In the world of professional sport where millions of dollars are expended to provide facilities, create and maintain infrastructure and most of all, to pay sportsmen and women, performance is absolutely critical. And for the fans who support the particular sport with their physical and monetary patronage, they expect inspired effort and success. They might not always get the latter but invariably they demand the former.
The West Indies cricket team has demonstrated varying levels of inspired effort and has reaped very little success over the past 22 years, especially in the longer format of the game. Our international cricketers have been criticized for their on-field performances. Administrators have also been blamed for our cricketers’ on-field performances. Sports psychologists, politicians, commentators, journalists and any number of persons have also blamed the attitude and management style of top administrators for the decline of what occurs on the field of play. Yet more cricket is being played at all age levels, more money is being pumped into regional cricket, more money is paid to our international cricketers – win or lose – than at any other stage since June 23, 1928.
Those who frequently seek to crucify administrators – rightly or wrongly – seem to give players a pass on their own attitudes and commitment and often suggest that their negative attitudes and apparent lack of commitment are – again – the fault of the administrators.
But a curious thing occurred this week. And though it did not happen in the Caribbean, it has travelled from the Asian continent to the various shores in the region. If the symbolism of it has not yet resonated with us, then it surely ought to.
The Indian Premier League (IPL) is currently populated with a number of West Indian cricketers who have been part of the decline of the regional game. Some have had their individual moments of success but generally have been part of the two decades of cricket heartache in the Caribbean.
One of the more successful of our international cricketers, Mr Chris Gayle, has been a major drawing card at the Royal Challengers Bangalore franchise since 2011. He has been paid significant sums for his work that has mostly been excellent. Others such as Mr Kieron Pollard at Mumbai Indians and Mr Sunil Narine at Kolkata Knight Riders have also been well rewarded for their outstanding, trophy-winning performances over the past few years at these franchises.
This year has been one of abject failure for Mr Gayle and his franchise that is currently at the bottom of the eight-team IPL table. In a move which is bound to meet with appreciation and respect from the management of the franchise and especially the fans, the star West Indian opener apologized for his poor showing as well as that of the team which has so far won two games and lost 11. Mr Gayle had this to say: “I cannot be happy with my performance and with my team performance as well. It’s been disappointing. Apologies to the fans. We all are hurt. It’s amazing how they [fans] still come to the stadium and support us. I hope to do better next year.”
Not only was this an apology for poor performances but it also appeared to express Mr Gayle’s understandable desire to be retained on the lucrative contract “to do better next year”. It was a loudly tacit expression of appreciation that performances matter; that to whom much is given, much is expected; and that professional failure can lead to the loss of employment.
Yet, this was only one year of failure, not 22, and we therefore ask the question: Has Mr Gayle or any of our other regional ‘stars’ ever apologized to Caribbean people at home and abroad for the quality of performances to which they have been generally subjected to over the past two decades? Who among our cricketers has ever publicly expressed to Caribbean people an intention of doing “better next year”? Have our cricketers shown similar contrition to Caribbean people or has it simply been a case of stumbling from one defeat to another knowing that in these islands performances and pay are often strange bedfellows?
We have had an instance of a captain turning up late for West Indies duties because of participation in other tournaments. We have had a situation of a leading bowler opting to play in the IPL rather than making himself available for regional duties. Do we not notice a difference in commitment and effort by one of our leading players to the Mumbai Indians as compared to his recent contributions to the West Indies team?
Our administrators are far from perfect. They never have been. But they also do not win games by their bowling, batting, fielding and thinking. Our cricketers are the ones expected to perform these functions at their optimum because they are professionals. We expect quality from them in like manner that we expect our postmen, pilots, police and plumbers to perform without the paymaster holding their hands or stoking their egos.
Perhaps, one day, Mr Gayle, et al, can offer an apology to Caribbean people as well for what generally has transpired on the field of play for two decades.