23rd October 2014
Patrolling the Boundary – a view from the outfield
Handling the smoking gun
This has not been a period to inspire me to write. The awful events, and then non-events in India have knocked the stuffing out of me. I’m not the only one in the Caribbean right now asking myself ‘do I really care anymore?’ If the players don’t, then why should I? Why can’t everyone just get on and play some cricket?
West Indies cricket is staring into the abyss. Fred Trueman used to famously summarise for the BBC’s Test Match Special with the comments: “I just don’t know what’s going off out there.” Well, he’d be right at the moment. Most of what has been happening in the Caribbean has been going ‘off’, rather than going ‘on’. This is thanks first and foremost to the dictate of Dwayne Bravo. The man commonly known in the region as the ‘show-pony’ has led his villainous cohorts away from the cricket field, and has dragged with him the asinine, spineless and vacuous WICB; and the moronically compliant WIPA – but along with millions of other innocents too, and possibly an entire cricketing ‘nation’.
The crisis in West Indies international cricket is not the only cataclysm currently being played out across the Caribbean cricket scene: the Barbados Cricket Association has parted ways with its newly installed CEO after they belatedly found out he was a convicted crook; the BCA is also USD$6m short of income due to a defaulted real estate payment. But this is nothing compared to the debt the WICB is currently nursing – a USD$20m shortfall, which is expected to continue rising in this financial year – all of which is prior to any future loss of earnings from cancelled Indian tours or any pecuniary vengeance from the BCCI. Meanwhile, the Guyana government has recently stuck its oar once again into the choppy waters of its national cricket organisation, the GCA, and re-imposed its interfering hand on the tiller. If the WICB wasn’t drowning in a sea of its own troubles, and chronically in need of a bailout, it would surely be throwing Guyanese cricket overboard once more. But in the current climate, it hasn’t got much time or interest to concern itself with such relatively ‘small fish’. For WI cricket is crashing on the rocks, and do not be surprised if within moments of the ship sinking, the cry goes up – ‘every man for himself!’
In essence though it is the betrayal at the very top of West Indian cricket – by those that the proud Caribbean people look up to most, the international cricketers – that has so crushed the spirit of the region’s cricket lovers; embittered the grassroots and first-class players; and brought the cognoscenti of the region’s cricket writers, columnists, commentators, broadcasters and summarisers close to tears. Many of us are near a point of despair – and to throwing the towel in. Is it really worth bothering anymore?
It is generally agreed that little good can come from raking over the recent events which have got us to this place; finger-pointing would be counter-productive, and apportioning blame will not be helpful going forward – the direction WI cricket must look and move – rather than backwards with angry remonstrances.
And yet it’s not the whys and wherefores, the rights and wrongs (there are no rights that haven’t been abused or violated, and millions of cricket watchers have been wronged) that has pushed me to hit the keyboard – but rather the way the story is being relayed in the world outside the Caribbean.
For a very long time, the West Indies has been poorly served by international media in covering the game here. The Caribbean is a notoriously insular place, and its sloth in promoting, and reporting its own cricket (especially in the written form) has been profound.
In general, cricket writers here don’t care if their message reaches beyond the islands. The obvious exception to this is of course the great Tony Cozier, who has been a colossus for Caribbean cricket coverage since the 1960s, and to my mind was not only one of the most important influences throughout WI’s period of greatness, but is also, even above the deified CLR James, the region’s greatest writer. I have told him this myself. He naturally told me I was talking absolute nonsense. That was a rare occasion when I disagreed with his opinion.
But the fact is that Tony is now 74, and while he admits privately that in broadcasting terms ‘they have retired him, rather than he has retired’ he writes on – perceptively and astutely, and, through the medium of ESPN Cricinfo, his analyses float beyond the Caribbean sea. But his work is about all there is it in terms of transmitting informed insights from the within to the without.
A few other good writers appear sporadically on Cricinfo (e.g. Garth Wattley) and a few more very ordinary, amateur writers pop up from time to time on the site’s ‘Cordon‘ pages or ‘Inbox’. There are many good writers here in the Caribbean, like Vinode Mamchan and Fazeer Mohammed in Trinidad, Tony Becca in Jamaica, Sean Devers in Guyana or Keith Holder, Ezra Stuart, Haydn Gill, Philip Hackett and Mike King in Barbados; and some knowledgable, enthusiastic ex-players like Colin Croft – but they have not been promoted or had their coverage distributed more widely. Equally, WI cricket has not been monitored properly by the rest of the cricket world, and it is often the case that uninformed low-end tabloid journalists lazily make glib assessments and kangaroo-court judgements on what is going on, and ‘off out there’.
Thus, when truly momentous off-field events occur here, the international press is sometimes left making either intuitive guesses, or base reports on restricted viewpoints – rather than being able to genuinely feel the pulse and heartbeat of the region. For a region that is so important, so historic and so proud, it is poorly served by the cricket writing community. Perhaps that’s not surprising in an era when many newspapers are so poor and unprofessional. But it is disappointing that the otherwise magnificent ESPN Cricinfo still does not have a proper, knowledgable, and respected correspondent in the Caribbean. Cricinfo – please offer the job to Vinode Mamchan! That is assuming of course that George Dobell can’t be persuaded to relocate out here? Come on, George, you know you want to!
All of the above ranting on my part is mere preamble to my irritation at what I perceive to be a misrepresentation of the collective view in the Caribbean on the current crisis. Whilst agreeing that we must move on and steer away from the ‘blame game’, most experienced analysts out here acknowledge the culpability of the West Indies team. The group of ODI players who unilaterally decided to curtail the tour of India are the ones that have ultimately brought shame upon a great cricket nation’s good name, heritage and culture – and that may yet be its sad final legacy.
Yes, it is unequivocal that the WICB and WIPA have been negligent, arrogant, high-handed, intransigent – call it what you will – but in the final analysis they didn’t bring down the curtain. They should have seen it coming and acted more quickly. But they didn’t. Dwayne Bravo and his sour band of do-baders yanked hard and pulled it down in a selfish act of closure which gave not one jot of thought to the wider implications for themselves, West Indian cricket, Caribbean culture, or to any individual person or wider collective responsibility beyond their own immediate financial aspirations.
It is not surprising that today Marlon Samuels, in a radio interview, has been the first of the ODI squad members to distance himself from the ‘collective’ decision to abandon the tour. There may well be others – I know for example that there was widespread disagreement within the squad about whether or not they should strike, and that the younger players had little or no input into the ‘frank exchange of views’. Sharda Ugra, Senior Editor for ESPN Cricinfo in India, went further when speaking on the website to suggest conspiratorial contrivance by Bravo and his renegades: “The West Indies players, led by Dwayne Bravo have planned this very carefully and smartly – they picked the right tour to do this, and they picked the right time to take a decision like this. Players like Dwayne Bravo, Dwayne Smith, Pollard and Sammy know they wouldn’t be stopped from playing cricket elsewhere in the world.”
In amongst all this mess, it’s also conveniently forgotten or overlooked that the international players do not have the support of their first-class colleagues back home. Early on in the back-and-forth angry exchanges between Dwayne Bravo and WIPA’s President, Wavell Hinds, Bravo called for the earlier pay-structure negotiations to be reopened and re-put to the membership. An odd request, because the same outcome would result – the international players would lose.
There are somewhere near five to ten times as many ordinary first-class cricketers in the Caribbean as there are regular internationals – does Bravo really think they would vote for him and his mates to have a greater share of the lolly at their expense? It’s hardly surprising that the new MOU/CBA was popular amongst the playing rank and file.
Tino Best, who has known varying days of fatter and thinner pay packets, came out early on Twitter in support of Wavell Hinds:
“Hope All the first class cricketers across the region show @WWHINDS full support. Finally we can pay a mortgage and eat decent @wiplayers.”
A few days later Tino spoke to us on the Mason & Guests show in Barbados:
“If you’re trying to get a good product, you start from the bottom – not the top… you get good fruit from proper soil.”
“We West Indies players get paid well, we play in the IPL, the Big Bash etc and make a good living.”
“What Wavell is doing is tremendous. There’s ten, maybe twelve guys in India against two hundred what are here in the Caribbean.”
“There’s too much bullying. There’s too many people who want power.”
On the subsequent show this week I suggested that the international players are unlikely to have much support for their stance within their own union, and thus it would seem possible, perhaps even inevitable that the group of contracted international West Indies cricketers will have to break away and form their own separate players union, and negotiate their own separate contract deals.
That of course is something for the future. To return to the events in India as they unfolded it is accepted that all the characters in this farce had a wider responsibility – the WICB, WIPA, the ODI players and also the BCCI all had a duty. While the WICB’s and WIPA’s obligations may have been ill-considered or glossed over, and the BCCI’s concerns were as usual totally self-regarding – none of them did anything to deliberately tarnish cricket itself. In their act of abandonment the ODI players were wilful, destructive and malevolent. The conflict between the parties was an unseemly game of brinkmanship, which had a very messy ending, because those players forgot the first rule of playing Russian roulette: you don’t load all the chambers.
As I’ve said, most people in the region now quite rightly want to move swiftly on from this, and while pausing only to mutter ‘how did it ever come to this?’, avoid the reductive ‘blame game’. That will achieve nothing, and West Indies cricket faces the prospect of having literally nothing left unless it is big enough to move on.
So it has been disappointing that despite several well-balanced articles, and media comments within the region from the likes of Tony Cozier, Reds Perreira, Garth Wattley, Barry Wilkinson, Vinode Mamchan, Andrew Mason, Simon Crosskill, Fazeer Mohammed, Colin Croft, Ian Bishop, Jeffrey Dujon, Andy Roberts, etc that it has been Michael Holding’s comments for Wisden India that have appeared to make the most impact. He squarely blames the WICB for all the woes, and he is of course entitled to his opinion and that interpretation.
But this is not a view those other distinguished analysts share, but unfortunately Holding’s view has been the one picked up internationally, for example by the UK’s exemplary Cricket Correspondent, Mike Atherton as the ‘Caribbean view’. (You can read his article for The Times, and my comments here). This misrepresentation does not help the situation, and especially does not assist the WICB’s immediate necessity to regain some kind of international credibility, and more importantly sympathy, if they and West Indies cricket is to survive. It may not be in a writer’s remit to foster this, and possibly not in a newspaper’s best interests for ‘good copy’, but on rare occasions, such as this, the power of the pen can be not merely a very important tool, but a weapon of positive impact.
This is not in any way meant as a criticism of either Mike Atherton or Michael Holding. Atherton is one of the world’s finest, and fairest cricketer writers, while ‘Mikey’ is an intelligent, even-handed broadcaster. Both are entitled to give their assessment – it is just a pity that the position taken by them both is based upon one-man’s opinion – and these are two of the most influential writers and thinkers in the world game, so that position is being represented as the inside view. And it’s not their fault that it’s carrying a disproportionate weight to the wider world. This is only one effect of decades of West Indian insularity with regard to communication with the rest of the cricket world. Atherton and Holding are not to blame; the Caribbean press and media is – and ESPN Cricinfo is the best placed to remedy it.
One or two other views have been aired internationally which do not echo Holding’s beration of the WICB: I recommend Peter Miller and Freddie Wilde’s Geek & Wilde podcast; Dennis Freedman’s special edition of his Can’t Bowl, Can’t Throw podcast (although of course the fact that I was his guest on the show does totally undermine any argument I may be making about ‘balance’!) – but I especially direct everyone to the comments and measured analysis by the always articulate George Dobell, Senior Correspondent for ESPN Cricinfo in the UK. George knows the Caribbean very well, is a regular visitor to the region, and thoroughly understands the people, its culture and its heritage. In this week’s Switch Hit podcast for Cricinfo he spoke brilliantly, and passionately about what all this means for West Indies’ cricket, and more importantly for West Indies’ people and culture. Please go and listen to it here.
In the programme, George comments: “I wonder if the top players realise the seriousness of what’s happened here? The end result of this could be appalling. There’s a possibility West Indies could be suspended by the ICC; the ECB are right now looking at contingency plans for the England tour to the Caribbean. The West Indies are absolutely on the brink of annihilation.” And of the striking players, he said: “I think they’ve been really thick.”
He is absolutely 100% on the mark in his appraisal. George was also kind enough to join us on the line from the UK for this week’s Mason & Guests show, despite it being well past midnight in England, to share his views with a Caribbean audience.
I’ve been fortunate in recent days to correspond about the whole debacle with among others, John Holder (who dubbed the players ‘greedy’), Dr Rudi Webster (who wrote this fine piece counselling reconciliation), and Reds Perreira, who I’ve also spoken to regularly. On the day of the strike he said to me: “A very sad day for West Indies cricket. Obviously Clive Lloyd must have found a situation where he didn’t have a team for the tour to go on. Bravo has won, but perhaps cricket has really lost.”
I confess that the events have left me with little enthusiasm for cricket at the moment. With this whole fiasco coming a week after the fallout from Kevin Pietersen’s book and the unpleasantness surrounding that has left me feeling not only bitter about the game I love – but wondering if those that actually get paid to play it do so with any amour whatsoever?
David Oram is the resident ‘statto’, and sometime presenter of ‘Mason & Guests’ – Voice of Barbados’ weekly cricket talk show, the leading cricket radio show in the West Indies – hosted by the Caribbean’s principal radio commentator, Andrew Mason. You can tweet me at DavidOram@colblimp1983.