March 30, 2009

To strike or not to strike?

How are West Indians and fans of West Indies cricket supposed to feel right now? Elated that their team is enjoying considerable success against England, or worried that all of this renewed optimism will inevitably come to nothing

How are West Indians and fans of West Indies cricket supposed to feel right now? Elated that their team is enjoying considerable success against England and are showing a greater degree of competitiveness generally, or worried that all of this renewed optimism will inevitably come to nothing as a result of the latest episode in the long-running dispute between the players and the regional administrators?

Look, somebody has to stand up and say enough is damn well enough and solve this thing once and for all - one way or the other. To put it simply, we just can't go on this way, especially at a time when long-suffering followers of the Caribbean side are daring to believe that they are now beginning to see light after almost 14 years of darkness that was defined, not only by an unending series of defeats on the field, but a succession of controversies beyond the boundary that were probably more damaging to the psyche of people who look to the game as a source of enjoyment and celebration, not to mention temporary release from the more important issues of everyday life.

This game of bat and ball really shouldn't matter so much. However the fact that it does makes it imperative on the power-brokers and influential personalities to seek the best interests of West Indies cricket, even if there is a fundamental difference of opinion as to what course of action constitutes seeking those best interests.

So if the West Indies Players Association (WIPA) are so frustrated by what they perceive to be the high-handedness and incompetence of the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB), and believe that the time is long past for some really drastic action, then they should get on with it. To be suggesting that a decision on strike action for the final one-day international on Friday in St Lucia was dependent on yesterday's result at Kensington Oval undermined their own argument about the gravity of the situation.

If WIPA had more than enough in their dealings with the WICB and are convinced that taking their protestations to another level is the only way to trigger the fundamental change in the administration that they may be seeking, then, surely, it really doesn't matter whether or not the series has already been won ahead of the scheduled duel at the Beausejour Stadium.

Of course, this is not intended to disregard the sense of betrayal that fans in St Lucia especially would feel if the match is aborted, given their huge support of the corresponding ODI against Sri Lanka last year when the series was already settled in the home side's favour. But in the same way that more than a few labour unions in the country are making the point that the only way to get attention for their cause is to create considerable inconvenience, then it's up to WIPA to decide what they're really about.

You can't have it both ways, especially if you're coming up against an organisation that you consider to be untrustworthy and impervious to previous attempts at creating a better working relationship.

To be breaking from more strident action for fear of incurring the wrath of the media and the general public suggests that this is only a game of bluff and counter-bluff. If the belief within the players' fraternity is that they have to rise up against the WICB in a manner never previously attempted, then they must do so, while taking into account that it could cost them their careers as international cricketers.

If the belief within the players' fraternity is that they have to rise up against the WICB in a manner never previously attempted, then they must do so, while taking into account that it could cost them their careers as international cricketers.

Is that a price they are prepared to pay? If not, then they should resign themselves to being participants in these irritating skirmishes that, very briefly, distract attention from the cricket itself but ultimately achieve nothing as far as bringing about fundamental change in the governance of the regional game.

If, as some have surmised, this is all about showing who is really in charge of West Indies cricket, and that none of the principals have the best interests of the game at heart, then the ruse will be exposed sooner rather than later. Truly believing in something means being prepared to sacrifice something valuable for its sake. In contrast, taking action only when it is convenient to do so exposes those individuals as tough-talking frauds.

More than 30 years ago, the cream of the crop of West Indies cricket, with the notable exception of Alvin Kallicharran, signed up to Kerry Packer's World Series revolution and were prepared to give up their official international careers for better pay. They were branded as mercenaries in some quarters, yet the greater weight of public, and legal, opinion was on their side and they prevailed in the end, returning to the official fold and proceeding to dominate the game as none had ever done before and are likely to do again.

It's only when you're at the edge of the cliff do you know what you really believe: retreat and make do with the usual treatment meted out to you, or take the giant leap, confident that the strength of your convictions will allow you to survive the fall, even with a few bruises and lacerations. While it may appear inappropriate to rock the boat just as it seems to be righting itself in the short term, it really makes no sense to stay on board if those at the brig are charting a course towards the nearest iceberg.

It's therefore up to the players to decide what they really want.

Fazeer Mohammed is a writer and broadcaster in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad