By Zaheer E. Clarke
(Published October 5, 2015)
A few months ago in an article, I listed the subtly glaring personnel changes occurring in West Indies cricket. In the past 15 months, the Convenor (Chairman) of Selectors and the panel, the head coach, the captain, and the bandit of players representing West Indies have all changed, but not the West Indies Cricket Board President, Dave Cameron and his board.
However, in the past 15 years we have had several board presidents and a high turnover-like carousel of board members. Yet, with all these changes, West Indies record against the top-7 teams in world cricket hasn’t registered a pulse. Still, only two overseas Test wins in fifteen years against the top-7 teams and only 16 wins in 15 years, home and away combined against the elite teams.
Last week, Phil Simmons, the coach whose appointment and apprehension from Ireland after the 2015 World Cup I celebrated in another article, was seemingly arrested in his tracks and suspended by the West Indies Cricket Board before the team’s departure to Sri Lanka. The suspension can be attributed to steamy comments made to the media about the non-selection of two bandits from the abandoned tour in India a year ago: Dwayne Bravo and Kieron Pollard.
Simmons – apparently frustrated – reported less than diplomatically that himself (the new coach), Clive Lloyd (the new chairman of selectors) and Jason Holder (the new Test captain) all went to bat for the inclusion of Bravo and Pollard in the ODI team to tour Sri Lanka. Nevertheless, the remaining selectors on the panel, Jamaican Ambassador Courtney Walsh, Barbadian Courtney Browne, and Antiguan Eldine Baptiste due to external interferences, according to Simmons, outvoted himself and Lloyd 3-2 to keep Bravo and Pollard in exile (Captain Holder sits with the selection panel but has no vote).
Simmons’ appointment has seen an olive branch being extended to players who have cried foul of victimization after walking off the India tour, or who have had spats with the West Indies Cricket Board, both on and off the field in the past. He has met with several of them to gauge their interest in playing the various formats of cricket for West Indies: Tests, ODIs, or T20 cricket. Hopes of their imminent selection to bolster the nosediving quality of West Indies’ output was rising quickly; however, this bust-up and non-inclusion is a reminder that all is not well after the abandoned Indian tour.
Unsurprisingly, with the US$42 million bill still unpaid to the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) for the abandoned tour in October 2014, all cannot be well. Unexpectedly, though the task force who reviewed the tour abandonment in India laid the blame squarely at the feet of three parties: West Indies Cricket Board, WIPA and the players, yet the players are the only ones being punished repeatedly via omission, demotion or threat of disciplinary hearings.
It’s been six months since Board President David Cameron retweeted the following comments during the Pakistan match at the 2015 World Cup about Gayle’s lack of form up until then: “Gayle goes… Can’t buy a run. Let’s give him a retirement package … Can’t fail repeatedly and still front up based on reputation.” Yet we haven’t heard of any disciplinary actions against him for those comments or the board collectively for their role in the abandoned tour of India. However, Phil Simmons comments though undiplomatic, but from the heart, have drawn swift action and rightfully so because of breaches in collective responsibility and confidentiality. Nonetheless, what’s good for the goose must also be good for the gander?
Albeit, this is the state of West Indies cricket, where discussions are rife about the inclusion or exclusion of players whose performances compared to the world’s elite players are mediocre at best. I recall when Ralston Otto averaged 66 and 56 opening the batting for the Leeward Islands during the regional first class tournament in the 1983-84 and 1985-86 seasons respectively. Yet, he couldn’t get a sniff into the West Indies team because of colossal Desmond Haynes and Gordon Greenidge. Such was the riches of West Indies cricket.
In this meagre anorectic period of West Indies cricket, the discussions of players inclusion or exclusion are seldom performance based and objective, but smacks of parochialism and insularity: traits that will mark the “Death of West Indies” according to an unbeknownst mentor of mine.
A few nights ago, I heard the Prime Minister of Grenada, Keith Mitchell speak about a change needed in the governance structure or system of West Indies cricket and the furnishing of another report. We have heard this before and read enough reports. Evaluative reports and recommendations have been summoned and/or paid for by the West Indies Cricket Board: the PJ Patterson-led governance report and the Richard Pybus’s recommendations are fresh in our minds. Still, unsurprisingly, the change and implementation at the West Indies Cricket Board level suggested by these reports has been a distant bastard cousin. The WICB is answerable to no one.
Simmons may be reinstated, let go or he may leave for greener pastures. Similarly, Clive Lloyd may depart soon from the selector’s panel. Nevertheless, until this system called West Indies cricket change, its impending death may be even sooner than thought. Or did it take its last breath 20 years ago?
Yet, I’m hopefully that like biblical Ezekiel I can prophesy to the dry West Indian bones and have our cricket rise like the great army we had in the 1980s. What we need is not just personnel change but systematic change. Until we do, the more we change personnel, the more West Indies cricket and its languishing position at the bottom rung of world cricket will remain the same. Am I the only one who sees this? Let’s hope not.
Until next time…
© Zaheer Clarke
From the “Lies & Statistics” column in the Western Mirror (Published October 5, 2015)