Romain Pitt tells a troubling tale
There is a hugely important story about West Indian cricket waiting to be told by some experienced energetic sportswriter. It deals with how a mediocre cricketer with a short CV as a bowling coach, a UWI academic and another academic with business executive experience have contrived to destroy the international careers of three of the West Indies’ top batsmen and its top fast bowler. And the story makes clear that this internecine action has come just at a time when high quality talent is emerging to complement and support these players in renewing West Indian cricket. As a prelude to what I hope will be the publication of that story, I wish here to attempt to provide a contextual framework for this assault on West Indies cricket.
After being a dominant force in international cricket for over half a century- and the dominant force for almost half that time – in accordance with the iron laws of probability, the West Indies became a mediocre team. Without any evidence, the WICB, the media, the fans and, more understandably perhaps, the foes, placed the responsibility for this new state of affairs firmly at the feet of the players. As the vast majority of players were from the lowest socio-economic strata of the society, that thesis went almost completely unchallenged. In fact, ironically, many commentators and observers ironically held B.C. Lara, the man who was then the world’s most majestic cricketer, to be the prime culprit. And despite the manifest lessons to be learnt from the tragic Lara story, no one, as far as I am aware, saw as a plausible option in helping the players as a whole to meet the new 21st century challenges.
The preferred remedy was the Jamaican mantra of “heavy manners.” The academics convinced the fans and other administrators that “educated” cricketers and disciplined acolytes were the answer to the problem. They found one or two legends willing to buy into their diagnosis. The conservative media, particularly in Jamaica and Barbados, were ready, willing and able to provide their support. On this score, you have only to read Tony Becca, Jamaica’s most important cricket journalist, to understand why it was so easy for the WICB to bludgeon Becca’s fellow Jamaican Chris Gayle and, indeed, Jamaica itself, as recently pointed out by that country’s newly re-elected PM, Portia Simpson-Miller.
The support given to Shivnarine Chanderpaul by Guyana stands in stark contrast to the abandonment of Gayle by Jamaica before Simpson-Miller’s re-election. It would be remiss of me not to point out the role of Tony Cozier, Dean of West Indian cricket writers, in this conflict. Although WIPA has been successful in virtually all legal proceedings between the WICB and WIPA, Cozier’s stance earns him the title of ‘President of the Moral Equivalency Club’ in dealing with the relationship between the two organizations. Convinced that West Indian cricket could not thrive without Barbados as the leading spirit, Barbadian administrators too made an unholy alliance with their St Lucian counterparts and exploited the historic injustice which the smaller territories had suffered prior to the 1980s.
The language used and procedures followed by the WICB were unambiguous. WICB Director Joel Garner, in his playing days a fantastic 6’8” fast bowler with an easy action, could find no more constructive criticism of the young fast bowlers Jerome Taylor, Fidel Edwards and Kemar Roach, all under 6′ than that they were “lazy”. The WICB introduced the “Taylor Rule”, an innovation in international cricket management that had the effect of not only blaming Taylor for his inability to fully recover from back injury but also of rendering one of the most talented young fast bowlers in the game (with a Test hundred to boot!) a nonentity.
Dr Ernest Hilaire, the WICB CEO, expressed his view of the short-term hopelessness of West Indies cricket by noting that most of the members of the Under-19 team that had just secured third place in the World Cup, were semi-literate.
The leader of the pack, Sir Hillary Beckles, with impunity, very publicly compared Gayle to Christopher “Dudus” Coke, the notorious Jamaican gang leader now awaiting sentence in the United States, and discussed with satisfaction the desire and efforts of the WICB to remove him from West Indies cricket.
While the coach of the South African World Cup team, consistently the most underperforming team in World Cup competition, waited a few days before discussing the way forward, the West Indies coach denounced the senior players of his eighth-ranked team even before the spectators began leaving the stadium following the game in which his team was eliminated.
These gentlemen who hold the WICB reins (not surprisingly, no women among them) are misguided. The unbelievable success of a Jamaican team of modest talent in the current four-day series has as much to do with the motivation of the players caused by the insult to Jamaica and the injustice to Gayle, as with the skills of the players; and the recent humiliation of Barbados at the hands of Guyana in Kensington Oval was all part of the piece. The function of the administrators is to assist cricketers, not to humiliate them. The talents needed on the cricket field are not necessarily the same talents needed in academia.
Let me digress here to point out that the fans ought not to criticize Sammy for accepting the captaincy offered to him. It is, however, appropriate to constructively criticize Sammy for not demanding that he be given the best players for the job. It is not an appropriate response to that criticism to say that we have often lost with the best. That makes no sense and, what is more, we now have some new, terrific players to complement the very good ones who have been around for a little while.
While it may be true that the media are the voice of the voiceless, it is quite clear that they are not interested in the winless. That means that, as things stand, only the governments, WIPA, and the long-suffering fans can force the current administrators to do the right thing, which is to select the best players and give them and the other support staff all the help of which the administration is capable.
It is the only way to attempt to ensure that we shall soon be back among the best.