WICB seek solution to eligibility dilemma
Stabroek News
July 14, 2002

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WES HALL turned his attention last week to yet another of the many problems he faces as president of the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB).

It concerns the eligibility rule for selection to the West Indies team and the good reverend is likely to find it as intractable as any of the other matters he has tackled in his year in office.

The issue is straightforward.

For the past eight years, the WICB has made selection conditional on the playersí availability for all matches in its domestic first-class and limited-overs tournaments, except for injury or exceptional circumstances.

Its purpose is to ensure that the standard of West Indies cricket and, by important extension, the sponsorsí investment is not devalued by an exodus of the leading players on highly-paid contracts in those countries whose seasons coincide with our own.

It is a similar situation that is presently worrying Caribbean governments in relation to the enticement of teachers and nurses for jobs in the United States.

In both cases, while those who leave are simply seeking better financial returns from their profession, they leave gaps not readily filled.

If not for teachers and nurses, it is a difficult choice for cricketers who know that, under the WICB stipulation, they are effectively eliminating themselves from achieving the pinnacle for their careers, a place on the West Indies team.

Since its escape from the repressive system of apartheid 10 years ago, South Africa has offered an attractive option for West Indian players whose deportment and commitment there have placed them in demand, as they once were in the English counties and leagues.

Most have gone once their Test careers are either realistically over or never likely to start but there are a few who would clearly have been on any West Indiesí selection shortlist but for their disqualification.

The most prominent was Desmond Haynes. A former captain, the West Indiesí fifth highest scorer and second most capped player, missed one match of the 1995 season while with Western Province in South Africa and was excluded from the home series against Australia as a result.

He was then 39 but still good enough for a side struggling to overcome the recent exits of his long-time opening partner Gordon Greenidge and Viv Richards. Yet Haynes never played another Test.

He subsequently took the WICB to court in an acrimonius case that, 10 years on, has still not been resolved.

As the fast bowling all-rounder the West Indies have patently lacked during the recent sequence of defeats, Vasbert Drakes would have expected to have had a Test career but for his decision to remain with Border in South Africa, rather than his native Barbados, during the conflicting seasons.

Now Nixon McLean, the Vincentian fast bowler who spent last season taking a heap of wickets with the South African province KwaZulu-Natal after losing his place in the West Indies team, is considering his options.

He wonít be 29 until next Saturday and showed in South Africa that he still has the pace and the experience that could give the West Indies attack the edge it now lacks.

But does he come back to play for US$300 a match for the Windwards on the off chance that he can impress Sir Viv and the new selection panel or does he remain in Durban, where he has made a terrific impression, on his considerably more lucrative contract deal ?

It is a dilemma all West Indians with the desire to play Test cricket face when some wealthy South African province makes its approach.

The stark truth is that, however hard it may be, they cannot have their cake and eat it.

Quite apart from the impact of their absence on domestic standards and sponsorsí interests, they canít expect their performances in another country to be assessed by selectors on the other side of the world. Nor can they have preference over those who remain at home to press their claims.

As in everything, there must be room for compromise.

It is an area in which Hall, as a former team manager and selector, government minister, head of personnel at three large business concerns and now man of the cloth, is especially well versed.

He can start by having his board separate the Red Stripe Bowl and the Busta Cup, making participation in the former mandatory for inclusion in the West Indies one-day team and in the latter for the Test team.

Since the Bowl has now found its own distinct spot on the calendar that does not clash with the South African season, it would give those heading in that direction later the chance to vie for at least one West Indies team.

Having done that, Hall can persuade his cricket committee and his directors that the prerequisite of all Busta Cup matches is too draconian and that could be reduced to a minimum of five without upsetting either the quality or the sponsors.

It would be a concession not only to the players but to selectors who may be denied the services of players who have benefitted from the experience of competing in a strong, overseas league.

But, for good and obvious reason, it would be ludicrous to expect the WICB to scrap its eligibility rule altogether.