Dave Cameron smiles when reminded he has been WICB president for three years. "Three years and two days," he says. We are sitting in the lobby of a hotel in South Mumbai a day before West Indies' World T20 semi-final against India. The smog is heavy on the Arabian sea across the road at nine in the morning. Cameron arrives on the dot at the agreed time, wearing a T-shirt with the WICB insignia on the right bust, and jeans. Stern-faced to begin with, he opens up gradually.
Cameron has been painted as an autocrat, strong-willed and not given to bending to the wishes of others. In person, he comes across as strong-minded, forceful, a persuasive talker.
He thinks he is misunderstood. But he has no time to deal with opinions. He says he is sick and tired of West Indies losing their long-held eminence. In this interview, he talks of how he came to be WICB president, why he has taken the decisions he has in order for West Indies cricket to move forwards, why the players should trust his vision for growth and development, and much else besides.
A big shot in the arm for you and the WICB that the BCCI has gone ahead with the India tour?
We are delighted. The next step now is to ensure we have a competitive series.
Did you expect this to happen?
We anticipated that the series would go on. We had it scheduled alongside the CPL, so we had made all the arrangements, including even the CPL draft, so that all the Test players would be available for the series.
Were any conditions put forth by the BCCI?
I don't necessarily want to go into the conditions. At the appropriate time we will announce exactly what the arrangements are.
On March 27, 2013 you became president. You won the elections for a second time on March 7 last year. You are 47. You must feel proud to be elected twice to an important and influential position at a young age?
One needs to go back and reflect on how I have gotten here. At no time did I aspire to be president.
I am actually the president of my club - Kensington Cricket Club - in Jamaica. Proud, proud president of that club. Going 16 years now. I was then asked to participate in the Jamaica Cricket Association, and I took up as a treasurer. Then I was asked to sit at the WICB, where I have been for the last 14 years. At the tender age of 32 I went to WICB. Through serving the game they asked me to lead the sport.
"My objective is to make West Indies cricket better. And that is why some of my decisions are a little unpopular, because it is about turning around our sport"
I want to bring a different mindset to the leadership of West Indies cricket, in that my objective is not to be the president but to make West Indies cricket better. And that is why some of my decisions are a little unpopular because it is about turning around our sport, something that means so much to the West Indies civilisation. We have been very bad for a very long time. If you know history, it always shows that somebody needs to take a firm grip, make some very dramatic changes and then we will start to see the changes from there.
Unfortunately we have been putting band-aids on the issues over the years without really addressing them and restructuring the game. We have done that. That is my proudest moment. It has caused the issues in India [the team pulling out of the tour in 2014]. Very unfortunate, and we continue to be disappointed about the way that turned out, but again, the programme was all rolled out and agreed prior to [the India tour]. What we didn't do, the step that we did not have covered, was to sit with our players and be able to explain exactly how it would been done. So we would have dispatched a team to come to India to sit with them, and that was scheduled for, I think, two days before the actual falling out of the events.
That is the unfortunate bit. We are 16 islands, so it is not very easy to have everybody in one place for discussions, so we felt it was better to come on this side [India], where we would have had all the senior players and met them between the end of the ODI series and the beginning of the Tests. All the players could have gone through the new system, and so hopefully that would have been prevented.
Be that as it may, we are here now, our new franchise system has been in place for the last two years. The first season, we did not really have a chance to prepare players. This year is our first proper season and we are starting to see a lot of young players coming through. Of course some of them are 27, 28, but they are mature enough to push for places in the Test team. I am happy that we have been able to do that. A little sad that it has taken the route it took.
What have been your biggest achievements in the job so far?
Our entire domestic cricket is professional. In 2013 the CPL was introduced under my tenure. Our players moved from being paid US$5000 for the tournament to being paid $150,000, since, for the first time, we introduced contracts. Then we introduced the Professional Cricket League (PCL). We are playing more [domestic] cricket. For the first time we have started to create a cricket industry where youngsters can actually look on and say, I can be part of that. I don't have to be in the elite 15, as it used to be, to be able to earn a living and to be competitive in the sport. And, of course, I can't leave out winning the Under-19 World Cup. It was very, very special to us.
What did the WICB contribute to that U-19 win?
We contributed everything. Because we have not been having issues with our players' association for the first time in the last two years, we have been able to concentrate on cricket. Prior to 2013, when we took over, we were paying an average of over a million and a half dollars a year in legal fees. All we were doing was battling with our players' association, arbitration, mediation. So we spent a lot of time just dealing with legal issues, and not focusing on the development of the sport. When we took over with the agreement we signed with WIPA, we were now able to focus on development and what our players needed to get better. For the first time the U-19 players played in our Super50 last year. We had a number of camps in between. We also had a high-performance team deployed to assist the U-19 squad. We also changed the format of U-19 cricket last year, to play more 50-over matches over three-day games.
We realised when our players got to U-19 tournaments, a lot of times they had only played four or five 50-over matches. So they lacked experience. Because of the professional set-up, players benefited from being a part of that. No longer do we have a semi-professional or amateur sport, we now have teams practising all year.
Take the case of [Shimron] Hetmyer, who has been a part of the Guyana franchise system for the last two years. Keemo Paul and [Tevin] Imlach got scholarships from the Guyana Jaguars as well. Alzarri Joseph has been playing in the Leeward Islands set-up from last year. These were the standout guys in the U-19 World Cup. Hetmyer came back and scored a century in the PCL. We are very, very proud of what we have achieved with those U-19s. We now have a blueprint and we will be improving on that in the next tournaments. Get nervous.
You are not a popular man in the Caribbean. Virtually everyone seems to disagree with you. Why is that?
(Smiles) My approach may be a little bit different from what is customary. It has been said that I am little forthright. My objective is that everyone understands me once they get to sit down and talk to me. I am very straightforward. It is probably a Jamaican thing: we will tell you exactly how we feel. It is not personal. It is just that I would like to win. We have a very, very strong sense of winning, of doing well. We have just been doing bad for a very, very long time. I just don't have ten years to take my time to turn around what is a very big ship. So changing the way we do things, have discussions about being more professional about the way we go sometimes rubs people the wrong way. And if I do, then I apologise, but the truth is, I just want to get better. I am tired of losing.
We have had a win-loss record that is not something to smile about. The only way we are going to be able to turn that around is, we have to be more professional, force our players and the management and the board of directors to step up and be better at what we do.
Players are the most important asset for any board. How would you describe your relationship with them?
My relationship with the players is fine, as between any president and his players. Obviously I would have liked it to be a little bit different at this point in time. But again, coming out of what happened in India and the views expressed by some that they had lost money with the restructuring - again I need to explain for you because it has not been told in full…
You are talking about the memorandum of understanding the players were meant to sign?
In 2013, round about March, we had an MoU with the WIPA that had been in place since 2004 or 2005. And the board kept wanting to renegotiate it. We took the matter to the court and the court ruled in our favour that the MoU was now null and void. It meant that when I took over in March 2013, I could have changed the entire payment structure there and then.
I sat down with WIPA president Wavell Hinds and told him, we need to restructure everything. Allow me to review the entire system and show how we are going to make it better. When our director of cricket [Richard Pybus] came in, we sat down, we devised the system and I presented it to the WIPA, who then presented it to the players. That is how the system changed.
"We were paying an average of over a million and a half dollars a year in legal fees. All we were doing was battling with our players' association, arbitration, mediation"
So without an MoU, without a contract, we continued paying players at the same rate between March 2013 and September 2014, when the new contracts came in. A lot has been said about how players left our shores without contracts etc, but they were playing under no contracts before. The WICB honoured all of the commitments. That is very significant and one needs to understand that we said in good faith that we would honour the commitments and that we wanted to make the system better.
In the past you have said trust is something that is missing between WICB and the players.
There is trust between myself and the WIPA, because everything I have said to the players' association, that I am going to deliver, I have delivered. So if you speak to Mr Hinds or if you speak to the executive of the WIPA, there is a lot of trust. And it is emotions. In ten years' time, when they have all "grown up" and they have seen what we have done in this era, they will recgonise what had to be done in order to move West Indies cricket forward. While there is that feeling now of ill will towards myself, the board, the management, we will get through it. My objective right now is to find ways to ensure that our former players see their value in West Indies cricket. That is my next goal to work on. I want to be able to demonstrate to them that you still have value, having played for West Indies for years.
So you want to integrate them?
Absolutely. If you have seen we have integrated a lot of the former players into what they are doing now. Most of them are coaches, mentors at various levels.
You say that you will only deal with the WIPA. But the players say they don't subscribe to the WIPA. How then does one reach out to the other?
And that is fine. I am aware of that. That'll take time.
How do you bridge that gap? The players don't want to trust the middle man [Hinds]?
And they don't have to trust the top man either.
One of the things we did in the last two years is have player retreats. The first one was in Miami and last year it was in Barbados. That was my way to say to them, we are serving you and cricket. That was my way of saying to them, let me explain to you what we are trying to do. We had the coaches, the territorial boards, the franchises, the CEOs, selectors, team management and the players.
Were all the players there?
Not all of them were there since it was in May and a few were playing the IPL. The Test players were there and few from this World T20 squad were there.
One of the recommendations of the task force we had set up was to have a mediation done with the players, and we did that. We had Ian Smith from FICA [Federation of International Cricketers' Associations], Ian Higgins from the ICC, and another gentleman from Jamaica. We sat with WIPA and the WICB and we went through the new MoU and we made some changes.
We did a comprehensive document that speaks about all the payments for the next four years. At that same meeting that document was presented to all the players present. That is why Wavell again says he does not understand why just before this WT20, players are now saying they did not know what they are getting paid. All of those payments, a schedule was done, and it was sent to all players, not just the retained ones, as to what their financial payments for the next four years would be. Some of the players were not there, but that is no excuse. Last year they were all on retainers, so they would have all received it.
Darren Sammytold us recently that the match fee offered for playing in the World T20 was not enough. "We are being offered now just $6900 per match across the board, irrespective of experience. Players are being asked to start providing services from nearly four weeks ahead of the World Cup and be guaranteed just $27,600 if they play all the guaranteed matches, which is a staggering reduction," Sammy said. How do you respond?
Even if I give them a million dollars they will still say it is not fair. One has to be reasonable. We have always respected WIPA as the players' representative. We negotiate only with WIPA, so whatever the terms are with WIPA, we recognise them. However, we recognise that our players are important and again in trying to build trust and try and move forward, the CEO [Michael Muirhead] had some discussions between WIPA and Darren Sammy [before the World T20]. But all of those payments were disclosed from last year. They all had those payments in front of them.
You are only a player when you are selected. Darren Sammy last year would not have been playing T20 cricket, and he was not selected yet as a captain, and therefore he may not have looked at the rates. Now that the team is selected and he has had a look at the rates, he says, I don't agree with it. The issue is, we have to stop looking at it in isolation. He says he does not get any great remuneration from the WICB. Who created the CPL? He is making $160,000 from the CPL this year, so can you say that you are not making a lot of money from the WICB? And how can you then decide that you want to go and play every league around the world, play two T20 matches for the WICB, but still be retained? Come on, it does not make sense.
There needs to be an equitable distribution…
Equitable is not necessarily the word. We need to compromise. We need to have a discussion. That is what I have been saying to them: "Let us sit down and let me explain to you where we are at." We have given up the two best months of our year for cricket - April and May. We are not playing any cricket because we have allowed them to come over to India and play in the IPL. Some of them are making $500,000, a million, a million and a half. Great. We have sacrificed those two months for you. We only have 52 weeks in a year. If you want to play Big Bash, Ram Slam and all those T20 tournaments, then we also need you to bring back the information and the experience to our players back home. And also our sponsors, who are sponsoring our tournaments, want to have our stars back home. You can't want to play everywhere, the WICB has to call on your services either domestic or international, but then you want the WICB to pay you a nice, big retainer.
Sammy reckons T20 is the format West Indies are best at and he and other T20I players merit a contract. Do you agree?
All right, so let us have a chat about how many T20I matches are being played in a year. Why would I retain you to play three, four matches a year? What are you doing for the WICB outside of playing two, three T20Is a year? That is why I am saying, if you are willing to come back and give back to our four-day system… Let us say you don't want to play Test matches anymore, but we need your services, we need your expertise to get the next set of players. We have to have some kind of consciousness about that.
Unfortunately, the truth is, I have reached out to the players. I have reached out to them individually. I have reached them through Jason [Holder]. I have said, let us sit down and talk about West Indies cricket and how we want to move it forward. They haven't been forthcoming. It is interesting that Darren Sammy has these views, and rightly so since it affects him personally, but we are running the sport. We can't focus on any one player. And that is part of the mistakes we have been making for a very, very long time. We have to focus on the sport. We have to give people opportunities. We have to make it tough and competitive for everybody to be part of the sport. We believe what we are doing is providing opportunities. If you want to play here, we are happy to have you and we are going to compensate you as best as possible, and we are going to make it as competitive as possible.