At the brink of no return

by Tony Cozier
Stabroek News
February 27, 2000

Throughout the 135 years of its existence, from that first rustic match between the then British colonies of Barbados and Demerara at the Bay Pasture in 1865 to the present day of lack of professionalism, commercialism and globalisation, West Indies cricket has been buffeted by a succession of crises.

They have mirrored the affairs of the time and their origins have been as much political, social and racial as sporting. The game has weathered them all so that there is no other entity we can call truly West Indian that has remained intact for nearly as long. The University of the West Indies is the nearest challenger and that is a mere 52.

Yet, as it has spread to every corner of every territory, as it has increasingly become the passion of every West Indian of whatever race or creed, as more and more of its players have been numbered among the greatest and as its administration has matched the independence and democratisation of our governments, it has become more and more entangled in turmoil and disorder. It is a strange irony.

The set of circumstances that have led to the present sorry pass now raise the very real question not so much as to what does the future hold for West Indies cricket but whether there is a future at all.

Given the resilience it has shown over the years, such misgivings might be unduly overstated but I think not.

Nor, I am happy to say, do the relevant governments which, long before the latest discord, had summoned a conference in May at the Cave Hill campus of the UWI to try to remedy the situation.

Normally, sporting organisations are well advised to stay as far away from government intervention, however well intentioned, as any batsman would from a Malcolm Marshall bouncer.

CARICOM's record in handling difficult situations in other areas hardly recommends it and nor does the experience with other such meetings. But, in this case, someone has got to stand up and try to do something about the threat to our most cherished institution. It might as well be Owen Arthur, Keith Mitchell and their colleagues.

Certainly the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB), the organisation charged with the responsibility of maintaining the strength and status of our game, has shown itself incapable of dealing with the problem.

Indeed, it is part of the problem.

The rapid, depressing devaluation of standards on the field can be partly traced back to an absence of proper development programmes when the West Indies team was bestriding the world.

The rampant indiscipline that has undermined the present generation can be sourced to the molly-coddling of the self-centred superstars who were allowed to do as they please, not least the most prominent of them all whose sublime, God-given talent has been allowed to go to waste as a consequence and whose very career now seems in jeopardy.

The insularity that has been the inevitable bane of every facet of West Indian life, most of all its cricket, has repeatedly surfaced of late within the WICB itself.

Its public and human relations have been so woeful it has alienated a host of great players and the majority of the public. It is not so much that it has always been wrong but that it has made a habit of seeming to be wrong.

The situation over the coaching job that has caused such an angry and violent reaction in Antigua is the archetypal WICB blunder. Any fool could have seen it coming. Even this column did, back in December.

Here is what I wrote back then:

"It was incongruous, if typical of the way the WICB do things, for an advertisement inviting applications for his job to be placed in the regional press in the midst of (Sir Viv) Richards' stint in New Zealand, especially as it is known he cannot meet the qualifications.

The job calls for, among other things, an advanced coaching certificate and certification or training in sports psychology. Richards has neither, which the WICB would have known when it set out its terms of reference and when it appointed him for New Zealand.

So it has again opened itself to controversy and embarrassment.

To overlook other applicants with the requisite qualifications and reappoint Richards would be to nullify its own credibility, such as it is.

To summarily discard him after seeking him out and appointing him only two months earlier would be equally wrong. As one of the West Indies greatest cricketers, he deserves better than that." No one can possibly excuse the loutish behaviour of those Antiguans who chose to break down gates and smash windows at the WICB offices last week and the press denigration there of Roger Harper, a good man, a true West Indian and the outstanding candidate, was insularity at its ugliest. But, as in so many similar, earlier instances, it would never have come to that had the issue been properly handled.

Richards himself has been mature and diplomatic in the circumstances. Hopefully, he will remain to be involved in restoring the strength and pride in West Indies cricket but the signs are not encouraging.

His predecessor, Clive Lloyd, has made his exit, frustrated and bitter, and there are former Test players, members of the WICB's cricket committee who, by their public pronouncements, feel the same way.

Nor are the present players any happier when they find themselves shunted around the Caribbean and made to play first-class matches at venues and on pitches that are patently not first-class and when so many blunders are made that directly affect them.

In the meantime, the team now faces one of its busiest and most challenging periods under a new captain, a new manager, a new coach and a new assistant.

There will be new ideas and, perhaps, a new spirit and a new pride - but there can only be that if there is an enlightened new attitude within the WICB that pays particular attention to the state of our cricket and our cricketers.