Cozier on Sunday
The parallels are uncannily similar. The effect this time is potentially far more significant.
The 2005 regional One-day tournament, then, as now, was unsponsored, entitled the President’s Cup and staged in late October.
Then, as now, it came three months after a players’ strike over a contracts dispute with the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) that meant a seriously weakened team was sent on tour to Sri Lanka, just as an even weaker team was put into the field last July for the home series against Bangladesh.
In each case, the disputes were only temporarily settled by outside intervention, the International Cricket Council (ICC) and the Federation of International Cricketers Associations (FICA) in the first instance, Caricom governments now.
And, then, as now, the tournament of One-day, limited-overs matches absurdly preceded three away Tests against Australia, hardly proper preparation to take on one of the powerhouses of the modern game.
The team was back to full strength for the 2005 series yet the increasing signs of the diminishing influence of West Indies cricket, following a succession of crushing defeats the world over, were obvious in the reduction of the traditional five Tests to three.
Not one was staged at the major venues in Melbourne and Sydney. For the first time, the West Indies were shunted off-shore to Hobart. They were beaten in all three matches. Only Brian Lara’s exquisite 226 in his final Test in Australia and Dwayne Bravo’s all-round promise brightened a dismal exercise.
In the interim, the infighting between the WICB and WIPA has continued, indeed worsened, and the cricket world has become understandably more and more cheesed off with an entity which, just quarter-century earlier, had been as powerful, admired and popular as any in the game’s long history.
With another tour to a country that was eager to host them six times in the 1980s just over a month away, the unmistakeable sentiment in Australia this time is that it is better the West Indies do not come at all – and certainly not with the makeshift team that they were forced to put out in the Tests against Bangladesh.
As Peter Hanlon noted in the Melbourne Age during the week: “After a hat-trick of home summers that offered up England, India and South Africa – the most marketable opponents in the modern game – the 2009/10 fixture groans with the prospect of three Tests each against the West Indies and Pakistan.”
He referred to the most recent West Indies players’ strike as “reducing a one-time cricket superpower to a scarcely first-class rabble” and noted that “traditionally poor-drawing Pakistan has been decimated by political unrest and not won a Test since January, 2007”.
Channel Nine, the cricket network, is worried about low viewership against competition from golf, tennis, horse racing and, who knows, darts and beach volleyball.
Tony Greig, the former England captain, now resident in Sydney and one of the Nine’s commentators, says that “there is no doubt” in his mind that Cricket Australia would seek a replacement team if the West Indies are still below strength because of the WICB-WIPA standoff.
And all this at a time when there is serious talk among those with the most influence in the game of dividing Test cricket into two divisions.
Clearly, it is imperative that the WICB and the WIPA finally acknowledge the signs and act accordingly. After all, it is their endless, damaging power struggle that has led to the parlous state of affairs.
Vinay Verma, an Indian cricket author resident in Australia for 20 years, set it out succinctly in an e-mail to me during the week.
“The two most vexatious issues in world cricket concern West Indies and Pakistan. Both these countries are visiting Australia this summer. They both have an opportunity to put their best cricket forward, an opportunity to put aside personal differences and think about the legacy past and the legacy future,” he wrote.
It is a point that the board and the players need to comprehend. The consequences for the future of West Indies cricket should be too obvious to ignore.
The “opportunity to put aside personal differences and think about the legacy past and the legacy future”, as Verma put it, rather than winning or losing meaningless court battles and eyeing up various Twenty/20 deals with soulless franchise outfits, should start in Guyana during the President’s Cup – although it would be better if the two presidents, Julian Hunte of the WICB and Dinanath Ramnarine of WIPA, stay as far away as possible.
It requires representatives of the two organisations not as prominent in the acrimony that has marked their relations to come together with one purpose and, together, to spell out to the players, all of whom will be in Guyana, the importance of the coming mission in Australia.
The WICB must give an early assurance that the selectors will be instructed to pick the strongest team which will not be altered in any way; the WIPA, on the other hand, must agree that it will accept the choices and advise its members to get back on board.
The captaincy is quite clearly an issue, given the new WICB chief executive’s expressed doubts over Chris Gayle’s retention and Gayle’s subsequent endorsement by Dwayne Bravo.
So, too, is the whole area of retainer contracts, as evident in Bravo’s honest admission during the week that he would have to consider the financial options of other offers before deciding on his future with the West Indies.
The WICB needs to hear first hand from them both how it should interpret their comments.
Gayle was most downbeat in his views on Test cricket and his future as captain in his widely publicised and analysed interview in a British newspaper during the tour of England last May. He placed Twenty20 above Tests in his preferences and said he would give up the captaincy “shortly”.
It is staggering, if not unexpected given the board’s usual operating procedure, to know that no one from the board ever thought of procuring the easily accessible transcript of the interview as soon as it appeared, far less talking to Gayle about it.
If Gayle gives his signed commitment to the West Indies for the coming year, he should be reinstated. If he doesn’t, and even if the alternatives are undeniably limited, the WICB must look to someone else.
Whoever the captain might be, his attitude and the support he commands from players recently in different camps are critical to the exercise.
Shivnarine Chanderpaul, now among those who opted out against Bangladesh, disregarded the WIPA’s strike call in 2005 to lead the diluted team to Sri Lanka and was retained for the subsequent Australian tour.
Ramnarine did not hide his contempt for his choice.
“It’s rather unfortunate to have the players making a principled stand and the captain of the side going in a different direction,” the WIPA chief said at the time. “It tells a story.”
Not surprisingly, Chanderpaul had a miserable time of it, as much from his some of his own men as from his official opponents. His batting went to pot (he averaged 14.5) and coach Bennett King and former captain Courtney Walsh felt obliged to plead for support for him.
It is ironic that Chanderpaul’s birthplace is Unity, a goal not easily achieved of late in West Indies cricket. Yet, without it, the doomsayers fearing a fiasco in Australia in November and December will prove correct and it would be a long time before players in burgundy again appear in that vast land of sporting excellence.
Instead, they would be left to seek places on teams with names like the Beijing Bullets, the California Centurions and the Toronto Tornadoes.