West Indies cricket will "cease to exist as an entity" if the best players in the region represent it only on an "optional" basis while featuring in all T20 leagues. This was one of the conclusions drawn by the review group that Cricket West Indies recently appointed to probe West Indies' failure to get past the first round of the 2022 men's T20 World Cup in Australia.
The two-time T20 World Cup winners, led by Nicholas Pooran, started with a loss to Scotland and beat Zimbabwe before a defeat to Ireland led them to crash out of the tournament. Pooran subsequently stepped down as white-ball captain, just after CWI instituted the review committee comprising Patrick Thompson Jr (chair), former West Indies captain Brian Lara, and Mickey Arthur, who has been head coach with South Africa, Australia, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, and is currently at Derbyshire.
The terms of reference for the review group was to "identify, investigate, and analyse the factors contributing to the poor performance" before reporting the findings to CWI, which made them public on Thursday. "The untimely exit of the West Indies Men's Team ("the WI Team") from the ICC Men's T20 World Cup ("the World Cup") bears certain similarities to a disaster, albeit one without fatal consequences," the review said.
Pooran's team, the review said, was "underprepared" for the World Cup, with most of the squad having negligible experience of playing "topflight" cricket in Australia. The fact that West Indies' players landed in Australia immediately after the Caribbean Premier League was not lost on the review group. "The World Cup matches were played in wet and cold Hobart, Tasmania, which had more in common with the north of England than West Indian conditions. In the absence of a camp in Australia, the CPL had little meaningful impact on the Team's preparation."
This was a second successive poor performance from West Indies at a T20 World Cup after their failure in the 2021 edition, which was played in the UAE. In that tournament, West Indies were led by Kieron Pollard, who retired last April. Recently Pollard called West Indies' exit from the 2022 World Cup a "sad day" but said he would not blame the players.
"NoCs cannot be weaponized against the player"
The review group, though, underlined the fact that West Indies were not fielding the best available team. Sunil Narine has been a consistent match-winner and impact player in tournaments like the IPL, but he has not made himself available for selection for West Indies for the past several years. Andre Russell, valued as one of the best allrounders in T20 cricket, was not available for the World Cup in Australia. The review group pointed out that Shimron Hetmeyer's absence in Australia "was a significant loss to the batting unit". Hetmeyer failed to board the World Cup flight, and was consequently dropped from the World Cup squad.
Yet all these players have made themselves available for T20 franchise leagues around the world where they get paid big money. While the review said it was "entirely understandable" for players to "maximize their earnings", it warned that this could not come at "the detriment of West Indies Cricket."
"It is not in the best interests of West Indies Cricket that our best players play in every global league and play for the WI Team on an optional basis," the review said. "It is imperative that the Board and the players have a frank and honest discussion with each other in order to arrive at a solution to this impasse. In this Group's view, there is significant distrust between the players and administration and this distrust is inimical to ensuring that the best 11 players turn out for the WI Team in every match.
"No Objection Certificates cannot be weaponized against the players, but it is essential that some middle ground is arrived at. Otherwise, West Indies Cricket may cease to exist as an entity. This Group does not indulge in doomsday predictions but no entity, sporting or otherwise, has a viable future if its talent is not harnessed and effectively managed."
Three-day retreat to address "grouses"
The review pointed out that West Indies had a "golden opportunity to hit the reset button" ahead of the next T20 World Cup, which the West Indies and the USA will co-host in 2024. A key part of that process would be to roll out a strategic plan, and the review group has put in place short-term, medium-term and long-term goals to facilitate such a plan.
One of the short-term recommendations is for the CWI's director of cricket and the selectors to shortlist 30-35 players who will form the pool from which the "nucleus of 15" for the World Cup can be picked. But to ensure all the best players make themselves available for selection, the review group wants CWI to host a three-day "retreat".
"That meeting should be akin to a strategic retreat where players and administration can speak frankly and address any and all grouses (real or imagined) in a constructive manner. Mediator(s) should be secured for this meeting in order to assist and facilitate the discussions contemplated above. The Head Coach, CEO, Director of Cricket, General Counsel & Corporate Secretary, WIPA representative, the President and two directors (nominated by the other directors) should be in attendance together with the players.
"A performance consultant who can assist the players and management to define West Indies cricket culture, identity and values is essential to this process. It is important that this meeting is convened in a round table format as opposed to management on a raised platform and players on a lower level."
Select best 11-13 players in all formats
Finally, as part of the short-term strategic goal, the review group wants the shortlisted pool of players to feature in "as much red ball cricket for WI as possible", as that would provide "vital opportunities for primarily white ball players to develop their overall cricketing skills" against better-quality Test teams, which in turn would automatically enhance their preparation for the 2024 T20 World Cup.
As per the ICC's Future Tours Program, West Indies are scheduled to play Test series against Zimbabwe, South Africa, India, Australia and Pakistan between now and the next T20 World Cup. The review group has recommended that some of the white ball players including Pooran, Evin Lewis, Akeal Hosein, Odean Smith, Shimron Hetmyer, Shai Hope, Brandon King and Rovman Powell should play Test cricket against Australia and Pakistan at least.
"Following this Group's consultations, we hold the strong view that red ball, and in particular Test cricket, against the Test Teams ranked above us provides vital opportunities for primarily white ball players to develop their overall cricketing skills.
"As a necessary corollary of the strategic retreat, all parties must clearly determine what is meant by availability for selection. In this Group's considered view, the selectors should be encouraged, if not mandated to always select the best 11-13 players for the WI Team in all formats. Once selected, the onus would then be on the players to determine whether they will make themselves available within an agreed upon timeframe."