Gaffes and apathy in West Indies cricket

It’s not difficult to imagine the impact on the embryonic Caribbean Premier League of the Barbados Central Bank’s warning last week on the status of Verus International, the League’s owners.

The timing of the Central Bank’s statement is more puzzling.
It said it had “come to its attention” that Verus, which is incorporated as a company in Barbados, “is describing itself as a merchant bank based in Barbados.”
It warned (its word) that Verus “is not licensed to engage in merchant banking, or any other activity regulated by the Central Bank of Barbados, in or from within Barbados.”
It concluded, ominously: “Members of the public who transact business with Verus International do so at their own risk.”

As far back as last December, then West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) president Julian Hunte, stated that the CPL would be “jointly owned and operated by merchant banking firm Verus International.”

Such a designation was a long time coming to the Central Bank’s attention.
From the start, the dark shadow of Allen Stanford’s Twenty20 tournament, similarly purchased from the WICB, has, fairly or unfairly yet unavoidably, hung over the Verus initiative.

 Conde Riley
Conde Riley

There is no evidence that Ajmal Khan, Verus’ president, is another Stanford, bankrolling his tournament through an illegal scheme that would lead to a lifelong jail term. He built up his successful company originally through investments in Canada (where he has citizenship) and now has it registered in New York, as well as Barbados.
Yet the Central Bank alert only serves to heighten the public perception, fueled by the Stanford experience, that something is not quite right. An urgent PR job is required to counter such doubts.

As it is, three and a half months away from CPL’s start date of July 29, no franchise owners are known, or teams chosen, for the announced host cities in Antigua, Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Lucia and Trinidad & Tobago.

The fact is that those who have so far “transacted business” with Verus “at their own risk” are the WICB, six prominent West Indies players and an equal number of big name internationals and several ancillary service providers.

Verus paid the WICB US$20 million for a 20-year licence fee. The top players are said to be on contracts worth up to US$500,000 each; given the sums paid in the Indian Premier League (IPL) and the myriad similar Twenty20 tournaments around the world, the assumption is not overstated.
The CPL is an exciting prospect for West Indies cricket.

So was the IPL that has developed into such an overwhelming international success story and on which Verus has based its Caribbean exercise. So was the Stanford Twenty20 until its proprietor’s nefarious scheme placed him in jail and finished it.

CPL’s aim is clearly to be in the IPL category. Its immediate, unexpected, mission is to surmount the adverse Barbados Central Bank warning.
One way or another, these have been an embarrassing few months for Barbados cricket.

  Ajmal Khan
Ajmal Khan

The association’s nomination for Julian Hunte’s continued presidency of the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) was defeated by the dissenting vote of one delegate, reportedly one of its own. Its own president, Joel Garner, a respected and legendary West Indies player, was more decisively knocked back for the vice-presidency.
At the same time, the organisation fired its chief executive officer of just over a year, publicly offering no reason.

In regional tournaments they once so dominated, Barbados tumbled to their fifth lowest first-class total in their long and celebrated history, 64 against the Windward Islands. They failed to qualify for the final play-offs in both the Twenty20 and the Super50 (a fancy name for the 50-overs-an-innings series), humbled in each by the Combined Campuses and Colleges (CCC), whose elevens comprised, as usual, more than half Bajans .
And it was the Super50 result that led to the latest gaffe.

When Barbados were beaten in their final match that completed Trinidad & Tobago’s six straight victories, it left them level fourth with CCC. The issue was which would proceed to join the Trini Red Forde, the Windward Islands and Jamaica in the semi-finals.

With typical confusion, the WICB initially announced on its website that the semis would be Trinidad & Tobago v Barbados and Jamaica v the Windwards.
Soon after, it put out an urgent correction, stating that the matches would, instead, be T&T v CCC and Jamaica v Windwards, with the explanation that Barbados and CCC ended on 10 points each but CCC had defeated Barbados on the “head-to-head” (the margin was 59 runs at the Three Ws Oval), the decisive factor under the 2013 playing conditions.

Without overstating his reaction, this did not go down at all well with Conde Riley, the BCA’s vice-president and, as such, a WICB director.
It was, he fumed, “clearly an error”. It was “a ludicrous decision”.

Riley revealed that he had instructed Queen’s Counsel Randall Belgrave, one of the BCA’s attorneys, to pursue the matter. A court case loomed.
Riley’s contention was that, “in any round robin tournament” and “based on all international rules”, net run rate is used as the tie-breaker to separate teams equal on points and wins.

“It is clear to the BCA that the decision to place Barbados fifth although they have a better net run rate than the team they placed as fourth is flawed, ” he said.
Barbados’ net run rate was -0.013, compared with CCC’s -0.055.

The problem for Riley, who was presumably speaking on behalf of the BCA, was that the playing conditions for the 2013 Super50 were not international and not the same as the previous tournament in 2011 when net run rate was, indeed, the determining factor.

According to WICB corporate secretary Imran Khan, the 2013 regulations were circulated to all the regional boards prior to the season for their comments; none had objected.
There was no ambiguity and attorney Belgrave advised the BCA it had to accept that CCC, not Barbados, would be in the semis.
So how did Riley get his premise so wrong?

As incredible as it may sound, and as he later acknowledged, he hadn’t properly read, if read at all, the playing conditions prior to his furious criticism. Manager Hartley Reid was under the same impression as Riley but hadn’t been supplied with a copy of the regulations or, indeed, asked for one.

There was at least the consolation for the team itself of a resounding innings defeat of CCC in the first-class competition and a passage into the semi-finals where they have the chance to get their own back on the Windwards.

For his part, Riley might find himself facing some searching questions at the BCA’s annual general meeting in a couple of months. Then again, given the apathy that surrounds all West Indies cricket at present, perhaps not.

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