The future for West Indies cricket February 5, 2006

Saving West Indies cricket from ruination

Tony Cozier

Clive Lloyd has suggested a non-voting representative of Caricom on the board, a relationship with the Caribbean Development Bank and a link with Allen Stanford © Getty Images
Not before time, it has finally dawned on the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) that things really can't go on as they are. Not a week, indeed not a day, passes without more evidence, damning and irrefutable, that only its immediate restructuring along with other urgent measures can save West Indies cricket from complete and utter ruination. It is not far from that stage at present, a disturbing realisation that clearly pervaded its directors' meeting in Port of Spain last weekend.

The media release at the end of it made encouraging reading. It revealed planned action on the most crucial issues-the restructuring of the board, settlement of retainer contracts for the leading players, establishment of the comprehensive development plan prepared by Bennett King, the head coach, and Tony Howard, the operations manager, for every level throughout the region, and the need to achieve a break-even position at the end of 2006.

President Ken Gordon, in office for just over six months, would not have had to open proceedings by spelling out to his colleagues the gloomy background to their discussions. But he no doubt did so all the same. It is common knowledge that the WICB is effectively bankrupt, repeatedly embarrassed by public disclosures that it cannot pay its bills on time, obliged to close its Academy and cut its annual first-class tournament in half. More and more, it is clear that its composition fuels insularity as members placed on its directorate by their individual boards see it as their duty to serve their own narrow interests first, the West Indies second.

At administrative level, except for how to fill in expense accounts and sign credit card receipts, the WICB's operatives seem challenged by even the most straightforward tasks such as arranging matches and announcing teams. Its marketing department is patently malfunctioning. When it chose to change its major sponsors two years ago, the WICB found itself embroiled in an ugly row that brought West Indies cricket to its knees while enriching a British company with a million-dollar finder's fee. Critically, its relationships with its most important employees, the players, seldom cordial, have become strained to the point of consistent conflict and controversy. It has managed to alienate the majority of the eminent performers of the past; a priceless resource who are recruited instead by an American tycoon so appalled by the haphazard way the game is run he has decided to use his wealth to start a regional tournament on his own. As one blunder has followed another and West Indies cricket has plunged deeper into the pool of mediocrity, a public fanatical about the game has been driven to despair. These are not idle or misleading observations. They are supported by any number of well-documented instances over time.

The consequences are to be detected in the balance sheets-financial and playing. The former indicates a deficit of US$15 million and rising, the latter a dizzying drop to the bottom among the game's major teams only a decade after lording it over them for 15 years and more. There are those who have sat on the board for so long, they either do not recognise the signs or are in a state of denial. Perhaps it has taken a new president and a couple of new directors to stress the certainty that, if the situation continues unchecked, the further diminishing, even the eventual demise of West Indies cricket, will inevitably follow. That is a self-evident truth.

So where does the WICB under Gordon start? After all, the subjects raised at last weekend's meeting have occupied its attention many times before yet remain outstanding. The most fundamental proposal emerging from the latest meeting is for the addition of four directors, to be chosen from outside the narrow confines of the affiliated associations which presently constitute the board by providing two members each to sit under the president and vice-president. Such an arrangement excludes the countless specialists with experience and expertise in critical areas who should be available to West Indies cricket but who, for one good reason or another, do not seek office on the territorial boards.

In his thoughtful, well-balanced article that appeared in some Caribbean newspapers and websites at the same time as the WICB meeting, Clive Lloyd, the former captain, also saw the need for a wider spread of the net. His suggestions approximated to those mooted in Port of Spain. He envisaged a non-voting representative of Caricom on the board, a relationship with the Caribbean Development Bank and a link with Allen Stanford, the Antigua-based Texan tycoon who has engaged Lloyd and 13 other greats of the West Indies' game on his board to administer his US$28 million Twenty20 tournament. These are the kinds of individuals likely to fill the four new posts on the board, once the change is approved by the territorial boards. Already Stanford has agreed to place his tournament under the WICB's aegis and closer cooperation can be anticipated. It is clear that the increase in directors, from 14 to 18, would create a top-heavy board. The corollary would be to streamline it by limiting the territories to a solitary representative each, either the president or his appointee, reducing the numbers to 12.

It is an arrangement Wes Hall fought vigorously to have implemented during his term as president for he could observe from the inside-as he had in the Barbados cabinet and the board rooms of private enterprise-that quantity simply diluted quality. Hall never got it through for the majority of the directors who had to ratify the decision held coveted positions that afforded them lofty status. In this regard, it was refreshing to hear Desmond Haynes, an eminent West Indies cricketer of comparative youth and one of Barbados' directors as its association's recently-elected vice-president, urge on radio on Friday for such a reduction of regional directors.

While the restructuring is still to be ratified, the WICB release stated that approval has been given to establishing two specialist committees. It identified one as "a cricket committee which would play a dominant role in influencing cricket decisions". It was a pertinent disclosure since a cricket committee existed, in various forms, for many years. It was headed, at separate times, by David Holford and Michael Findlay and comprised former Test players, appointed by the board irrespective of territory, whose mandate was to advise on cricketing matters. The problem, as frustrated members repeatedly made it plain, was that the board paid them not the slightest notice. It got to the point where, after not meeting for two years, it simply vanished into thin air.

Now that it is to return, the WICB must appoint committed former players of repute and stick to its declaration that it "would play a dominant role in influencing cricket decisions". If it continues to be overridden by the tinkers and tailors on the board, it will simply go the way of its predecessors. Indeed, if the other grand plans itemised in last week's release are also allowed to become unstuck, West Indies cricket will go the same way.