Richie Richardson, the former West Indies captain, is disappointed that leading Caribbean cricketers have declined to sign central contracts with the board. Chris Gayle, the recently replaced leader, along with allrounders Dwayne Bravo and Kieron Pollard turned down offers from the WICB so that they are free to take up lucrative Twenty20 offers around the world.

At the time of not signing their contracts the three players - some of the most marketable Twenty20 stars in the world - insisted they remained fully committed to West Indies cricket. Gayle and Bravo are part of the Test squad currently in Sri Lanka, and Pollard is likely to be included for the one-day series next month, but their decisions have done little to ease tensions between the players and the board.

"Playing for your country should always be No. 1 then anything else comes after that," Richardson told ESPNcricinfo. "It might be different for a player who is coming towards the end of his career or hasn't been selected much, but the main players should be contracted to the board. I know they've stated their full commitment to West Indies, but clearly there are distractions around the game these days."

West Indies are a distant second favourite for the Tests in Sri Lanka which start on November 15, but Richardson is hopeful they can mount a challenge in a country where they never won a Test in six attempts. That's despite the efforts of Brian Lara in 2001-02 when he hit 688 runs, a record for a three-Test series, and still West Indies lost 3-0. Yet the scale of their challenge was clear on the opening day of their warm-up match against a President's XI when the visitors' batting crumbled for 176.

"I'm always hopeful and I always want West Indies to do well. But it's going to be tough, there's no hiding from that," Richardson said as he announced the launch of his own cricket academy in Antigua. "Sri Lanka are playing really good cricket and have just beaten Australia. It's a tough country to tour for any team, not many sides have gone there in recent years and won, and West Indies haven't been playing all that well, but you have to go in with a positive frame of mind. Anything is possible."

Darren Sammy has replaced Gayle as captain after the West Indies board decided it was time for a fresh face to take the side forward into the World Cup and beyond. Richardson has first-hand knowledge of the unique challenges involved in leading West Indies having captained them on 24 occasions - albeit before the severe decline set in - and believes Sammy has the personality and skills to be a success.

"It's too early to make a judgement on whether it's a good or bad move, but from what I've seen he is a very passionate cricketer which is what is needed," he said. "He's been playing well in the last couple of years and he's shown in some of his performances that he has leadership qualities so I'll certainly be supporting him."

However, Richardson is mystified by the absence of Ramnaresh Sarwan who wasn't even offered a central contract after the board voiced concerns over his fitness following a string of injuries. To leave out a batsman averaging 41.73 in Tests seems a luxury West Indies can ill-afford. "I don't know what is going on with Sarwan but he's certainly got the time to get back into the side," Richardson said. "He's one of our premier batsmen and I'm not quite sure why he isn't with the team or what the problem is. He's been playing cricket back home so should be there."

While the immediate prospects for West Indies remain bleak, with his academy hat on Richardson is convinced the game can thrive again on and off the field. "There are still a lot of youngsters in the Caribbean who want to play cricket," he said. "Obviously there are other distractions these days, but I'm convinced the passion is still there and will always be there. It's part of the Caribbean way of life. It will always be in the veins of Caribbean people."