed to appreciate the damaging consequences such a drastic decision was bound to have on them all.

Perhaps they believed that, as in previous similar cases, such as the withdrawal of Packer players from the team in 1978, the standoff at Heathrow airport prior to the initial 1998-99 tour of South Africa, and the strikes before the Sri Lanka and Bangladesh series of 2005 and 2009, that political leaders, or some other third parties, would materialise to soon sort out the issue, with all forgiven and normal service resumed.

This was different. This was the abandonment of a significant tour to the game's present financial powerhouse; it was part of the ICC's Future Tours Programme.

"Shocked and extremely disappointed," the BCCI set out the effects in unambiguous language. "The WICB's inability to resolve internal issues with its players and allowing the same to affect an ongoing bilateral series does not reflect well on any of those involved," it said. "The withdrawal gives little thought to the game, the players and the long-standing relations between the BCCI and the WICB."

A stern headmaster could not have admonished a wayward student more vehemently.

It would "pursue all options available to protect its rights whilst seeking appropriate action from the ICC to sure that its interests and those of the game at large will not suffer any damage due to such acts of indiscretion".

Predictably, legal action against the WICB is likely, seeking compensation for losses, mainly of television rights and ticket sales. The reported figure is at least US$65 million. Whether to go ahead with the claim would be made by its working committee at a meeting on Tuesday in Hyderabad. Such a sum would financially cripple the WICB.

There are also suggestions that West Indian players in the IPL could be banned for participation for at least a year; given their popularity in India and their value to their franchises, this is less likely.

More ominous is the assertion by BCCI secretary Sanjay Patel that it would be "very difficult to play West Indies in bilateral series in future". "They have to demonstrate the willingness that such situations never happen again," he said. "I would say that India's next tour of West Indies is highly unlikely to go ahead in the current situation."

It took the BCCI secretary to fly to Kochi to influence the players into not pulling out of the tour even before the first match. It was an embarrassing intervention by an Indian official into what was an internal West Indies matter

With its purchase of broadcast rights, ground perimeter advertising and sponsorship by its big corporations, India in the Caribbean brings more revenue to the WICB than any other tour.

It should not have come to this.

Typically, the WICB, the organisation with overall responsibility for the governance of the game in the region, allowed the gathering storm to develop until it was too late to change its course.

The first involvement of all of its directors was not until after the players' withdrawal on Friday and then through what the WICB called an "emergency meeting" by teleconference.

This was followed by an announcement that there would be a further "emergency board meeting" on Tuesday in Barbados. It would, it stated, "conduct a thorough assessment of all the ramifications of the premature end to the tour and any action which may be necessary therefrom".

Already, one director, head of the Jamaican Cricket Association Bill Heaven, has reflected widespread public opinion, stating that "all interested parties and concerned parties should come together in a frank, purposeful and meaningful way and we should be able to find a middle-of-the-road position".

That coming together should have been instigated by the WICB as soon as Dwayne Bravo and his players made known their strong opposition to the new MoU/CBA, signed by WICB president Dave Cameron and the head of the WIPA, Wavell Hinds, on September 18.

Even as Cameron informed the players that the WICB recognised only the WIPA as the players' bargaining agent, as it always did, he and Hinds should have immediately boarded a plane to India to meet Bravo and his men face to face and talk, in Heaven's words, "in a frank, purposeful and meaningful way" in an effort to find "a middle-of-the-road position".

As it was, it took Patel, the BCCI secretary, to fly to Kochi to influence the players into not pulling out of the tour even before the first match. As well meant as it was, it was an embarrassing intervention by an Indian official into what was an internal West Indies matter.

In the meantime, the emails between Bravo and Hinds, and, subsequently, Bravo and Cameron, became increasingly scathing; egos being what they are, the effect was to push the factions so far apart it became impossible to find "a middle-of-the-road position".

The WICB revealed on Friday that a "delegation" of its chief executive officer, Michael Muirhead, head of its cricket committee, Julian Charles, and Hinds had been scheduled to arrive in Delhi on Monday to meet with the players "on a number of issues", among them discussing their concerns over the new MoU/CBA.

That won't be necessary now. Those West Indians travelling out of India will be heading in the opposite direction. Tuesday's WICB directors meeting in Barbados is critical.

As much as they are furious over the latest strike action by the players, they need to be guided by practicality rather than emotion.

The fact that the A team is continuing with its tour of Sri Lanka is an indication that not every West Indies player is dissatisfied with Hinds' leadership of the WIPA.

Against both Sri Lanka in 2005 and Bangladesh in 2009, the WICB assembled replacements for those on strike. When it attempted to so the same this time, the BCCI dismissed such an arrangement as unacceptable.

South Africa is next on the West Indies ICC Future Tours list for three Tests, five ODIs and two T20s from December 10 to January 28. The World Cup in Australia and New Zealand immediately follows.

Cricket South Africa would no doubt find a weakened team as unacceptable as the BCCI. The ICC is likely to have the same opinion on the World Cup.

The WICB has placed itself between a rock and a hard place. The question now is how can it wriggle free.

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

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