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That’s West Indies cricket for you!

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There is never a dull moment in West Indies cricket but these are moments we would rather do without.

It is sad that West Indies cricket which means so much to the psyche and well-being of the region could find itself in the mess it is in. This is, however, nothing new. {{more}}We have had to clear many hurdles before, let us hope we can do so again. But the situation is serious at a time when we are still trying to rebuild our team and restore ourselves to glory and to the good old days, and with the World Cup a mere two years away. It is at the same time absurd that the current problem has been allowed to fester to this stage. Some questions emerge. Who is protecting West Indies cricket and who is indeed calling the shots?

West Indies cricket is today at the mercy of the dog fight between telecommunications giants Cable & Wireless and Digicel. Indeed there is a degree to which Digicel has picked the team for the first test against South Africa. The whole thing smells.

In the first place the Board announced a squad for training in preparation for the series against South Africa.

Brian Lara along with six others, Chris Gayle, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Dwayne Bravo, Fidel Edwards, Dwayne Smith and Ravi Ramphal, were left out of that squad and declared ineligible. Later on after a review of the individual contracts of the seven players with Cable & Wireless, the Board declares Lara eligible and invites him to join the squad. But Lara’s Cable & Wireless sponsorship had been in existence for a few years and apparently had the endorsement of the Board. Why was he then omitted from the squad invited to practice? How can the West Indies Cricket Board expect him to join the team and leave the others in the lurch?

The whole thing smells of incompetence, a not unfamiliar thing with the West Indies Cricket Board. Who is indeed calling the shot?

The compromise attempted by the Caricom sub-committee on cricket was shot down with the Board appearing to be more concerned with its Digicel sponsorship than with West Indies cricket. True enough money and sponsorship are critical to the future and development of West Indies cricket. But money is not all. Added to this the West Indies is taking on the major responsibility of the World Cup amidst doubts about its ability to host it. A lot of money is going to be invested in the affair and it is seen as a boost to Tourism and to the future of the region. But we are blowing it. Digicel really has no interest in West Indies cricket. It’s interest and rightly so, is in its profits and that is what its sponsorship is all about. So it does what it has to do, but the West Indies Cricket Board should have a different focus, responsibility and objective. An attempt by Caricom through its Prime Ministerial sub-committee led by Prime Minister Keith Mitchell, to put forward compromise proposals did not find favour with the telecommunications giants.

While one does not want to see West Indies cricket controlled and dictated to by the West Indian political directorate some formula has to be arrived at to broaden the base of the management of West Indies cricket. Cricket is too important to us for it to be left in the hands of persons whose mandates and competence seem quite questionable.

Without going into the technical details, it is clear that no one will win. Without the seven players or most of them, fielding a weakened West Indian team will detract from Digicel’s sponsorship. In fact, it will generate anger and hostility. Cable & Wireless has little to gain, too, for if the seven cricketers holding personal endorsements from them are unable to play for the West Indies how are they going to benefit?

The West Indies Cricket Board and Caricom might find things crumbling around them as they continue their preparation for the 2007 World Cup. Clearly some compromise is needed. There is talk of Clico buying out the contracts, paving the way for a compromise solution. But the details of this are quite sketchy although it is stated that they did make an offer. In any event Digicel and Cable and Wireless will be key to that.

Clearly an inquiry is needed into the management of West Indies cricket and into the current impasse. There are so many rumours and allegations flying left, right and centre that something has to be done. Cable & Wireless’ statement to the effect that they had offered a $20 million contract for home games, the same amount Digicel is offering for home and away games, was answered by the West Indies Cricket Board. Someone is obviously not telling the full truth and so we need to find out. What happens from now on is anybody’s guess. By the time this paper hits the street one expects that there will be developments in this whole nasty affair. What those developments are likely to be is the question.

While I believe that the West Indies Cricket Board has to take a large part of the blame for the existing situation, the players are not innocent bystanders. Allegations about Lara’s reaction to Digicel during the last tour would obviously have generated some bad blood. The allegations about the behaviour of some of our players in Australia would have added to the confusion and antagonism since there is the feeling in some quarters that Digicel acted merely out of self interest. But allegations about this type of behaviour are not new.

The West Indies Cricket Board in the past has been quite sloppy in the way it dealt with the team and with West Indies cricket. It has procrastinated with the handling of a number of matters and has been quite wishy-washy in the process.

Now the chickens have come home to roost and the future of the World Cup and of West Indies cricket hangs in a cloud. But, as Prime Minister Keith Mitchell says, let us hope ‘common sense prevails.’

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