Early signs for West Indies’ cricket under the stewardship of new President Ricky Skerritt are far from encouraging, to say the least.
The team was swept by India in all formats of the game – T20, 50-over, and Test – in the just-concluded series, following a disappointing 2019 Cricket World Cup in England, where they won only two in nine matches and finished second-from-bottom in the 10-team championship. Only Afghanistan fared worse.
And, adding salt to the wounds, is a lawsuit filed by members of the previous West Indies panel of selectors, who were sacked by Skerritt immediately after securing a spectacular 8-4 win ballot over incumbent Dave Cameron, a Jamaican, in the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) elections last May.
That court procedure, which was announced by their legal counsel on Thursday, September 5, is being channelled by former Windies chief selector Courtney Browne and his counterpart on the selection panel, Eldine Baptiste, both of whom are former Test players. A third member of the selection panel who was sacked, Lockhart Sebastien, has not indicated a challenge.
However, Barbadian Vasbert Drakes, the former assistant coach, has also served notice through his lawyers to file a lawsuit.
Skerritt’s board had initiated their dismissal as part of a process to revamp the selection criteria, but the former panellists contend that the move was unfair based on high appraisal ratings from the previous director of cricket and head coach of the Windies team, South African Richard Pybus.
Pybus himself was also sacked, controversially, on the eve of the World Cup, a move that came in for widespread criticism, including from team captain Jason Holder and former West Indies batting genius Sir Viv Richards, who openly expressed disappointment over Skerritt’s moves thus far.
Watching the team has been painstaking, both at the World Cup, where an incapacitated André Russell was allowed to play a number of matches despite being clearly unfit; and in the follow-up series against India, especially in the Tests, where the team was bowled out for 222 and 100 in the first Test, and 117 and 210 in the second.
Embarrassingly, there were complaints that Windies had 13 players on the field at one stage. Shamarh Brooks walked out of his crease to give away his wicket after scoring 50, and players appeared largely uninterested in batting on the final day of the second Test. Most disrespectfully, none of the West Indies players even took the field for the post-match presentation, and skipper Jason Holder made an appearance to do a post-match interview then went right back inside the pavilion.
Clearly, the cricket is on auto pilot. There appears to be no leadership.
Pybus’ dismissal, in particular, was particularly nonsensical and ruinous, based on the timing ahead of the World Cup, with the West Indies having just secured a morale-boosting 2-1 Test series win over highly ranked England.
Players, as you would imagine, would have been developing trust, understanding, and a good rapport with the coach at that time for having pulled the team to a point where they were becoming somewhat competitive at world level.
The move, however, was part of a greater plan in which Skerritt – a former WI team manager, who was sacked in May, 2001 – was inserted at the 11th hour to unseat Cameron and characterises the complexity and vast number of problems affecting West Indies cricket.
Regional prime ministers – Dr Keith Mitchell, of Grenada; and Dr Ralph Gonsalves, St Vincent and the Grenadines – consistently hit out at Cameron’s handling of the WICB affairs, and Skerritt, a politician, who has served in varying roles as minister of tourism, international transport, international trade, industry, commerce and consumer affairs between 2010-13 in his native St Kitts and Nevis, was put up as challenger.
The coaching and selection decisions reflected the kind of thinking associated with the dissatisfied lot for greater inclusion of West Indians in the running of the team, including senior players, many of whom were sidelined for primarily choosing international T20 cricket over the domestic game.
On the face of it, that decision by the players appeared reasonable, given the huge financial gains from cash-rich leagues such as the Indian Premier League (IPL), which has made the players multimillionaires.
Conditions, however, were provided for their participation in Windies’ domestic competitions, on a limited basis, to become eligible for selection. This is key for the development of the local game given the magnitude of benefits for inexperienced first-class players competing against, and gaining greater insight from their regional peers, who rank among the world’s best.
That was the case during the glory years when leading regional cricketers such as Sir Viv, Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Haynes, Clive Lloyd, Michael Holding, Joel Garner, and many other West Indies legends, were playing professionally in England and also played in regional Shell Shield competition.
A major difference then is that those legends played league cricket. That format is the base of cricket, the foundation of the game, and it inculcated habits for doing the right things consistently that were easier to transfer into Test cricket, which calls for significantly greater levels of concentration given its five-day challenge.
Measure that against the hit or miss T20 format and the picture becomes much clearer in the application of reasoning surrounding the team’s ongoing failure.
To be honest, much of the Windies’ demise was also caused by rulings from the game’s hierarchy, which limited bouncers and such, plus a massive scaling down of West Indian players in the English leagues, which served as great preparation through constant play against the game’s best.
Little by little, that door is being opened again, and earlier this week, promising opening batsman Kraigg Brathwaite of Barbados was offered a contract to play the final three games of the season for Glamorgan, who are chasing promotion to Division One.
Other things have been established for improvements, most notably retainer contracts for regional first-class players that were established between the West Indies Players’ Association (WIPA) and the previous WICB team led by Cameron. The governors must ensure that the players abide by the stipulations and do what is necessary to elevate their game.
Additionally, world-level competition resumed on Thursday night with another edition of the Caribbean Premier League T20. That promises excitement for fans, more money for the players, and some opportunity to learn, however limited, given the nature of the competition.
What is really needed are regional competitions over four days with notable international personalities that will really challenge the players’ mental capacity for applying key requisites, batting and bowling, especially, which they can transfer to the Test arena for its arduous five-day fixtures.
It will require tremendous marketing support to generate the type of funding needed from governments across the region and private entities across the world, including airlines to subsidise travel among foreign parties.
To take a lesson from football, Japan and Jamaica’s Reggae Boyz’s made thier debut at the 1998 World Cup in France, but they have been a constant since, given the way they have ‘internationalised’ their local leagues with players of notable world standard, even some who were over the top or nearing the end. China is doing the same.
Skerritt’s West Indies need a revolutionary platform to alter cricket’s sequence. (Adapted from the Jamaica Gleaner)