'If we can't have an agreement, stop the cricket'
The stand-off between players and the board in the West Indies is a saga that seems to have been going on for years. Back in 1998, the side's tour of South Africa almost got no further than London's Heathrow Airport after the players, weary with poor treatment and broken promises, decided enough was enough and took on their board. One of the more senior players in the squad then was Jimmy Adams.
A decade on, Adams is honorary secretary of the West Indies Players' Association (WIPA) and putting his efforts back into the game. But while Adams has moved on, the conflict between the board and players has grown worse, and this week's decision by as many as 30 of the leading cricketers to refuse invitations to play in the Test against Bangladesh marks a new low.
"This has been going on since my time as a player, but I thought we had gone past that," Adams said. "The generation before didn't have choices, so the board could always hold a wage above them and dictate whatever they wanted. It's the first time we've had a players' association that's effective. In the past, we had some associations that were a waste of space. [This time] the players weren't going to walk away, and the board knew that.
"Now you have a group of players earning more from playing cricket outside the Caribbean than for the West Indies and they aren't putting up with this crap. They have choices and they are prepared to exercise those choices. Either you get a buy-in from your employees or you're going to struggle.
"With all that's happening in world cricket, these fellas can look around and they have choices…they can go and play here, there or wherever. They've got fed up with things going nowhere and they're adamant they need this sorted before they come back and play."
Adams was keen to dismiss suggestions this was all about a few highly paid cricketers. "There are a lot of youngsters who are with them, a wide cross section, and they are fed up. What I'm getting from them is if there's not a situation where there's at least a basic contract in place for them to play, they'll just sit out and see what happens."
What happened back in April, when Adams was part of the WIPA negotiating team, has made him appreciate why things have to change. "I was part of a team who sat with the board in St Lucia before the England ODIs and you walk away thinking we've got the basis of a settlement, and within a week the first set of emails land and you have to start making phone calls to see if everybody was sitting in on the same meeting. The proposals they come with are totally different from the agreement you had at the table a week before."
But rather than limp on, Adams believes things have to be brought to a head. "If I sit down with someone for a day and we can't have an agreement, then stop the cricket. It's been going on for too long as far as I am concerned… and somewhere along the line we need to stop the game for a while and get this structure sorted out.
"I'm hoping somewhere along the line we get some leadership, and not just from the president. The board is held up by different people from the different territories, and some of them couldn't organise a piss-up in a brewery."
What about the board's announcement at the weekend that it was prepared to pick squads from the youngsters who were available for the Bangladesh Test? "If the board wants to go ahead with picking who it wants, then that's fine with me. I feel inevitably if you select these 19-year-olds, then sooner or later they're going to be exposed to proper sports management outside the Caribbean, and at some point when they're in a position to understand what's happening, then we're going to come back here again. So, in five or seven years' time you're going back down the same road and you'll have the same issues. We just want to get these issues done once and for all so we can move on.
"I don't think it can get any worse. I'm not sitting down worrying about what team we send where now. We crossed the line five, maybe six, years ago about how the board are running cricket. Until things change, send who you like. Send your A team, send Gayle and all the stars down there, but with that structure, we're still going backwards.
"We're trying to get the best deal for the players, but by the same token we're trying to establish a principle for how players of whatever era will get a cut of whatever comes into West Indies cricket, and we can't get them to understand that."
But can there be real progress with the current board? "In the modern era of sports management, the current mindset of the WICB isn't going to work. Whether they can get a change in mindset by a complete shake-up or actually getting people to think a little bit differently, I don't know. But I do know, if you're doing something over and over again and you're getting these results and you don't change, then it's the first sign of insanity. Somewhere along the line you're going to have to try something different.
"There are a lot of things I am sure the board wants to get done in the Caribbean, that WIPA wants to get done, but we're wasting so much time and resources. There are quite a few people inside the WICB who want this thing to move forward, but with all the directors they have, those good voices get drowned out."
As for the current impasse over contracts, Adams is certain that there can be no climbdown. "The board want us to run ahead and sign, but it would be a dereliction of duty to take a quick decision. We want all these issues dealt with. They want to say, 'All you need to do is agree a figure and you should forget about everything else.' That is sports management in 1952. The day WIPA decides to take that road - if the players want that - then I'm happy to say, 'Gentlemen, do what you like, I'm out of here'. I've lived this. I know what it's like."
Martin Williamson is executive editor of Cricinfo and managing editor of ESPN Digital Media in Europe, the Middle East and Africa