On the cricket field, West Indies great Sir Andy Roberts was known for his ferocious fast bowling. West Indians at home and abroad, as well as supporters of Hampshire County Club in England, can relate several tales of his exploits, especially those of batsmen cowering before him when he approached with ball in hand. Those days are long gone but Sir Andy has not lost the fire in his gut that makes his observations on cricket required listening and reading.
Amid the coronavirus pandemic, 25 brave West Indians with perhaps varying degrees of trepidation but committed to the cause, have travelled to one of the flashpoints of COVID-19. The United Kingdom has 299,251 confirmed cases with 42,153 deaths. Following agreement between the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) and Cricket West Indies (CWI), their two teams will shortly face off in the sport’s first international series since curtailment of sporting activity occasioned by the pandemic. Assurances have been given that the series will be played in a bio-secure environment and we have no reason to doubt the medical and other administrative officials and experts who have been tasked to ensure that this will be a safe and successful venture. But here is where Sir Andy has made an important observation that screams perfect sense.
Speaking last week about the tour, the Antiguan knight had no issues with the team going to England but took exception that they were taking extreme risks for very little reward. He had this to say. “I don’t have a problem with them negotiating to go to England. What I have a problem with is that there are talks about West Indies are not going to benefit from this tour financially, which I think would be a mistake, because the chances we’re going to take, I don’t think many more countries are willing to take that chance.”
Sir Andy added: “We’re taking a chance no one else is willing to take, and why we’re taking that chance is to save England nearly £380 million because if no one goes to England, they have to pay back that money. They are not willing to pay it back, so why should we, as guinea pigs, go and sacrifice ourselves for nothing.” Roberts was no doubt referring to a situation where the ECB stood to lose around £400 million in broadcast revenues if no cricket was possible in England this season. West Indies reportedly will not gain financially from the trip, as is usually the case with other bilateral tours. Roberts stressed during a local radio programme that if CWI and by extension the players were benefiting financially he had no problem, but if the regional board stood to make no major financial reward they should not have taken the risk and “sacrificed the guys”.
Does Sir Andy have a point? You bet he does. In 2017, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and Sky Sports agreed to a five-year deal to broadcast England’s international and first-class matches played at home between 2020-2024. The new media rights deal was worth a whopping £1.1 billion. The arrangement meant live televised English international and domestic cricket returning to the BBC for the first time in more than two decades, and Sky entering its third decade in a partnership with English cricket. At the time ECB chief executive Tom Harrison said his organization had secured the reach, revenue and relevance the game deserved to help it grow. “Together, these new deals will deliver the partnership, distribution and investment that will fuel the future of our game, driving recreational, professional and international cricket for years to come,” Harrison said then.
But one would assume that if CWI is not to benefit substantially from the tour, then the growth of which Harrison spoke, financial especially, does not at this juncture include West Indies cricket.
So keen was the ECB to get the West Indies to England that they are basically footing all of the team’s expenses, including a reported £400,000 for chartering the flights for the squad. President of CWI Ricky Skerritt recently dismissed suggestions that a US$ 3 million loan from the ECB had nothing to do with the team touring England but was merely a “helping hand” for his board’s dire financial situation. We have no reason to doubt him, even if others might. But within the context of the huge sums that will and have accrued to the ECB, and suggestions that not much loot will pass to CWI, along with the fact that West Indies players are expected to take a pay-cut, then Sir Andy’s suggestion that our boys in England are “guinea pigs” might not be too far off from reality.