Rousseau finally accepts the buck

Stabroek News
June 7, 2001

NO PRESIDENT of the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) has ever had such a turbulent time in office as Pat Rousseau,the 67-year-old Jamaican attorney who resigned last Saturday, five years after taking office following the latest of the many controversies in which he was involved.

The dismissal of team manager Ricky Skerritt nine days before that brought his eventual downfall was typical of the autocratic style in which Rousseau ran the WICB. He and vice-president Clarvis Joseph made the decision to sack Skerritt 15 months into his contract on the strength of assessments of his performance on the four tours in which he was in charge of the team.

No one else was involved and WICB chief executive Gregory Shillingford in-formed the manager of the decision by e-mail. It was the last straw for some of those in the WICB who had railed against Rousseau's methods but were overwhelmed by the strength of his personality.

Richard deSouza, the former Trinidad and Tobago batsman who is a director on the board, was incensed that he was not consulted. He told the media he still considered Skerritt manager. Chetram Singh, the Georgetown bookmaker who is president of the Guyana Cricket Board, said he was canvassed for his opinion but was taken aback when he read the decision was a fait accompli.

Other directors at the annual general meeting at the Accra Hotel last Friday shared their wrath and voted to have Skerritt's dismissal rescinded. After that, Rousseau and Joseph, a businessman who is head of the Antigua Chamber of Commerce, had no option but to resign.

There has been growing frustration throughout the Caribbean over the administration of the WICB and the rapid decline of the once mighty team. Last week, Rudolph Greenidge, the Barbados sports minister, and several of his Caricom colleagues at a recent meeting in Bridgetown had "expressed their displeasure with what is going on with the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) and with our cricket generally".

And that was even before the latest hullabaloo over the Skerritt business.

The plain truth is that the sports ministers were not the only ones who had long since lost all faith in the ability of the WICB to function efficiently and smoothly.

There has been such a litany of bloopers and blunders that the head of any organisation with such a record would have tendered his resignation of his own accord, whether or not he deemed the chaos and controversy that have characterised his tenure, his fault or not.

It was Harry S Truman who coined the phrase, "the buck stops here". He was president of the United States at the time and accepted that he was ultimately responsible for the conduct of his administration. It is not a sentiment shared in this part of the world, certainly not by politicians and sporting leaders.

In West Indies cricket under Rousseau, the team has remained in a spiral of defeat while the buck has stopped at three captains, two coaches, a chief executive and now a second manager.

Along the way, the long-serving trainer/physiotherapist and a couple of psychologists have fallen by the wayside and now the director of coaching and the secretary are searching for jobs. All the while, Rousseau has remained head of the organisation. He was first chosen for the post in 1996, returned unopposed two years later and again last year when he beat the challenge of Alloy Lequay, head of the Trinidad and Tobago Board, in an especially bitter election.

The problems that have beset the WICB with such frequency of late did not start with Rousseau. He took up his position when the first signs of internal divisions and player indiscipline were coming to the surface and immediately after Richie Richardson had quit as captain and Andy Roberts was booted out as coach. He succeeded Peter Short after heading the marketing committee for four successful years when his negotiating skills helped earn the WICB new contracts from sponsors and broadcasters.

He took over full of confidence and proclaimed a mission statement that now has a hollow ring to it.

"It (the board) desperately needs a lift and a new vision and direction," he said at his first media conference. "Our aim should be to unify the board, the territories and the players behind the common objective of producing the best cricket team in the world and resuming the position of being unchallenged as the number one team in the world in both Tests and one-day cricket."

It was an ambitious agenda but Rousseau did not believe it to be unrealistic. Perhaps he underestimated the destructive capacity of insularity. What-ever, he should be wiser now. The board-simply the WICB following his ironic decision to immediately drop "control" from the title-was clearly not unified five years on. Indeed, it was more divided than ever.

Singh spoke last year of "a lot of dictatorship at the top and a lack of consultation".

DeSouza complained of much the same thing following the Skerritt firing. Many of the territorial boards view the WICB with suspicion. And the relationship with the players became so strained that it led to their infamous strike at London's Heathrow Airport on their way to the West Indies' first full tour to South Africa in November 1998, when Rousseau had to make an embarrassing climb down.

On that occasion, he had to fly to London to meet with the players and then had to overturn a decision to dismiss then captain Brian Lara and vice-captain Carl Hooper.

As to producing the best cricket team in the world and resuming the position of being unchallenged as the number one team in the world in both Tests and one-day matches, the less said the better.

If Rousseau did not meet those goals, the WICB became financially stronger in his time through sponsorship and broadcasting deals secured by the marketing department under its dynamic young director, Chris Dehring, even against the background of the team's failure. The Busta Cup was expanded to include a foreign team, another Dehring initiative, and more regional cricket was organised at youth levels.

But it was the distinct discord within the board, the constant controversy and the continuous chopping and changing of personnel without any effect on performance that led to the general exasperation expressed by the sports ministers. Above all, it was Rousseau's domineering way that brought him down.

At that first media conference in 1996, Rousseau said: "I'm going to take the question of accountability very seriously." Apparently, he did not apply the stricture to himself-until now.