Tony Cozier

WICB in a corner over India pullout issue

The only way it can be saved is if the BCCI decides to go easy on its compensation claims relating to the abandoned tour last year

Tony Cozier
Tony Cozier
Kieron Pollard and Dwayne Bravo celebrate the victory, West Indies v Australia, 2nd ODI, St Vincent, March 18, 2012

The BCCI will not want to play West Indies if Dwayne Bravo and Kieron Pollard are missing from the team  •  AFP

It has become the modern equivalent of a long-forgotten timeless Test.
It is ten months since West Indies players, disgruntled over terms of their contracts, packed their kit bags and prematurely ended their scheduled tour of India.
Stating that the West Indies Cricket Board had given it "a binding commitment" for nine matches to be played, an angry BCCI presented it with an itemised compensation claim for US$41.97 million for its "unilateral cancellation" of the series. It covered the loss of media rights fees; title, team, kit and stadia sponsorships; and ticket revenue.
For an organisation advised in the last annual report of its auditors that "the existence of a material uncertainty may cast significant doubt about the board's ability to continue as a going concern", it was a clearly impossible ultimatum.
In a letter to the BCCI proposing what it called "a grand settlement", secretary-general Irwin Larocque of Caricom, the association of 15 Caribbean governments, reiterated the point. "I should let you know that the reality is that the WICB is on the verge of insolvency and the BCCI claim simply cannot be met in whole or in part," he wrote, adding that the Caricom governments "do not intend to allocate any financial resources to this resolution".
At the same time, the BCCI declared that it was suspending "all bilateral cricketing relations with the WICB" until the matter was settled.
In spite of the WICB's contrition that it "regrets and is deeply embarrassed" by the abandonment of the tour, its subsequent formation of a high-profile task force to investigate all aspects of the issue and Caricom's proposal from its prime ministerial sub-committee on cricket for a five-points "grand settlement", the situation remains the same as it was last year, with one major exception.
A task force, comprising two eminent Queen's Counsels and the former fast bowler and WICB president Sir Wes Hall, placed equal culpability for the India pullout on the board, the West Indies Players Association and the players. Yet the only casualties were Dwayne Bravo, captain and the players' spokesman in India, and Kieron Pollard, his vocal supporter. They were dropped for the subsequent ODIs in South Africa and the 2015 World Cup.
With their lucrative contracts for television rights, ground-perimeter advertising, series sponsorship and the growing number of their travelling US-based supporters, India's tours of the Caribbean have become highly profitable for the WICB
Throughout the saga, the WICB's chief executive, Michael Muirhead, has spoken optimistically, if often confusingly, of continuing discussions with the BCCI. On March 31, he told the CMC news agency that the WICB "would send a delegation to India with the main objective of negotiating a settlement which would be amicable and would satisfy all parties". The aim was to have a deal in which the BCCI's compensation claim would be repaid "in matches and not cash". It was "a matter of negotiations" whether the BCCI preferred ODIs over the three unplayed Tests from the abandoned tour.
There is no evidence that such a delegation ever visited India. Muirhead claimed that it was constrained by the BCCI board elections in late March, which brought Jagmohan Dalmiya back as president (in place of ICC head N Srinivasan, who had been barred from holding the position by the Indian Supreme Court), and Anurag Thakur as secretary in place of Sanjay Patel, who had conducted all earlier correspondence with the WICB.
After the new BCCI board's first session, Muirhead said the WICB was "promised that we are going to have a meeting". His next report was two months later, on June 2.
Discussions had been "going very well", he told the Trinidad Express, so well that a resolution could be reached by the end of the month after the representatives of the boards met independently during the ICC annual conference in Barbados from June 22 to 26. The BCCI seemed to concur. Five days before the Barbados meeting, Dalmiya said the BCCI was "hopeful" the issue could soon be resolved through "mutual discussions".
Because of debilitating health problems, Dalmiya did not attend the Barbados meeting. His place was taken by his son, Abhishek. There has been no further word from the BCCI; secretary Thakur has not responded to my recent telephone and email queries.
"We are hoping to have a resolution finalised and documented," Muirhead said at the time. "Beyond that, I can't say anything."
The next time he said anything on the matter was last Tuesday in an interview with the Trinidad Express.
The newspaper quoted him as explaining that while no formal decision had yet been taken "some officials of the BCCI spoke to us and we were assured that the settlement may turn out to just be matches instead of the money". It was unclear whether it would be a Test, ODI and T20 series.
Muirhead expected "word about the final decision at the end of the week". That would be almost three months on from his end-of-June hope. He blamed the hold-up this time on the BCCI's attention to the Supreme Court's ruling on corruption charges against two of its IPL franchises.
My information from independent, dependable contacts in India is that the BCCI is unwilling to accept West Indies minus their hugely popular, charismatic IPL stars, Bravo and Pollard. A weakened team without them would not interest the public; the likelihood is that matches aimed at writing off some of the claim would, instead, be run at a loss.
As ominous as the $41.97 compensation tab is the BCCI's declaration that was shelving all cricketing ties with the WICB until the consequences of the abandoned tour are sorted out.
With their lucrative contracts for television rights, ground-perimeter advertising, series sponsorship and the growing number of their travelling US-based supporters, India's tours of the Caribbean have become highly profitable for the WICB.
It is a scenario that leaves the West Indies board between a rock and a hard place. Going back to the IPL players would hardly be an option for the WICB's intransigent leaders; the BCCI is unlikely to make a deal on either compensation or resuming relations unless it is assured of a full-strength team.
Only compassion for a once close cricketing brother now in trouble, even if of its own making, would prevent the WICB's demise.

Tony Cozier has written about and commentated on cricket in the Caribbean for over 50 years