The division that has often dogged the Caribbean was perhaps best summarized by late Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago Dr Eric Williams in 1961. On the occasion of Jamaica’s decision to leave the West Indies Federation in September of that year, Dr Williams is reported to have said: “One from ten leaves nought.” Jamaica’s decision to quit the ten-member federation basically signalled the end of that experiment.
Today we have CARICOM and despite the trade benefits that have accrued to a number of regional territories such as Trinidad and Tobago in particular, and Barbados, there is still much insularity, pettiness and animosity among Caribbean people. These are often promoted by politicians for self-serving reasons in their backyards while spouting the rhetoric of regionalism at conferences and other public fora. Politicians naturally wield influence within their borders and so insularity and divisiveness can thrive.
In the midst of this we have cricket, as unifying a force as there is, has been, and perhaps, will ever be. If recent happenings are used as a gauge, politicians would do well to keep far away from regional cricket. But unfortunately they have rendered this unlikely by their cricket committees within CARICOM. Consequently, if those with a passion for the game are not mindful of our political leaders’ records, regional cricket could follow the federation.
The state of West Indies cricket is a cause for concern for all of us. Some have posited myriad solutions; many outlandish, most with merit. But in the midst of the hurly burly, it is important that we do not lose sight of the fact that cricket is played on the field and involves batting, bowling, fielding and thinking to a professional and highly proficient level. Games are won and lost mainly under the sun – recently the moon – and not in political corridors or by regional citizens in their manifestations of grandstanding politicians.
No one can dispute that reform and improvement are required in the administration of West Indies cricket. But those who would call for the dissolution of the West Indies Cricket Board fail to appreciate that one can refine, realign and resolve without dismantling. Professor Sir Hilary Beckles was on the ball when he suggested that like the University of the West Indies, the West Indies Cricket Board was a “cultural treasure” within our new and emerging societies and should be “preserved for posterity”.
Sir Hilary’s advice, thankfully, has not mirrored the almost hysterical political screams to dismantle emanating from Grenada and St Vincent and the Grenadines.
“But long established institutions are especially required to demonstrate their fitness to serve in changed circumstances. They are expected to make explicit provisions for both external review and internal self-assessment, leading generally to governance reform and operational restructuring,” Sir Hilary has correctly suggested.
But there is something more sinister in the equation. The utterances of some of our cricketers within recent times have given rise to great suspicion.
Whether one accepts it or not, the advent of Twenty20 cricket and the making of millionaire West Indian cricketers have occasioned a different sporting specimen. Their allegiances and preferences – and they have frequently articulated this – are no longer with the WICB. Their loyalties rest with those with the deepest pockets. Failures on the field where batting, bowling, fielding and thinking still actually win games, are now blamed on those sitting without bats, balls or pads in the boardrooms.
We have the laughable scenario of so-called professionals, blaming the dismissal of a coach for a team’s failure. Professional sport is about players utilizing their skills on the field or court. It is not about moaning and groaning about administrative changes. Has there been a diminution of performances by regional cricketers when administrative changes were made to their Indian Premier League teams? True professionals get on with the job. At the beginning of the year, in the middle of the National Basketball Association season the much-liked David Blatt was fired as the coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers team. Months later the response to this administrative change was the Cavaliers winning their first NBA title.
The under-achieving Kieron Pollard in his latest hurl at the WICB this week, unwittingly gave some insight into much of what is wrong with our cricket. A professional cricketer who failed miserably on the recent tour of the United Arab Emirates would seek to explain that ineptitude with suggestions of not knowing who was the head coach, or not getting an immediate answer for “what was the plan for tomorrow?” We reiterate that cricket games are still won by true professionals who bat, bowl, field and think at their optimum. Not by babies who seek comfort, metaphorically, at the nipples of their mothers.
Former captain Darren Sammy is a curious case. The West Indies Cricket Board has, for him, suddenly become a pariah in the region. However, one cannot help but remember that while many in the region were complaining about the WICB under the then leadership of his fellow St Lucians, president Julian Hunte and chief executive officer Ernest Hilaire, Sammy was very much a “board man” singing the wonderful virtues of the WICB. He has now suddenly become a born-again militant. We don’t buy it.
The WICB has much to do to improve the standard of the regional game. They have started. They have also been deprived, and perhaps strategically so, of open doors to the finishing school that is English County cricket. Perhaps alternative destinations are necessary. One can see an effort to bring about change, from increased tours and more age-level tournaments, to creating a greater pool of paid players.
The way forward will be made much smoother if cricket administrators are given the space to reform and strengthen internal structures without hounds on their heels. And politicians can assist the process by strengthening their individual islands from which our cricketers are drawn. Regional cricket has proven to be an institution greater than both the West Indies Federation and CARICOM. It will survive.