So after all of the hullabaloo surrounding the West Indies tour to England for a three-match Test series in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the green light has been given.
Come Monday, 25 players including 11 reserves will travel by a specially chartered flight to the United Kingdom, no doubt with all sorts of things going through their minds.
After all, over 40 000 people in the UK have died due to COVID-19 – the world’s second highest tally behind the United States of America.
While some of the players are excited about the tour and have been giving “pretty” interviews to the media, the likes of experienced 31-year-old Trinidad & Tobago batsman Darren Bravo and the Guyanese pair of batsman Shimron Hetmyer, 23, and 22-year-old pacer Keemo Paul, all declined the invitation, with Cricket West Indies (CWI) saying it “fully respects their decision to choose to do so”.
The West Indies will go into quarantine for 14 days before beginning their preparations in Manchester.
The first Test is slated for the Ageas Bowl in Southampton, starting July 8, with the other two matches at Emirates Old Trafford in Manchester, beginning July 16 and 24.
The matches will be played behind closed doors and are still subject to UK Government approval.
According to a release from CWI, the West Indies squad will live, train and play in a “bio secure” environment during the seven weeks of the tour, as part of the comprehensive medical and operations plans to ensure player and staff safety.
“The bio-secure protocols will restrict movement in and out of the venues, so the selection panel has also named a list of reserve players who will travel to train and help prepare the Test squad and ensure replacements are available in case of any injury,” CWI said.
With a growing number of comments surrounding the pros and cons of the tour, I found a few from key persons in a Group chat to be most interesting.
For example, Roland Butcher, a former Barbados batsman who was the first black man to play Test cricket for England when they toured the Caribbean in 1981, and now a director at the Barbados Cricket Association (BCA), as well as a Barbados Pride selector, stressed that CWI had “little option but to assist” the England & Wales Cricket Board (ECB).
“The ECB lent CWI 3 million to keep them afloat. These are not normal times and business as usual,” Butcher wrote.
CWI Chief Executive Officer, Johnny Grave, who ironically is a white Englishman, stated he would like to clarify that:
1. We would not be contemplating this tour if the best medical practitioners in the region didn’t say that the ECB plans make it as safe as the players staying in the Caribbean.
2. England toured here last year and CWI had almost US$20 million in revenues from the nine-match tour with a much larger figure for the economic impact to the region.
3. Our players, even with these reductions will still earn more than Pakistan players on full pay that tour England after us.
4. The economic model of World cricket is not fair and equitable and we will continue to lobby and fight for a new fairer distribution of the game’s revenues.
There was also debate on CWI announcing a temporary 50 percent salary cut and funding across the entire regional cricket system, effective from the start of July, due to financial difficulties caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The decision was made recently after the CWI Board of Directors received recommendations from the Financial Strategy Advisory Committee (FSAC) during a tele-conference.
“With no international cricket currently being played anywhere in the world, and with great uncertainty of when regular cricket activity will resume, CWI – like many other international sporting organisations worldwide – is facing a significant loss of income, whilst also being uncertain of the long-term impact of the crisis on our operations,” CWI said in a statement.
“It is in that context that CWI’s Board of Directors, with deep regret, have agreed to a plan that we expect will safeguard CWI’s future while delivering at least a minimum level of job protection for all of the people employed or contracted throughout the region’s cricket community.”
Again Grave and Butcher had their say.
“These measures were put in place with deep regret by everyone involved but they apply to everyone … all players, all coaches, all staff, all umpires, all directors, and they mean that we can protect everyone’s jobs for the next six months,” Grave remarked.
“We fully understand and appreciate that they will create real financial pain and hardship but we honestly had no choice if we wanted to protect everyone’s jobs and the organisation.
“I can confirm that all players and team management will receive their full salary payment in June and 50 per cent in July. The players will receive their full match fees for the three Tests.
“I won’t reveal their match fees or salaries but the real effect of the 50 per cent cut in their monthly retainer for July compared to what they would normally receive from this tour is about a 10 per cent reduction,” Grave said.
Butcher commented: “What choice have they got? ECB, Cricket Australia, New Zealand etc, they all have to make these cuts to survive.
“The countries with far more resources made these cuts first. It was only a matter of when CWI did it. I personally believe that they should have been the first to make the cuts.”
Gregory Shillingford, a former CEO of the then West Indies Cricket Board, asked: “Can it be confirmed that for undertaking the tour that the ECB has given CWI a loan of GBP 3 million which already has been deposited in CWI accounts? What are the terms of this loan?”
Now, comments on the tour from a cricket fan, who lives in the UK, are also worth sharing.
“Am I the only cricket fan who thinks this is a foolish and rushed decision?
“How on earth is it in any way acceptable to even ask the WI to come here just to bail out the ECB? We know so little about C19. I mean they could test negative 50 times on tour and then catch it on the way home at the airport. The average airport passenger faces a temperature check only and we know that is an unreliable guide.
“We simply do not know enough to guarantee their safety, and that is no way to treat guests.
“I see why society has to re-open in general… but watching a Test match is hardly essential for anyone. How are we all going to feel if one single person dies for the sake of our entertainment?
“There is no doubt the players will be pressured into touring, some will wisely stay at home so that this will be a series featuring under-strength tourists who do not want to be here playing bad cricket in front of empty stands. The matches will be over in three days max if it does not rain, less if WI bat first.
“How exactly is that exciting anyone?
“Honestly if we want cricket it should be domestic stuff only, forcing the essentially skint cricket boards/Test players of West Indies and Pakistan to come here to this infected isle just to give us something to watch is an incredibly unscrupulous and unsavoury thing to do.
“God help any tourist who does get sick in the UK, but it will be much worse for them if any of them get sick after returning home. The chances of anyone in authority in the UK giving a single… for their welfare or paying a single dollar for their care outside the UK, is precisely zero.
“The players and WICB board members would do well to look at the Windrush scandal, and ask themselves if they can really trust anything the UK authorities tell them,” the fan wrote.
West Indies squad: Jason Holder (Captain), Jermaine Blackwood, Nkrumah Bonner, Kraigg Brathwaite, Shamarh Brooks, John Campbell, Roston Chase, Rahkeem Cornwall, Shane Dowrich, Chemar Holder, Shai Hope, Alzarri Joseph, Raymon Reifer, Kemar Roach.
Reserves: Sunil Ambris, Joshua DaSilva, Shannon Gabriel, Keon Harding, Kyle Mayers, Preston McSween, Marquino Mindley, Shayne Moseley, Anderson Phillip, Oshane Thomas, Jomel Warrican.
Keith Holder is a veteran, award-winning freelance sports journalist, who has been covering local, regional and International cricket since 1980 as a writer and commentator. He has compiled statistics on the Barbados Cricket Association (BCA) Division 1 (now Elite) Championship for over three-and-a-half decades and is responsible for editing the BCA website (www.bcacricket.org). Email: [email protected]