Brian Lara poses (reluctantly) for Digicel, as West Indies is riven by the latest player-board dispute © Getty Images

"A doctor came to me to ask for my autograph and I asked him for his autograph instead. It is only luck we could play soccer. If there was no crowd, we could not earn money from soccer - we needed the crowd; the crowd needed us. We are part of each other."

Those are the words of Gerrie Muhren, a Dutch footballer who played for the great Ajax side of the 1970s. His point is startlingly obvious yet rarely espoused by elite athletes. And it is so relevant to the West Indies sponsorship crisis. The phrase "we are part of each other" implies not just a connection between performer and spectator but an inextricable link. They are essentially members of the same family. And the same goes for administrators, sponsors and media.

That doesn't mean that everyone should be best buddies all the time (families aren't like that) but it does mean that there is always a bigger picture. When cricketers go on strike, everyone loses out. Test cricket has been devalued by every player-board dispute: Packer, Zimbabwe, West Indies (1998 and 2005). No-one wins. Not even the players who think they are fighting for their rights and taking a stand against the profiteering, exploitative bosses.

Cricketers were indeed exploited for years and, in some cases, still are. But not half as much as the paying spectator whose unstinting, unquestioning loyalty is taken for granted.

No-one denies the right of professional cricketers to earn decent money or indeed indecent money in a free market, but when the playing of the game becomes secondary to the pursuit of cash, the plot has been lost.

It is surely not a coincidence that New Zealand, who seemed more interested in making money on their tour to England in 2004, lost the Test series 3-0. There is such a thing as bad publicity and when you ask for money for interviews and autographs, you lose a huge amount of goodwill.

Australian players have a pretty good sense of their own commercial value (there is a Windies-style storm brewing there too) but they don't take the piss. They understand that excellence on the field comes first and that if you win, you earn. Not the other way round.

In the early to mid-1990s, as the England team blundered their way around the world, they gained a reputation as greedy and surly. Greedy? They should have been grateful they were being paid at all, so pitiful were some of the performances. These days, the England side, supervised hawkishly by their players' union, do pretty nicely thank you (a player in both Test and ODI teams can expect upwards of £350,000 a year). And rightly so. But they, and the ECB, are canny enough to know how to present themselves to the public.

West Indies cricket has been administered appallingly for decades but it is frankly ludicrous that any player from the Caribbean, least of all Brian Lara, should think that a personal sponsorship contract is more important than actually stepping onto the field.

The two occasions in the past year when West Indies have looked like a team were in the final of the Champions Trophy and in that first Test against South Africa in Guyana. Why? Because external factors beyond their control focussed their minds on doing their best for the team and for each other - not on personal aggrandisement.

In the Champions Trophy, they were motivated by sentiment following the wreckage of Hurricane Ivan. At Georgetown, a bunch of novices were thrown together with all to play for and nothing to fear.

It's amazing what can be achieved when you just focus on playing cricket. Here's a tip: keep your eyes on the ball, fellas, not on the prize.

John Stern is editor of The Wisden Cricketer.