The haves and have-nots of Windies cricket

By Tony Cozier
Stabroek News
February 25, 2007

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Couple of coincidental developments these past few weeks have highlighted the yawning gap between the haves and the have-nots of West Indies cricket.

It is a discrepancy that should be of urgent concern to all those responsible for the well being of the game. On a social level, it would be enough to bring down any government.

Nor is it strictly financial. It extends to facilities that discourage participants and devalue overall standards and, as noted recently in separate comments by two leading players, to the attitude of individual administrations.

In advance of the forthcoming World Cup, the West Indies Players Association (WIPA) persuaded a trio of eminent arbitrators that the elite 15 chosen were worthy of a 22 per cent slice of the $11.5 million grant the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) is receiving from the International Cricket Council (ICC) for the tournament.

Depending on seniority, that amounts to between US$120,000 and US$170,000 for each man. It is a healthy financial boost to the natural motivation of performing before expectant family, friends and fans in the first such tournament held in the Caribbean.

Along with the recent proliferation of international series (the Zimbabwe and India home series last season, the DLF Cup in Malaysia, the Champions Trophy in India and the following tours of Pakistan and India), some players would have earned over US$750,000 in a year by the end of the World Cup. And a lucrative tour of England follows immediately.

On the flip side of the coin, for coins rather than notes were more applicable, the less favoured foot soldiers were labouring away for a comparative pittance.

Each man's wage for contesting the Final Four of the KFC Cup in St.Vincent and the final of the Carib Beer Challenge in Trinidad, the highlights of the domestic season, was US$500 a match, the same as throughout the two tournaments.

For those who played all 13 matches - in other words, the Trinidadians - the total pay packet would be US$6,500 each. For others eliminated in the first round, their season's work would have earned them US$5,000.

Recognising the huge difference, the arbitrators - Barbados' Chief Justice Sir David Simmons, former Barbados and Bermuda Attorney General Elliot Mottley and management consultant Aubrey Armstrong - set aside three per cent of the ICC's millions for the 100 or so regional players not on the World Cup list.

That amounts to a mere US$345,000 but at least the problem was acknowledged and a start made.

This is not to say that the WIPA should be so altruistic as to agree to a more equitable division in pay between the international and the regional players. That would be unrealistic.

When the WICB proposed 13 per cent as the World Cup selectees' share of the ICC payout, Chief Justice Simmons and his colleagues were guided in their judgment by the 25 per cent that India and Sri Lanka were paying their World Cup men. It would clearly have been a disincentive for the West Indies to have received half that, especially as hosts of the tournament.

The same principle applies generally. The WICB pays its elite players what is roughly the going rate.

The financial constraints arise from the WICB's impoverished position, no more than a year ago acknowledged as near bankruptcy.

While all the other Test-playing administrations and their affiliates support most first-class players on professional contracts, those in the Caribbean can afford only match-by-match arrangements.

There has been talk from some governments of helping to underwrite a professional league but the only move towards that end was underwritten by the mind-boggling fortune of Sir Allen Stanford in his 20.20 tournament last year.

Like every sporting organization, the WICB must depend heavily on sponsorship to underwrite its programmes.

Even the welcome inputs of Carib, KFC and the TCL Group do not fully finance the regional tournaments to which their names are attached. More imaginative marketing and more cooperation between the WICB and the WIPA and the WICB and governments is required.

President Ken Gordon has been upbeat of late about the improvement in the WICB's financial position. The expected booty from the World Cup should carry it well into the black.

Once so, more attention needs to be paid to raising standards at the age-group and first-class levels.

At least the new and refurbished stadiums created by the World Cup should end the practice of scheduling Carib Beer and KFC matches on ill-equipped club grounds and passing them off as first-class.

Great players of the past often acknowledge the thrill they got from starting their regional careers on the famous Test grounds of Kensington, Bourda, Sabina and Queen's Park.

Repeatedly in recent seasons, captains and coaches have bemoaned the conditions their players have had to contend with at sub-standard venues. The feeling has taken root that no one cares.

Sir Viv Richards and Carl Hooper were both moved to comment after last weekend's exhibition match at the reopening of Kensington Oval that anyone not inspired by such a magnificent facility would have to be comatose. No doubt the same obtains at each of the new World Cup venues. Now they must be utilized at every chance.

What might be more difficult to change is the indifference of the administrators - or even the administrators themselves.

The point was raised in their separate internet columns last week by Ramnaresh Sarwan and Chris Gayle.

"Sadly I have to say that I do not think that 'cricket' is the priority in Guyana," Sarwan commented. "Unfor-tunately it seems as though people have other things as their priority. I think the administrators of Guyana's cricket need to get things right and put 'cricket' back as the priority."

He complained about the team's "horrendous" outfits, contrasting them with those of the Stanford 20/20 tournament last July and August, and noted that caps had not been supplied "until very late in the tournament and only after they was requested by the team".

"Those are the little things which demonstrate how disorganized we are," he added. "After playing for Guyana for so many years it is the worst I saw us play as a team but that doesn't come because the players lacked commitment. It comes from them being insecure in the team and feeling too much pressure and being uncomfortable."

He ended with this damning observation: "After winning the 20/20 Tournament, one would have thought that we would have been the best equipped and prepared team in the Caribbean but unfortunately it was not so."

And that of a board headed by a president, Chetram Singh, who has been in office for almost quarter-century.

Gayle's censure of the Jamaica administration, also led by a long-serving president, Jackie Hendriks, was no less strident, if less specific.

"They need to look into how the players have been treated and there must be a change in the system pertaining to the treatment of the players," he asserted. "Players feel as though they have been pressured by management and maybe they need to look at making the players more comfortable."

Such discontent is widespread throughout West Indies cricket. Trinidad and Tobago is, perhaps, the one exception as their recent record indicates.

It is time for change.