October 23, 2014

No time for India and West Indies to squabble

Why the BCCI should use a carrot, not a stick, in its approach to the WICB

Again, the IPL is an eminent candidate for blame in a cricket controversy © BCCI

If I was a West Indian cricketer with an IPL contract who had just pulled out of the Indian tour, I would be nervous. In order to appear in the IPL, each player must be issued with a no-objection certificate by his own board of control. If the WICB is of a mind to teach its employees a lesson, it has it right there, in the palm of its hand. But it won't. It is one thing to mess with the BCCI's tour schedules, quite another to play loose with the IPL.

Frankly, the WICB took an almighty gamble allowing the players to tour India with contractual issues hanging over them. Perhaps the board had taken advantage of Wavell Hinds - a pussycat compared to his predecessor as head of the players association, Dinanath Ramnarine - in the recent negotiations and resulting MOU and figured the players needed its support more than vice versa. Big mistake. Huge. Though the players' international performances do not justify inflated sums, they are due an income that is requisite to their commitment. The deal struck by Hinds appeared to be soft.

Thus, the action taken by the West Indian players is understandable, if unwise. One cannot help but think that this embarrassment would have been avoided had Darren Sammy still been captain. Sammy may not have been the finest all-round player of the game to grace the Caribbean but he held the cricketers of these disparate islands together. And he was lucky to have that dogfighter Ramnarine* in his corner. Between them, they would have known that the downside of such radical activism outweighs its impact.

In contrast, the Sri Lankan players have never allowed ongoing disputes over money with their own board to compromise their schedule. They are too proud and enthusiastic for that. Instead, the quality of their performances has forced the board to respond to many of their requests, though sadly not all.

The West Indian players have lost that sense of pride, their single most important attribute during the years of plenty. From Sir Frank Worrell, through Sir Garfield Sobers, Clive Lloyd and Viv Richards, West Indies had leaders who commanded immense respect. Their priorities were clear and their message was simple: we are West Indies, we are as one, we will not be broken. But Dwayne Bravo has broken West Indies cricket in two. His intention for the players is worthy enough. His method of achieving it is anything but. A once sparkling personality is now burdened by heavy responsibility. Let us hope that Bravo's infectious love of the game is not a thing of the past.

What happens next? Will India really pursue legal action? Unlikely. West Indies have no money. More likely, with time, is that the WICB will win over the BCCI. In fact, take that as a given. After all, it was only a year ago that West Indies bailed India out of the South Africa tour-Sachin Tendulkar retirement conundrum. It deserves a plea bargain for that alone. Will they agree on some bipartisan agreement that demands even more of the players? Probably. Will West Indies play in the World Cup? Bet on it. At the core of this dispute is the WICB and its shoddy leadership. Yes, it is Bravo's issue with the WIPA that led to the impasse but it is the board that, ongoingly, fails to establish the trust of their players. Twenty years of feeble administration has led to three major strikes, many more disagreements, and a game that has lost its place at the high table.

A surprise, or should we say the pity, is that the BCCI did not use its muscle to bail out the WICB. Had they found a tour fee for the players, the immediacy of the dispute could have been avoided

The key figures in this team will pay a price, Bravo first among them, of course. Possibly he will lose his job, though you hope not. Yes, it will be hard for the board to rely on him going forward, unless, of course, they bring him in. The general view is that the present West Indies players are rather too pleased with themselves. Chris Gayle is one cited as brilliantly gifted but infuriatingly blasé. This comes from the riches bestowed upon him, and his ilk, by the IPL.

Indeed, much of the angst that is circling around cricket right now might be attributed to the IPL. The Gayle example; the Pietersen book (after all, the key issue in the Pietersen story is the question of IPL or ECB, and for KP that is a no-brainer); India's appalling capitulation on tours to England and Australia (might the ECB seek compensation from the BCCI for the unnecessarily early finishes to the fourth and fifth Tests of the recent tour to England?) Did MS Dhoni's response to the question about the weight of defeat Old Trafford - he said the team could do with the rest - suggest an indifference to his accountability as captain? Is the IPL a drain on India's capacity and interest at Test level? And a drain on the captain?

When you consider the overall effect of the IPL and the extraordinary way in which the players have embraced it, you wonder if the game is ripe for another coup. Many years ago Kerry Packer found it just as easy as the IPL does now to seduce the best cricketers in the world. A world Test championship is needed to bring greater context to the most important form of the game. Such an event was scheduled for 2017 but when the big three came together, it was cast aside for more short-form cricket.

There will be an argument that the BCCI had this West Indian mess coming. India bankrolls the game and from that comes an arrogance that leads it to think itself irresistible. Obviously this specific situation is far from India's doing but, for once, the BCCI has not been in control of its own destiny. There are those in South Africa and elsewhere who will be tickled by that.

A surprise, or should we say the pity, is that the BCCI did not use its muscle to bail out the WICB. Had they found a tour fee for the players, the immediacy of the dispute could have been avoided. The West Indian players clearly had the state of mind to play good cricket. Their performance in Kochi was sensational. Richards praised them for it and for seeing good sense. Little did he know what lay beneath the surface of that public face. If only Bravo's men had behaved with the same dignity that the Sri Lankans have so often managed. Dignity is nearly always the best way.

And if only the BCCI, in harness with England and Australia, would now act like the leaders of the world game they purport to be. This is not a time for squabbling, it is a time for direction. West Indies cricket is in trouble. Take a carrot, not a stick.

01:56:44 GMT, 24 October 2010: An earlier version of this story had "Narine" here instead

Mark Nicholas, the former Hampshire captain, presents the cricket on Channel 9 in Australia and Channel 5 in the UK

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