December 27, 2015

The WICB could learn lessons from New Zealand's success

NZC understood the need to change its outdated set-up, and the result was a more competitive team and a healthy talent pool

If the WICB spends million on training one player to become an international, where is West Indies' Kane Williamson? © Getty Images

As West Indies continue their embarrassingly inept performances in Australia, as forecast, the clouds of war are building over the administration of the game at home.

The West Indies Cricket Board last week stated that it had presented its position paper to the CARICOM (Caribbean Community) governments over the recommendations of the committee of independent, eminent West Indians on its governance of the game.

Initiated by the CARICOM sub-committee on cricket and headed by leading university administrator Dr Eudine Barriteau, it declared that West Indies cricket was in such a dire state that the WICB should be "immediately dissolved, its members resign" and a differently constituted board eventually chosen.

The WICB said its paper "looks carefully at how both organisations can work together for the benefit of the improvement of cricket on and off the field". They would subsequently meet "for a series of discussions to come to a consensus on what is deemed the very important matter of the governance of West Indies cricket".

The WICB president, Dave Cameron, had already signalled his adamant opposition to the Barriteau dictates. Cameron's vice-president, Emmanuel Nanthan - or, to accord him his full title as listed on the WICB website, Hon Ambassador Emmanuel Nanthan - left no doubt about the resistance the CARICOM governments can expect.

In an interview to a Guyana newspaper, he stressed that "only the shareholders" (the individual boards of Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, the Leeward Islands, Trinidad and Tobago and the Windward Islands) can dissolve the WICB, which is registered in the British Virgin Islands as a company. He added that only they could appoint new directors, whether independent or their own.

In spite of all the evidence, the WICB remains satisfied with the way it governs the game in a region of ten separate, independent governments, united only by a game that brought international recognition for excellence to the Caribbean

The composition of the WICB was well known. Nanthan purposely reiterated it. There are 12 shareholder directors, two for each individual board, under the president and vice-president. There are also four "non-member" directors, one a CARICOM nominee.

It is known that each of the three committees to review the board's governance over the past eight years advised urgent change. The reports of the committees headed by former Jamaica prime minister PJ Patterson and St Kitts and Nevis Queen's Counsel Charles Wilkin called for the reduction in the number of directors and the introduction of independents. The Barriteau report, the most recent, was presented in early November. It went further with its demand for the WICB's dissolution and its eventual replacement by a significantly restructured board.

The WICB's resistance was as predictable as Nanthan's charge that the report was by "some CARICOM governments and their academic functionaries", as he put it is his press interview. He accused governments of not supporting cricket in schools, ignoring the fact that the greats of West Indies cricket, from Headley to Sobers to Lara, needed no government funding to make them the players they became. The development of their vast talent came mainly through grounding at clubs. Since the 1960s, this has been augmented by the several state-appointed sports councils that provide coaches for schools.

WICB president Dave Cameron and the board's directors are resistant to the change that West Indies cricket desperately needs © Peter Della Penna

Instead, Nanthan sought to place the WICB's shortcomings at the feet of governments. In other words, the fall from glory to irrelevance was theirs, not the WICB's.

He claimed it cost the WICB US$1 million to train a player from Under-15 to international level. If so, the question must be asked why so few have reached that standard over the past two decades while there has been a stream out of other countries, most recently Joe Root of England, Steve Smith of Australia, Virat Kohli of India and Kane Williamson of New Zealand.

The WICB's approach is in direct contrast to the openness of Cricket Australia and New Zealand Cricket when confronted by comparable proposals for changes to their constitutions and their structures.

Australia, perennially a powerhouse of the international game, commissioned two independent assessors four years ago to review its board's governance. It put the advice of the Crawford-Carter report into use, replacing state delegates with independent directors, who did not necessarily have strong cricket connections. It was a radical change, now generally regarded as a success.

Two years later New Zealand's provincial associations unanimously approved a change to their board's constitution, reducing its number of directors to eight, all independent. Since then, they have shot up from among the also-rans in the ICC rankings to mid-table. They are now a genuinely competitive force.

The difference is that Cricket Australia and New Zealand Cricket didn't need governments to prompt them into action. They recognised the deficiencies of an outdated system and took action to change it. In spite of all the evidence, the WICB remains satisfied with the way it governs the game in a region of ten separate, independent governments, united only by a game that brought international recognition for excellence to the mini-states of the cricket Caribbean.

While the WICB chief executive urged "top players" to be available for 2016 regional tournaments "to ensure they remain eligible for selection for international competition", more are signing on for T20s elsewhere. Others are certain to follow

After the report of his governance committee went the way of Patterson's, Wilkin alluded to purely selfish reasons for the WICB's inflexibility. It was simply that the directors wanted to keep their positions "at all costs".

Cricket Australia's chief executive, James Sutherland, said during West Indies' present struggles in Australia that the plight "is ultimately an issue for themselves". Yet he did emphasise the effect on Australian cricket when it did its own governance review.

At a pre-match media conference in Melbourne prior to the Boxing Day Test on Saturday, head coach Phil Simmons restated his frustration of not having all of West Indies' leading players available for selection. He implored the WICB to follow New Zealand Cricket's "pragmatic approach", which accommodates their players engaged in T20 overseas leagues without having to miss cricket for the national team.

Over the past three years, as West Indies remained stationary, the Black Caps have become an attractive, genuinely competitive team in all forms of the game.

It is difficult to understand how Simmons' grievances can be addressed at present. Of those receiving the media and public attention in Australia while the West Indies team is being chastised for its performances, all but Chris Gayle have retired from Tests and first-class cricket.

Gayle's age (35) and fragile back make it unlikely that he can return. Kieron Pollard, injured at the moment, continues to declare his desire to play Tests but is only chosen for the shortest format.

Yet T20s will not go away.

While the WICB chief executive, Michael Muirhead, urged "top players" to be available for 2016 regional tournaments "to ensure they remain eligible for selection for international competition", more are signing on for T20s elsewhere. Others are certain to follow, diminishing the strength of already weak regional game even further.

The Trinidad and Tobago pair Reyad Emrit and Evan Lewis (the latter a promising, attacking left-handed opener), joined the T20 exodus in November, signing for teams in the Bangladesh Premier League. They missed four rounds in the showpiece Professional Cricket League (PCL) as a result. When Emrit returned home, he found he was dropped as team captain.

The Test and ODI captain, Jason Holder, is one of eight West Indians signed on for the new Pakistan Super League in early February. It presents the WICB with a dilemma. Holder is back from the Test series in Australia too late to play for Barbados in all its Nagico Super50 matches and in time only for the late matches in the PCL.

It is a problem that can only become greater as more promising players are snapped up for T20s wherever. The WICB needs to tackle it by considering how New Zealand's "pragmatic approach" achieved it, except that, as Nanthan confirmed last week and his organisation's position paper to CARICOM governments is certain to show, it is known more for its intransigence than its pragmatism.

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