Blight and Bravo
The West Indies played against Australia, South Africa, Pakistan and Sri Lanka in 2005, winning none of the series, but suffered more off the field as contract disputes polarized players, paralysed administrators and turned the team upside down.
At the height of the impasse between the West Indies Cricket Board and the West Indies Players' Association over sponsorship rights, Shivnarine Chanderpaul replaced Brian Lara as captain, and the team seemed split. The year began with removals, and continued along this vein.
Teddy Griffith, the WICB's president, declared himself unavailable for another term, and despite vociferous calls for Clive Lloyd, the former Test captain, to lead the board, the businessman Ken Gordon was lobbied into the position. Rawle Brancker, the chairman of the Cricket World Cup Board, resigned over conflict with Chris Dehring, the CEO, and was replaced too by Gordon. It led to mass resignations, and the World Cup Board was reconfigured after a month of uncertainty.
Amid all this upheaval, an Antigua-based US businessman, Allen Stanford announced plans for a US$28 million regional 20/20 tournament in 2006, arousing suspicion that it was a first move in an attempt to take over West Indies cricket. Signing on 14 cricket 'legends' to provide ambassadorial services to his project, Stanford said he only wanted to give something to the ailing West Indies game.
Despite the turmoil, all was not negative. As had been mandated by the ICC, the West Indies Women's Cricket Federation finally merged with the WICB, although several areas still need to be ironed out, especially in the disbursement of funds.
Brian Lara, entering the final series of the year with Australia with a disappointing set of cameos in the ICC Super Series, surpassed the record for Test runs when he scored 226 in the third Test. Lara's magnificent performance earned him the extraordinary record of being the world record holder for highest scores in first class cricket (501*) and Tests (400*) as well as the most Test runs. His form had been questioned in the lead-up to the game, and speculations had been rife that at 36, he was far past his prime.
Poor umpiring decisions especially plagued this series and, strikingly, they mostly affected Lara. It ended with the WICB lodging a formal complaint to the ICC. The ICC admitted that the standards had slipped in this series, but insisted that, generally, performances by the elite umpires were more than acceptable. Ian McDonald, a respected cricket writer, was moved to muse that perhaps the Australians had worked on their system of appealing to achieve maximum results as they had done with the rest of their game.
At the end of November, the WICB and WIPA accepted the brokered proposal from the ICC and the Federation of International Cricketers Association, issuing a statement welcoming the agreement, which "brought to an end the long-running contractual dispute".
It was as turbulent a year as they have been over the last decade in West Indies cricket, and although it ended on the high notes of Lara's new record, the promising performances of youngsters Denesh Ramdin and Dwayne Bravo, and the end of the contractual disputes which had engendered a lot of bad feeling for years, nothing happened to indicate that a major turnaround was coming soon.
New Man on the Block With the same bravado that has seen him flying around the cricket field while his team-mates seem all aflutter, Dwayne Bravo is self confident enough to call his email address newbigdog@. The allrounder scored his first two Test centuries this year and took two five-wicket hauls, one in each category against the formidable Australians. His fielding has been superb, an aspect of the boundless energy he exudes rather infectiously. It has been a good year for Bravo, one that portends well for him and West Indies cricket, and while he is basking in it, one hopes he doesn't get bogged down by the glory.
Fading Star Shivnarine Chanderpaul may have been unfairly tested this year by being promoted to the captaincy under such divisive circumstances. It has not done anything positive to either his career or his performances. Indeed, it may have created an unnecessary yoke around his shoulders that may shorten his Test life, as the last decade of West Indies history has shown that captains get the shortest shrift and the least appreciation.
High Point Brian Lara taking the record for the most Test runs scored created an intense high in a year that had been mostly pitched in the doldrums. His feat came in the final series of the year for the West Indies and was accompanied by two other highs: the composure and competence of young Denesh Ramdin behind the wicket and in front of it, and the all-round excellence demonstrated by Dwayne Bravo.
Low Point It seemed the ongoing disputes about sponsorships and contracts would never lift their heavy hands off West Indies cricket. Out of its guts, a captain was replaced, an investigation was launched into WICB conduct, and the principles and integrity of many were questioned over their conduct in the affair. Credibility was lost and the game was sullied in the process. Fortunately, the year ended with a resolution in sight.
What does 2006 hold? So far, the itinerary includes a visit by the English A team in February, while the senior team goes to New Zealand then returns to host Zimbabwe in April. This will be followed by a visit from India in May while the A team will return the visit to England in July. Allen Stanford's 20/20 tournament is scheduled for around October. In the meantime, Bennett King, the coach, will have his hands full trying to prepare the young team for their fixtures, while keeping in mind the big picture of World Cup 2007.
Vaneisa Baksh is a freelance journalist based in Trinidad