Dictatorial style

by Tony Cozier
Stabroek News
October 3, 2000

IN all the heated preamble to last May's presidential election of the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB), Chetram Singh, himself no less than president of the Guyana Board, used the word "dictatorship" in reference to the way things were being run.

At the same time, several members of the WICB's cricket committee complained that their views were not being respected by those at the top and the general perception was that West Indies cricket had become the preserve of the president and others under him who see it not so much as a glorious game but as a complex, potentially lucrative business.

On the most recent evidence, "dictatorship" is by no means an exaggerated term.

The momentous decision to include foreign "A" teams in the Busta Cup, the treasured, long-standing regional first-class championship, with England as the first entrants, was taken without the prior knowledge or involvement of the directors, the territorial boards and the cricket committee. The directors only discussed the matter when presented with a seven-page paper at their meeting in Antigua September 23, the territorial boards as such are no longer part of the WICB Inc. and the cricket committee was not consulted for the very disturbing reason that it simply did not exist.

Comprising respected former Test players, its relationships with the board have always been frosty. It last met back in April, was not reappointed after the WICB's annual meeting in May and now seems to be defunct.

Nor were the views of the present players, those who have to take on the Englishmen next season - and, according to the projection, the Australians, Indians and Pakistanis after that - heard. No one took the time to even pick up the phone, call David Holford at his office at Wildey and canvas what the West Indies Players Association felt about the plan.

While the format for future, expanded Busta Cups were being finalised in the narrow confines of the executive committee, four of the most promising young Test players and two others from the Under-19 team had been despatched to the Common-wealth Bank Academy in Australia for a six-week stint.

Once more, none of the important, aforementioned bodies was able to point out what an insult such a move is to the WICB's own, well- staffed coaching department, not to mention the host of our own greats within our midst, or to note the inopportune timing of exposing vulnerable youngsters to Australian coaches immediately prior to a tour of Australia.

Australians are great sportsmen but, in my experience, they are not soft-hearted philanthropists.

The "A" team idea was first floated around in England during the summer yet the directors had to wait until their Antigua meeting to have the details and the explanations sprung on them.

The England team had already been announced and the chairman of their selectors had spoken enthusiastically of the concept - and of the idea of an England team winning a West Indies tournament. It was, in other words, a done deal by the time in came before the directors.

It all arose out of the complications caused by the WICB's commitment to host England "A" next year and the realisation that this would have been difficult, if not impossible, in view of the packed home programme. If the WICB reneged, it was concerned that it could "jeopardise a developmentally important reciprocal tour of England" by West Indies "A" in 2002.

Presumably, given this new arrangement, West Indies "A" will be reciprocated entry into the county championship on their tour.

One thing led to another and the new-look Busta Cup was conceived and finally born.

If members of the executive committee did not expect the flak that has inevitably followed the belated, official announcement they were either arrogant or naive - and naivity is not a trait associated with president Pat Rousseau and his men.

Tony Becca, the most experienced, respected and level-headed of West Indian cricket writers, has expressed a view the WICB hierarchy would have heard many times over had they felt it necessary to listen.

He made the quite obvious point that "there is more than cricket at stake...there is national pride at stake" and that the regional four-day competition "is for West Indian teams and should remain so".

In an editorial, the Jamaica Observer charged the WICB was "willing to subsume West Indian sovereignty and trade our nationalism".

Should such sentiments seem particularly parochial, the point was obvious to the English as well.

"An inspired innovation or cricket colonialism?" Scyld Berry asked in the London Sunday Telegraph. "Whatever you like to call England's `A' tour of the West Indies this winter, it is a new departure with overtones of a return to imperial days."

Perhaps such comments will prompt the WICB into some sort of adjustment. The straightforward solution to the dilemma has already been advanced in this column.

It is to retain one tournament but with two titles, the Busta Cup as the regional championship with points counting only from matches between the six regional teams and another trophy - the Caribbean Cup, perhaps - as the overall championship with points counting from all matches. As Becca points out, there must be a West Indies championship for West Indies teams.

Had they listened to others before proclaiming their plan, the WICB would have appreciated that as well and not now be in such an awkward predicament. But that is not its style.

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