23rd October 2014
Picking the Spin from the Rough – stuff well worth reading
Former England captain, Mike Atherton, the Cricket Correspondent of The Times in the UK, yesterday wrote a piece giving his view on the current West Indies crisis. Here it is, followed by my comments which were published online by The Times, and Mike Atherton’s response:
Caribbean Factions Speak Louder Than Words
There were numerous ironies to be noted as West Indies’ spectacular implosion in India, where the players cancelled the tour 17 cricket days shy of completion, unfolded. The first was the simultaneous notification that Fire in Babylon, the superb documentary of the halcyon days of Caribbean cricket, was now available on DVD, four years after its cinematic release. As a poignant emblem of what has been lost and will not be regained, it cannot be bettered.
The second was that Clive Lloyd — one of the greatest international cricket captains, now into his eighth decade, back in the West Indies fold as head of the selection panel and a star of Fire in Babylon, shoving Tony Greig’s taunts back whence they came — should be the man to offer a grovelling apology for the moment that may signal the end of the Caribbean as an area of cricketing significance.
Maybe that moment has long passed. Ranked just above Zimbabwe and Bangladesh in Tests and one-day international cricket, West Indies have ceased to be a powerful force on the field, although they enjoy the odd moment of success principally in the shortest format of the game. But for a region that once dominated it has been a startling and rapid fall from grace, prompted above all by the kind of mismanagement that reached its laughing-stock summit last week.
The infighting is many times worse than recently seen with England cricket. That was one lone voice against a perceived clique and the board, and it will be forgotten soon enough. This is on an altogether different scale: the entire touring team against the board and, for good measure, their players’ association, which was lashed in the most public and embarrassing manner when Dwayne Bravo released a letter on behalf of the team outlining their grievances against Wavell Hinds, the players’ representative. The consequences for Caribbean cricket as a regional entity could be terminal.
The most respected voices in the region put the principal blame with the administrators, who are keen on taking back what had been lost during an outmanoeuvre by the previous head of the players’ association. These administrators must be among the worst in cricket (quite a trophy for the cabinet that one). Disparate voices from disparate regions looking out for their own rather than the general good — a mini version of the International Cricket Council (ICC).
Hinds, the president of the West Indies Players’ Association, encapsulates one of the problems in the game, namely conflicting interests. He has positions on both sides of the fence, not only acting for the players but, as a selector and board member for the Jamaican Cricket Association as well, one of the constituent members of the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB). Acting for the bosses and workers, therefore.
The fallout, with India having cancelled future bilateral tours for the moment and contemplating legal action for lost monies that run into tens of millions, is likely to hurt the West Indies players beyond any defeat on the field. As it is, and before any legal action from India, the board hovers on the brink of bankruptcy, so threatening the livelihoods of the players and the chance of regenerating cricket throughout the region. This could tip them over the financial precipice.
Beyond the parochial, it is a situation that highlights some of the discontents and trends within the world game. First is the language and context of the game. The cost of the cancellation of the tour has been couched in financial terms only. Of course, there is a significant financial cost for the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and ESPN Star Sports, its rights-holder, and one sympathises with both. But financial considerations should be the consequence of cricket being played, not the primary reason for it.
When Sri Lanka are whistled up to provide cover at a moment’s notice, prompting Kumar Sangakkara to question the timing, given that their leading players have spent the past month in strength and conditioning training and have minimal time to prepare for cricket, the impression is that the cricket is less important than filling a hole in the balance sheet.
Which is what these bilateral one-day series are about in any event. There is no contextual meaning for any of these random bilateral one-day series. Not every match needs context, and a game can be enjoyed on its merits, but the proliferation of one-day internationals down the years has reduced, not increased, their significance, so that context would help. They are mainly functional, shoring up the game’s finances (important though that is) without any reference points to attract supporters or broaden cricket’s appeal.
Bravo’s belligerence, well-founded though it might be, suggests another trend that cricket has not yet come to terms with. Player power. Tournaments such as the Indian Premier League and other franchised Twenty20 tournaments, which essentially operate outside the traditional controls, higher wages and the power of social media have given the players equal status with governing bodies. When Kevin Pietersen took on the England and Wales Cricket Board, he did so with a Twitter following six times that of the governing body and an ability to shoot from the hip in a way that the official voice of the game cannot. The balance of power has shifted.
As a former player, and given the generations who were underpaid, it would be ludicrous to say that this development is a bad thing, but players are not always considerate of the wider picture. Players’ associations ought to be looking after all levels of the professional game — especially perhaps the lower tier — but in the Caribbean, for example, the association was set up when the only full-time professionals were the international players themselves — a top down, rather than bottom up, association. The elite looking after the elite.
The problems of the imbalance of power throughout the game are also now laid bare. The recent ICC deal between India, Australia and England made worse that disparity, even as wealth was increased all round, placing power squarely in the hands of those three. That is all very well when things are running smoothly, and West Indies’ support for the restructuring of the ICC was no doubt well received in Mumbai, but it has not protected them against the recent hurricane, nor is it likely to, given the hawkish comments by Sanjay Patel, the BCCI secretary, in the wake of West Indies’ withdrawal.
So you have grovelling apologies from an unnamed director of the WICB, which makes uncomfortable reading. “We have shamed our hosts, shamed ourselves and brought shame to the Caribbean people.” So said this apparatchik before the hastily convened board meeting on Tuesday. I wonder if he has seen Fire in Babylon. From pride to shame in a few short years.
Excellent article, but you are incorrect in suggesting that ‘the most respected voices in the region put the principal blame with the administrators’. Here in the Caribbean, whilst everyone knows that Dave Cameron and the WICB is guilty of gross mismanagement and incompetence, and Wavell Hinds and WIPA guilty of arrogance and high-handedness, the feeling amongst senior writers and broadcasters is that ultimately the players, especially Dwayne Bravo, are the culpable villains for pulling the plug on the tour. The authorities were both stupid and feckless, but the players showed a calculated disregard for the good name of West Indies cricket, a total disrespect for their hosts, and a wider ambivalence towards the ‘good of the game’ and international cricket as a whole. They were the ones who stopped the tour, and while there is little sympathy for the WICB and WIPA amongst correspondents, most have roundly condemned the players for their act of betrayal of Caribbean Cricket. These writers, broadcasters etc have included Reds Perreira, Tony Cozier, Fazeer Mohammed, Colin Croft, Andy Roberts, Jeffrey Dujon, Ian Bishop, Barry Wilkinson, Simon Crosskill, Ezra Stuart, Courtney Walsh, Clive Lloyd, Andrew Mason, Mike Findlay etc. The only ‘respected’ voice to clearly side with the players against the WICB and WIPA is Michael Holding.
Christ Church, Barbados
Thanks for the reply and I take the point. Given my long association with Michael holding I put a lot of store by his comments as I know him to be both well informed and fair. Agreed though that others have not been so charitable towards the players. A mess all round!