'It's time for Project West Indies Cricket' - Mitchell
Keith Mitchell, the chairman of the CARICOM sub-committee on cricket governance, has expressed "grave concern" over the comments of West Indies coach Phil Simmons about outside influences robbing him of the best possible ODI squad for next month's tour of Sri Lanka.
Mitchell recommended it was time for "Project West Indies cricket", which would encourage unity, openness and co-operation from the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) administrators to ensure Simmons and the selectors were given the autonomy to do their jobs.
"The head coach's comments about the selection of the West Indies one-day team to tour Sri Lanka are highly disturbing," Mitchell wrote in an open letter to the WICB on Sunday.
Earlier this week Simmons had revealed that he and Clive Lloyd, the chairman of selectors, were outvoted 3-2 in the selection meeting on September 23 on the inclusion of allrounders Dwayne Bravo and Kieron Pollard. The pair have been out of the ODI side since the series in South Africa this January. At the time Lloyd had said he had spoken to the two players and explained to them that the selection panel wanted to move on and give youngsters more chances.
But Simmons said Lloyd and Jason Holder, the West Indies Test and ODI captain, wanted Bravo and Pollard in the squad.
"The disappointing fact is that you can lose 3-2 in a vote-off but there is too much interference from outside in the selection of the ODI squad and it's disappointing for me to know that in any aspect of life … [people would use] their position to get people into a squad; or in this case, get people left out of a squad. It is wrong and I don't like it and that is my beef with the selection of the ODI team."
According to Mitchell, all the leaders involved - captain, coach, selectors - needed the support of the WICB and no intrusion, if West Indies cricket had to regain its lost glory.
"The team is now at an important crossroads, and it will require wisdom and good leadership to chart and follow the right path. It will therefore take the skill, motivation and priorities of the men who lead and the players who follow, to restore the team to world prominence. To that end, the leadership unit must receive the full and unequivocal support and cooperation of the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB), and the backing of an independent selection panel, that is free of interference, fear, or favour."
Mitchell said one reason his political party was elected to power in Grenada in 2013 was because it placed the interests of the country before any personal agendas. That was part of the manifesto called Project Grenada that Mitchell said had proved successful.
"We need a similar "Project West Indies cricket" approach if the team is to be successful. The entire cricketing organization should be fighting battles on the field against opposing teams, and not with each other in boardrooms and offices," Mitchell said. "I believe that if Simmons is given the right tools to do his job, the liberty to make critical cricket decisions, the autonomy to create learning environments in which young players can grow and prosper, and the freedom to field the best teams, West Indies cricket will flourish."
Mitchell also highlighted that Simmons, in the short time he has been coach - he took over after the World Cup in March - had already managed to sit with national players across the Caribbean and help them understand and buy into his vision.
"Already the head coach and his coaching team have taken a great step forward by gaining the trust, respect and loyalty of the West Indies players. These are things that administrators and other West Indies coaches struggled with and failed to achieve during the last fifteen years."
A disgruntled players' fraternity up in arms against a divided WICB and a revolving door of coaches and captains have been some of the factors responsible for West Indies cricket not only sliding down the rankings table but also losing face and respect in world cricket. Dave Cameron, the WICB president, who was elected for a second term recently, has tried hard to gain the players' confidence and win over his opponents within the board, but has been severely criticised throughout his tenure. Nothing signified this more clearly than West Indies' aborted tour of India last October.
Bravo, who was the ODI captain on that tour, led the pullout with one ODI, one T20 and three Tests pending, due to a protracted disagreement between the players, the WICB and the West Indies Players' Association over the payment structure specified by the players' revised contracts. Calling the episode a "monumental disaster", the BCCI demanded $41.97m as damages from the WICB. Since then Cameron has received a lot of flak with critics, former players and CARICOM officials blaming him for the embarrassment caused to West Indies cricket due to the pullout.
Ralph Gonsalaves, the St Vincents and the Grenadines Prime Minister and Mitchell's associate on the CARICOM committee, accused Cameron of "dishonouring" his word after Bravo and Pollard were first dropped from the ODI squad. Gonsalves said Cameron had assured him at an earlier meeting that none of the India 14 would be "victimised" and the squads for South Africa tour would be picked on merit.
Mitchell's remedy for the WICB is to be more inclusive. "A sports organization needs good management and administration to function at its best, but it cannot win battles on the field without sensible, coordinated and innovative leadership at every level throughout its ranks. The organisation must not be divided unto itself."
Mitchell even quoted Pope Francis, who, in his speech at the United Nations earlier this week, "reminded the world about the dangers of polarisation, anger, hatred, resentment, exclusion and adversarial attitudes, and the benefits of inclusion, kindness, unity, cooperation and common purpose. We sincerely hope that his words were heard and heeded by our cricket administrators."