Last October, King had just been formally announced as the new head coach. As the first foreigner in the post, and with no playing credentials to boot, there were inevitable misgivings about his appointment in a region with a proud cricket heritage. He knew little of the overall standard he would encounter or of the players he would soon have to prepare for the tough VB Series in Australia. On all counts, his presence in Guyana for a series involving all six major teams in the same territory would have been an ideal initiation. Instead, for reasons only the WICB understands, King never made it to Guyana.
His first encounter with his new charges came a month later, at the preparatory camp in Barbados when the row over contracts between the WICB and the West Indies Players Association (WIPA) first blew up. It has persisted ever since, clearly undermining his assignment. The 2004 President's Cup seems an age ago and the fact that the coach missed it might now be regarded as immaterial-except that several of those he would have seen and met then suddenly found themselves thrust into his care on the tour of Sri Lanka in July following the withdrawal of ten of the originally selected players.
Now fast forward to this year's President's Cup that starts tomorrow. A new WICB president has recently been installed at a time when the organisation is under even more public pressure than ever. Its disagreement with the players' body remains unresolved, the report of a self-commissioned inquiry, headed by Justice Anthony Lucky, into its decision to change team sponsors has further damaged its reputation and the head of its company planning the 2007 World Cup has resigned amidst worrying inferences of mismanagement and worse. Ken Gordon finally countered for his beleaguered organisation last week. He dealt with all of the pressing matters-the impasse with WIPA, the inadequacies, limitations and leaks of the divided Lucky Report, the resignation of Rawle Brancker and its repercussions, preparations for the 2007 World Cup, the need to find the money to place the best players under contract, the relationships with Caricom governments. He even talked a bit about cricket, itemising the reasons for the West Indies' decline and identifying the winning of the 2007 World Cup as the "unifying objective" that has the potential to stimulate a resurgence.
His address was delivered at two separate forums-the Barbados Chamber of Industry and Commerce at Sherbourne and a World Cup function at the Queen's Park Oval, Port of Spain. Each audience numbered no more than 100 and comprised mainly business executives whose concerns are with dollars and cents, not runs and wickets. The lunch guests were so nonplussed at the former that none could think of a question to ask or a point to make during the open session.
Two days later, those who needed most to hear from their new president were at the Cave Hill campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI) preparing for tomorrow's start of the tournament. They were the players, the coaches, the trainers and the umpires on whom the immediate future of West Indies cricket depends even more than on Ken Gordon, Anthony Lucky, transient prime ministers, bickering sponsors or anybody else. They all assembled yesterday for a seminar to be lectured by an assortment of speakers on topics as varied as drugs, corruption, nutrition, insurance, the media and, yes, the game itself. What was glaringly missing from the agenda was a session with Gordon at which the president, just a few months in office, could explain his vision for West Indies cricket, as he did earlier at Sherbourne and Queen's Park.
The WICB's public relations is clearly its weakest point. Nor is it a recent phenomenon. My late father, who encountered repeated run-ins with the administration of his day, referred to it in his autobiography as "bumbledom". Nowhere has it been more lax-indifferent is perhaps a more accurate word-than in its attitude to the players, present as well as past. "They (the players) do not believe, in general, that the board considers itself their agent; they agree to a man that it is their enemy," Hilary Beckles, principal at the Cave Hill campus who has worked ferverishly to bring the UWI and West Indies cricket closer together, wrote as long as seven years ago. The enmity that has led to the present crippling deadlock validates such an assertion. Gordon is a brand new man at the helm. He is well known in Caribbean business circles but, although I remember him doing radio commentary back in the 1950s, has come to the position out of the blue with no background in the game, either as player or administrator. All but a few of those doing their stuff in the President's Cup in the coming days wouldn't know him from a bottle of Gordon's gin. While they might not regard him as an enemy, they certainly do not see him as a friend, keen to look after their interests. He is, after all, head of an organisation that remains in direct conflict with their own.
So plenty of work lies ahead in breaking down the walls that have built up between board and players over the years. Here was the ideal chance to start. His opening gambit to those gathered at Cave Hill could have gone something like this: "My name is Ken Gordon, I am your new president and I intend to work steadfastly in your interest and, by extension, in the interest of West Indies cricket." Then, as he did before the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the World Cup invitees in Trinidad, Gordon could have detailed plans for the short and medium term future as he saw them while stating the WICB's case on a few present issues, such as negotiations with the WIPA, the Lucky report and Brancker's resignation. At the interactive session to follow, he would surely have been bombarded with relevant points from players who seem utterly in the dark about matters that directly concern them.
When Brian Lara, no less, can state, as he did in Melbourne on Friday, "I really don't understand everything" in relation to what he termed "a telecommunications war" that has led to the WICB-WIPA impasse, it is surely time for more openness towards those who actually represent us on the field. The president's presence at Cave Hill would have been an encouraging sign to all concerned that more enlightened days are coming. It was another opportunity missed.