Windies junior, senior players in money row Special from Tony Cozier
Stabroek News
September 9, 2002

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THE nightmare that has thrown West Indies cricket into a prolonged state of agitation won't go away.

A host of attentive individuals, with names like Rousseau, Hall, Lloyd, Marshall, Richards, Harper, Walsh, Lara, Adams and Hooper, have tried and failed to shake it out of its tortured trance.

Instead, every new image seems progressively more disturbing and the awakening further and further away.

Last week's leaked report on the Shell Academy at St.George's University by two Australian coaches, specifically hired at considerable expense by the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) for that purpose, is the latest episode in the sequence that raises realistic concern over the very future of our game that was once the envy of the world.

It followed hot on the heels of the impasse between the WICB and the players over contracts for the imminent ICC Champions Trophy in Sri Lanka that itself coincided with a devalued and unsatisfactory Red Stripe Bowl.

Only a few weeks earlier, the pointed comments by the manager and coach of the rank indiscipline and bad manners on the `A' team's tour of England and Canada emphasised that how deeply ingrained the problems have become.

Now, on the eve of three back-to-back series (in the ICC Trophy in Sri Lanka and Tests and one-day internationals in India and Bangladesh), there are reliable reports of a rift between the senior and junior players over the division of performance-related incentive money.

Following a change in its leadership prior to the fifth Test against India in May, the West Indies Players Association (WIPA) is said to have advised the WICB that whatever is earned through the team's success should be shared evenly between all the members.

It was a change from the previous system that was introduced after the players' strike prior to the tour of South Africa four years ago and was based, like the central fee structure, on the numbers of Tests and one-day internationals played.

The senior players, among them captain Carl Hooper, were clearly affected and have objected to the WICB.

There, as I understand it, the matter now stands but the issue can only further undermine harmony in a team that, at the best of times, has performed dreadfully overseas for the better part of the ten years.

To state that these are all matters that need strong and urgent attention from the WICB may be an oxymoron for they have all reached such a pass through administrative weakness and prevarication.

But if the WICB does not act decisively, it will be a very long time before West Indies cricket rises from its troubled slumber.

There are several immediate issues before it.

It must realise, as so many of the players do, that the Red Stripe Bowl 'or whatever the limited-overs tournament will be known as in future - should not be as downgraded as it has been these past two seasons.

It simply restricts efforts to revive interest and standards when the Windwards and Leewards are split into two and the University of the West Indies (UWI) are accorded undeserved status.

The WICB has patted itself on its back for the introduction into the Busta Cup of West Indies, the development team, and an annual overseas team entrant (England in 2000 and Bangladesh last season).

So there is no obvious explanation as to why it should have eliminated the team from the one-day competition, especially at a time when the Academy had just completed its second year, in preference to the UWI.

And a foreign entrant (the one-day champions of England, South Africa or Australia, for instance) would surely lift the quality of play, the international profile of and the local interest in the tournament.

Matches that were patently going to be one-sided, or else sub-standard, along with a lack of effective marketing, meant that zonal matches at the new Beausejours Stadium in St. Lucia and the various country grounds in Jamaica attracted no more than a few hundred spectators - and often even less than a hundred.

There are figures that must alarm administrators. The players certainly are.

President Wes Hall and his board, already hamstrung by an operating loss of US$15 million over the previous two years, now find themselves having to also deal with two damning reports - Garner's on the 'A' team and the Australians coaches' on the Academy.

The point has been made that Garner's lament about his players reflect as much on them as on his own management. Even if that is accepted, he is not the first to make such critical observations.

The WICB needs to seriously back him, and all other managers and coaches. It can start by issuing a document to all players, at all levels, detailing the standards required of them, on and off the field, the rewards they can expect for maintaining those standards and the consequences if they let themselves and the West Indies down.

As far as the Academy is concerned, it has already responded to the leaked Australian report with a statement of its own.

It calls the Academy "a critical investment in the sustainable development of West Indies cricket" and "reassures the public that it is currently conducting a thorough review and analysis of this year's' programme and facilities".

"Once this process is complete the WICB will pursue the best way forward in the interest of West Indies cricket and make the appropriate public comment," it added.

In other words, it has an open mind on the issue.

It also has to consider the other side of the story, through the report of the Academy's director, Dr. Rudi Webster, that has not had the benefit of a leak to the press.

The Australians have used some extreme language in condemning Dr.Webster, his methods and the setup as a whole. They might or might not have a point in recommending that the whole thing be scrapped and Dr.Webster be banished but the rhetoric clearly reveals a clash of personalities.

The WICB would be advised to tread carefully through the ego-driven fog before deciding where it goes with the Academy that was initiated with such fanfare.

There is a lot on its plate. The challenge for president Hall is not new but it becomes increasingly urgent by the day. There is no time to waste.