Tony Cozier has written about and commentated on cricket in the Caribbean for over 50 years
The divisions within West Indies cricket that have transformed the once dominant force in the world game into one of the weakest are ever widening. The latest gaping fissure has come in the form of the pitting of the WICB against the Legends, an imposing group of eminent players from the years of unparalleled supremacy.
The eight, Garry Sobers, Vivian Richards, Wes Hall, Andy Roberts, Deryck Murray, Desmond Haynes, Charlie Griffith and Roger Harper, met in Grenada on the invitation of prime minister Keith Mitchell, head of the CARICOM committee on cricket, to discuss last year's review of the WICB's governance and structure. Dinanath Ramnarine, former president of the West Indies Players Association and Darren Sammy, captain of the victorious men's World T20 team, were there as observers. The Legends stated their unanimous support for the main recommendation of the latest review committee of six, jointly appointed by CARICOM and the WICB, that the board should be dissolved and immediately replaced by a completely reformed body. They described the WICB as "an oligarchic structure that considers itself answerable to no one but itself".
"Although the WICB might see itself as a private entity, it is there for the public good and should therefore be accountable, in some way, to the governments and people of the Caribbean," their statement added, reinforcing the point by citing a similar point made by India's Supreme Court to the BCCI earlier this year. The words basically matched those in a paragraph in the Patterson Report in 2007, the first of the reviews by a panel headed by former Jamaica prime minister PJ Patterson.
"The status quo is unacceptable," it stated. "If there is absolutely no change in the structure and the method by which persons are chosen for a board that is manifestly dysfunctional, there will be no change in performance. We will continue to lurch from one crisis to another, to defeat after defeat, so long as the present structure remains with the fatal flaws that now exist."
The WICB conceded that the one proposal rejected from Patterson's report and the subsequent commissioned ones was for the addition of another level to the organisation.
Proclaiming they are "very proud of our legacy", the Legends said they could not "in good conscience stand idly by and watch everything we fought so hard to build and achieve disappear right before our eyes because of the actions of inept board members and incompetent board". It was a position flagged on the West Indies tour of Sri Lanka last year by Sobers' emotional response to a question about the state of West Indies cricket.
The WICB offered a measured, detailed rejoinder to the Legends' statement. It listed what it saw as its advances. It noted the professional contracts provided to 95 first-class players, and a surplus of US$3.5 million over the past year, which reduced its deficit to $2 million. There was no mention of the continuing caveat of the auditors KPMG, in their December 2015 accounts that there remains "a material uncertainty that may cast significant doubt about the Board's ability to continue as a going concern".
The WICB noted that the players, the technical team, player representatives, management staff and directors would attend its annual retreat in the early part of the summer. The "primary focus will be to find workable solutions with regards to re-engagement of players, and how they fit into the existing high-performance programme and to determine the most affordable remuneration packages".
For all that, the presence of Mitchell at the meeting on his home patch in Grenada, prompted Conde Riley, one of two Barbados WICB directors, Gregory Nicholls, a former secretary of the Barbados Cricket Association (BCA), and articles in the Jamaica Gleaner to charge that Sobers, Richards and their colleagues were "pawns in a game that is very much bigger than they themselves", as Nicholls put it. On a radio show in Barbados, Riley said it was distasteful, unacceptable and disingenuous to use "our Legends" to pursue a political desire. He was more specific in maintaining that he didn't "like them using my national hero [Sobers] to achieve what they are trying to achieve".
Riley and Orville Higgins, in his column in the Jamaica Gleaner, introduced the red herring of the Legends' salaried roles on the board of the jailed Texan Allen Stanford's 20/20 tournaments in Antigua in 2006 and 2008. Before Stanford's arrest on fraud charges in February 2009, the WICB, under president Julian Hunte, with Dave Cameron his deputy and all the individual boards took part. All received sizeable payments for their involvement. So did the England Cricket Board, which sent an England team to the $20 million match in 2008.
"Many of us suspected his wealth couldn't be all above board," Higgins claimed. "None of that stopped some of these same Legends from being his personal sidekicks, smiling and nodding for the cameras while their bank book was being fattened." Riley said that he didn't want "someone to again use my Legends for whom I have great respect". There was no suggestion that Riley's present unequivocal support of the WICB's position made him president Cameron's "sidekick".
On the same radio programme, Fazeer Mohammed, the Trinidadian writer and commentator, made the obvious point in answer to such comments. It was that they inferred the relevant Legends "don't have a brain of their own". "They are all individuals with great standing in the game who have shown their intellect in the game," he noted. "To imply that they are mere pawns of Caribbean power-hungry prime ministers or whatever almost seems to suggest that they don't have the ability to speak in their own right."
Both sides unsurprisingly congratulated the three teams for their triumphs in the Under-19 World Cup in February and both women's and men's World T20s in India in March and April. Equally unsurprisingly, they held contrasting views. The Legends saw them as "outstanding achievements considering the weaknesses in the WICB and poor relationships between the board and its players and coaches as highlighted by captain Darren Sammy in his heartfelt comments after the T20 final". The WICB claimed the achievements were the result of the influence of the high-performance programme implemented just over two years ago. "That there are small groups clamouring for the board's dissolution is reason to ask, what more could a region want?" it said. The fact that six West Indians in the 11 in the final were committed to various domestic T20 franchise leagues, rather than WICB cricket, told a different story on that score.
Such differences will continue to widen the cracks between them, to the continuing detriment of West Indies cricket.