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Letter to Courtney Browne

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There was really a lot to write about this week, with the Cybercrime law and the Olympics at the top of the list but I was so disgusted with the performance of our West Indian cricketers in the third test that immediately on its completion I began to pen my thoughts, not being sure I wanted to touch it again. It was painful to read the comments after their abysmal performance. The headlines were almost like obituaries – “India demolishes West Indies”; “India hammers West Indies.” A piece from the Times of India even reads like a eulogy. My view is that the woes afflicting our cricket lie ‘beyond the boundary’.{{more}}

I decided eventually to comment on our Prime Minister’s letter to Courtney Browne that, I believe, was copied to the President of the West Indies Cricket Board. I have reacted to it because it fits my view that the ills of West Indies cricket exist largely beyond the boundary. I share some of the PM’s views on the dismissal of Sammy as captain of the T20 team and the fact that he was not even being considered for selection on the team. The letter however worries me. It comes not from Ralph Gonsalves private citizen, but from the Honourable Dr Ralph Gonsalves, head of the Prime Ministerial sub-committee on cricket, although it might not have been so stated. It revives the concerns held about governments’ involvement in West Indies cricket. Not that there were any threats, but the underlying language of the letter was open to a lot of interpretations that might not have even been intended. It is one thing to deal with the way in which the dismissal of Sammy was done, but to suggest that amends can be made by apologising to Sammy and people of the Caribbean and that he be asked to assist in the preparation of the T20 team for their matches against India and to be given a role “in shaping and massaging the transition to the new leadership and in facilitating renewal” is threading on dangerous grounds. Is it a simple plea? If the West Indian Cricket Board was to accept that, it will convey a sense that for things to happen the intervention of the political directorate is necessary.

Earlier Dr Gonsalves said that the issue was not the removal of Sammy, although ‘as a cricket fan’ he questions it. This has nothing to do with being a cricket fan. It is a letter from a Prime Minister and that makes it loaded. The language carries with it a sort of venom that is frightening. “I hope you are not unduly influenced by those whose leadership is akin to the proverbial plantation supervisor, in a brown cork hat, perched on a horse- a high horse seeking pitiable revenge on someone on account of some imagined transgression against ‘massa’”. We all have problems with the West Indian Cricket Board and its treatment of players and its fear of criticism, but the ‘proverbial plantation supervisor’ exists in different quarters of West Indian society, even some politicians being regarded not simply as plantation supervisors but as plantation owners. I must emphasize that if John Public had made those remarks, I could have accepted them, maybe with a chuckle, but from the pen of a Prime Minister it carries greater meaning and sends certain signals. In fact, I go further and say that if it was a general comment made and not a letter to the Chairman of selectors I might have even accepted it.

But something strange rings through. Courtney Browne is regarded as ‘a splendid son of our Caribbean civilisation.’ If he was, it had nothing to do with West Indies cricket. Browne played 20 tests for the West Indies and averaged as a batsman 11.12. I am not sure how many catches he took and stumpings he did, but he certainly was not regarded as any major find. He never commanded a place on the team, was dropped for a number of years, recalled for some ODI’s and then dropped again shortly after. He finally retired in 2005. I am not sure why it was necessary to portray him as among the finest of Caribbean people. He certainly did not display this in his performances for the West Indies team although as captain of the Barbados team he would have had some successes.

I must reiterate that I have no problem with some of the issues raised. The 30 second call to Sammy informing him of his sacking as Captain, if true, is absurd and disrespectful. Browne denies this. In any event, a telephone call, even if it was for a half an hour was certainly not the way to go. A face to face meeting was required and the timing was just completely off. A test match scheduled to be played in St Lucia, the home of Sammy and at a stadium named after him, somebody had to be mad! Moreover, Sammy was captain of the team that recently won the ICC World Cup and restored some glory to West Indian cricket although only in the T20 form. Perhaps, what is needed is a dialogue with members of the respective national boards. At least it is a start!

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.

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