October 28, 2014

Players' player Hinds needs to win back trust

The lack of clarity from the WIPA president is at odds with his reputation for being a sounding board for his team-mates while he was a player

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March 2005, Guyana. Talk of a rebellion was in the air - a strike among West Indian Test cricketers preparing to take on Graeme Smith's South Africans in the first Test at Bourda.

Seven members - regular captain Brian Lara, Dwayne Bravo, Chris Gayle, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Dwayne Smith, Fidel Edwards and Ravi Rampaul - had been caught in a sponsorship impasse involving former major sponsors of West Indies cricket, Cable and Wireless (C&W), and rivals Digicel, who had just signed a deal with the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) to replace them. The seven players had personal deals with C&W, which created a contractual wrangle between their representative, the West Indies Players' Association (WIPA), and the WICB. Involved in cementing the Digicel sponsorship was one Whycliffe Dave Cameron.

On the eve of the opening match, Gayle and Sarwan cut ties with C&W. But all seven missed the first Test. Local hero Shivnarine Chanderpaul was named the new captain. But at the launch of the series at the Pegasus Hotel, and at the team's last training session before the match, rumours abounded that the game would not be played, that WIPA was pushing for a player pullout.

One of the persons caught in the middle in Guyana recalls the situation facing members of the team: "There was a certain amount of pressure but it was an individual decision."

The team leaders, however, could have had a significant influence on what the others did. And in the side for this first Test was the WIPA vice-president Wavell Hinds.

On March 31, the first day of the Test, the selected West Indies squad showed up. And Hinds took the lead. On a track as placid as the Demerara River to the west of town, Chanderpaul called right at the toss and Hinds opened the innings. More than usual, all eyes were on the left-hand opener from Jamaica. He kept them riveted for six hours. Playing in his 39th Test match, Hinds made a Test-best 188 that day, which he eventually converted to 213. He made those runs in the uncompromising manner of a man with a point to prove.

"I came to Guyana with all intentions of playing and I intend to continue this game in a very positive manner. I have my people, I have my country and the maroon flag to represent and I'll try to do that with distinction," Hinds said after that first day.

Chanderpaul himself, in his first game as captain, showed a sense of occasion by compiling an unbeaten 203, and added 284 for the fourth wicket with Hinds, as West Indies made enough runs over the first two days to have the better of a drawn game that lifted the morale across the region.

Hinds' sense of timing was significant. This was his best effort in first-class cricket. And it also turned out to be his last Test hundred, as he only played six more Tests. But he produced his most supreme effort when West Indies cricket as a whole required its players to show commitment to the cause. To have done so at a time when he was vice-president of the players' body that was in dispute with the board, suggested that here was someone with clarity of thought; an independent thinker; a man who was mindful that the game was bigger than the man.

Even when Hinds was suffering a bad patch and fighting to cement his place in the side, he could still be depended on to listen and offer words of encouragement to his team-mates; to seek the best interests of those around him

"Nobody expected us to go and do what we did today," Chanderpaul recalled at the time. "But I must say well done to Wavell. He really stuck it out out there."

Hinds' handling of those events in Guyana does not appear to be atypical of the man now at the centre of another player-board crisis.

Among his team-mates over the years, Hinds has been known to be a man who makes clear where he stands on things.

"What you see is what you get," said a former team-mate. But besides that Guyana situation in 2005, Hinds has also showed himself to be a players' player. The highly competitive nature of professional sport encourages selfishness. But even when Hinds was suffering a bad patch and fighting to cement his place in the side, he could still be depended on to listen and offer words of encouragement to his team-mates; to seek the best interests of those around him. Even as an opponent, Hinds did not get personal with his banter.

So here is a person who, as he came to the end of his playing career, had earned the confidence of his fellow players. Hinds, the holder of a university degree, also ensured that he was ready for a career off the cricket ground. His elevation to president of WIPA following Dinanath Ramnarine's departure in 2012 seemed a natural progression. He had been on the WIPA executive for some time and had been alongside Ramnarine through many of his battles with the WICB.

What has happened over the last couple of weeks, therefore, is all the more difficult to comprehend. Never before has the players' body been at odds with its members, at least not in so public a way. It is an ironic twist since the split comes at a time when the relationship between WIPA and the board had seemed to have changed for the better.

Composed in disposition, Hinds seemed to possess quiet strength, as opposed to the more feisty Ramnarine. The tone of the relationship between WIPA and the board changed significantly once Hinds was at the helm and St Lucian Ernest Hilaire quit as WICB CEO to take up a diplomatic posting, to be replaced by Jamaican Michael Muirhead. That Cameron, now the board president, is also Jamaican, seemed to be an advantage in a region where island insularity is always hovering below the surface.

However, in one of the letters sent by one-day captain Dwayne Bravo on behalf of the players on tour in India that made public the brewing controversy, Bravo drew reference to the fact that Hinds and Cameron are both members of the Kensington Cricket Club in Jamaica. He claimed a conflict of interest since Hinds is also a member of the Jamaica Cricket Association, a branch of the WICB.

All of this may be inconsequential. But with some of his own members accusing him of not being completely open about the details of the new bargaining agreement with the WICB, Hinds' board relationships have come under greater scrutiny. To some extent, his reputation has taken a hit.

What still has to be made clear in this messy matter, however, is who knew what, and when. The carefully constructed letters disseminated for public and media consumption have not made obvious all the facts. And ultimately it is those facts that will eventually exonerate or condemn the WIPA president.

It would be wrong, however, to conclude that this is a straightforward case of the WIPA president against his membership. The change in the pay structure for the international players that was at the heart of the abandonment of the India series was brought about in in an effort to fund a new professional structure in regional first-class cricket - one that from next month will see squads of fully paid, contracted players representing franchises which still carry the names of the traditional island teams.

In principle, the new system will allow the ordinary player in the Caribbean to make a living from cricket. That constituency will have a slightly different view of Hinds and his WIPA team than do Bravo and company.

Hinds' future in service of West Indies players, therefore, may ultimately come down to the rank and file's trust in him.

Garth Wattley is a writer with the Trinidad Express

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