January 17, 2015

WICB's stance on selection confusing

Despite the explanation that Bravo and Pollard were dropped for younger players, West Indies' squad is one of the older combinations in the World Cup

In a bizarre twist, Dwayne Bravo was given a retainer contract despite being eliminated from the ODI squad © Getty Images

It just wouldn't be West Indies cricket without an accompanying state of turmoil.

A month before the 11th World Cup, in Australia and New Zealand, the game's most prestigious tournament, the turbulence is more evident than ever. A new captain has been given the responsibility of leading the team. His experience in the post is limited to the five ODIs in South Africa that immediately precede the World Cup. At 23, Jason Holder, an impressive, emerging allrounder, is the youngest and newest captain among the 14 World Cup finalist teams.

He has started with no head coach to lean on. Six months after Ottis Gibson was summarily sacked by WICB president Dave Cameron, the position won't be filled until after the World Cup. In the meantime, Stuart Williams continues as "coaching coordinator".

The potential difficulty of Holder's task is compounded by the furore over the dismissals of Dwayne Bravo, his predecessor as captain, and Kieron Pollard from the World Cup 15. It is a row that has filled newspaper columns and radio and TV time and involved high-profile individuals.

Ralph Gonsalves, the prime minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines, accused Cameron of going back on his "solemn word" given at a meeting Gonsalves arranged in Port-of-Spain between the three parties involved the India pullout - the WICB, the West Indies Players' Association (WIPA), and the players - at which it was accepted that no action would be taken against the players until a further review of the situation. In an angry letter to Cameron, he called it "a travesty of justice… that reeks of village vengeance, discrimination and victimisation".

The always outspoken Chris Gayle, once captain, now back in the ranks, took up the charge of victimisation following a typically devastating 90 that won the high-scoring T20 against South Africa in Johannesburg the day after the World Cup squad was announced. The absence of Bravo and Pollard, he riled, was "ridiculous" and "sad". His status as the team's one global superstar seemingly precluded censure from the board.

If Gayle's sympathies were clouded by his closeness to his long-time team-mates, the neutral reactions on television of Kepler Wessels and Shaun Pollock, both former South Africa captains, were equally strong. "Shock" and "disbelief" were words used; Wessels said their absence robbed the game's major global tournament of two of its most identifiable individuals, both highly regarded in Australia.

Cameron and chief selector, Clive Lloyd, the iconic captain of the longed-for glory days of the 1980s, vehemently defended the decisions.

Only Jason Holder's appointment as captain seems to be in sync with West Indies' purported slant towards youth © Getty Images

Cameron asserted that they were made solely on merit by "some of the biggest legends we have in West Indies cricket" (leading Test wicket-taker Courtney Walsh was also on the panel). Their judgement, Cameron revealed, was unanimously supported by his board.

Lloyd is six months into his new role. He listed the absence of "exceptional performances" from Bravo and Pollard as reason for their exclusion, adding that his panel's vision was to move forward by turning to young talent. It took two days for him and his colleagues to come to what he termed "a very difficult decision".

"You get to a point where you say, right, this is where we want to go," he said in an ESPNcricinfo interview. "It is very difficult for people to understand or to accept. But we want to move on." Such claims were difficult to credit.

Bravo was the only West Indian in the ICC's composite ODI XI for 2014. Before he was axed, he had been captain for 27 matches since being appointed in May 2013. Pollard led the team for four games when Bravo was injured in the tri-series in the Caribbean in mid-2013. Apart from everything else, their fielding added a special dynamic to the team.

Rather than the players' cricketing records, a more logical assumption was that the debacle in India did feature in the selectors' conclusions. Two deterrents prevented Cameron from admitting as much.

It was not to say that Bravo and, indeed, all those in India, did not deserve strong discipline for their action. It was a widely shared opinion that they certainly did. Yet the task force set up by the WICB itself to investigate all aspects of the problem apportioned blame equally to the WICB, the WIPA and the players. The BCCI pointed the finger directly at the WICB for its "inability to resolve internal issues with its players". Given such a background, if Bravo and Pollard were to be penalised, so too would Cameron and WIPA president Wavell Hinds have to be. That was never going to happen.

On the stated plan to inject youth in the team and build for the future, Holder's promotion is the only evidence of that. Eight of the squad are over 30 at the time of West Indies' first World Cup match against Ireland, on February 16 (Denesh Ramdin is 30 before it is over); the one newcomer, the left-hand batsman Jonathan Carter, is 27 and almost seven years in the regional game. The average age of 28.66 makes West Indies' among the oldest combinations in the World Cup.

There was a puzzling follow-up to Bravo's ousting. Having effectively eliminated him from ODIs, the WICB immediately presented him with a retainer contract for the coming year. If it was meant to ensure his availability for the T20 internationals, none are scheduled for West Indies by September 30, when the contract expires.

Viv Richards, who had starring roles in West Indies' two, and only, World Cup triumphs, in 1975 and 1979, wrote in a column on the ICC's website that any limited-overs team would be "happy to have two players of the calibre of Bravo and Pollard".

He believed that, given the distractions off the field, "the dressing room will not be a comfortable place to be in", adding that it was plain from Gayle's comments "that players are disgruntled and I am unsure how unified they are".

He offererd a simple solution: "They might also like to use the off-field events to motivate themselves as a unit".

Only if it was as straightforward as that.

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

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