West Indies lift strike threat
West Indies' players have opted against industrial action and will make themselves available for the fifth one-day international against England in St Lucia on Friday. Chris Gayle, the West Indian captain, told reporters at the Beausejour ground on Thursday that an agreement had been struck between the players' union and the board that would ensure the match would be played.
Gayle last week raised the spectre of strike action in response to the West Indies Players Association's protracted pay dispute with the West Indies Cricket Board. WIPA had presented a long list of grievances to the board and were angered when talks in Barbados broke down after two days.
But it seems progress has been made. Speaking at a pre-match press conference, Gayle said the West Indies would field a full-strength side for the series decider on Friday, and suggested relations between the WICB and WIPA had thawed somewhat over the past 24 hours. The news will come as a relief to the West Indies board, television executives and England's many travelling supporters, all of whom had feared a farcical finale to this most keenly contested of series.
"Yes, we have a match," Gayle told reporters. "Based on the response I'm getting, things seem to be breaking down properly. Hopefully, it will all finish off well but the game will go on. At least we're getting somewhere, which is good. Basically we're looking forward to actually playing tomorrow.
"We're totally focused ... even though a lot of things have been happening off the field. We're here to play cricket. Hopefully we can finish off on a high. Tomorrow is a very important game for us and we believe we can get the job done."
Talks between the union and board continued on Thursday, and Donald Peters, the WICB chief executive, declined to comment on their status. Cricinfo, however, understands that the issue of the IPL remains a point of contention, with players angered that the tour of England - which falls outside the Future Tours Programme - was arranged by the WICB without their consultation.
The West Indians are due to play their first tour match in England on April 21, just three days after the IPL's launch in South Africa, with the first Test scheduled to begin on May 6. The tour was arranged late last year after Sri Lanka withdrew to allow its players to compete in the lucrative Twenty20 league.
Gayle, Dwayne Bravo, Fidel Edwards and Jerome Taylor - the most notable of the Windies' IPL-contracted players - have apparently been cleared to play the first fortnight of the tournament, but could seek to remain in South Africa for the full five weeks to maximise their earnings. Should that eventuate, the WICB would be forced into the embarassing position of sending a severely depleted team to England.
Alex Brown is deputy editor of Cricinfo