By Tony Cozier
It only needed a quick glance around Sabina Park on Friday to understand why India are here for the ODI triangular with the West Indies and Sri Lanka rather than the two Tests, three ODIs and one Twenty20 against Sri Lanka as stipulated on the International Cricket Council’s Future Tours Programme (FTP).
The switch has little to do with cricket, all to do with the money that follows India wherever they go.
The teams are playing for the Celkon Mobile Cup, the name of a large, Hyderabad-based manufacturer of mobile phones. It and a host of other Indian products and services, household names in the sub-continent but unheard of in these parts, fill the ground perimeter advertising boards.
They are these because live coverage of the matches is transmitted back to India (as well as several other areas) by Ten Sports, the Dubai-based Indian production company that won the rights to international cricket in the Caribbean from the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) last year. Commentary is in English and, more pertinently for a viewership of several million, in Hindi. The basis for the change from the ICC’s bilateral with Sri Lanka was that it clashed with the closing stages of the Indian Premier League (IPL) in which the leading Sri Lankan and West Indies players would be engaged. In their absence, the Tests would be seriously devalued.
For the impoverished WICB, the substitute is a financial coup. It was also, unavoidably it would argue, a further tightening of the rope around the neck of Test cricket. There would be further complications.
The Celkon Mobile Cup was slotted in immediately after the ICC Champions Trophy in England, precisely when the ICC Future Tours Progamme mandated a home series of two Tests, five ODIs and two Twenty20s against Pakistan. The WICB had already sold the rights for its annual Twenty20 to the little known Verus International organization under the banner of the Caribbean Premier League (CPL). Since then, Digicel, the former sponsors of West Indies cricket, has taken a lead role preparing for its inaugural dates for July 29-August 26.
It left the only window for Pakistan as the three weeks between the end of the triangular series and the start of the CPL. That has finally, and inevitably, be condensed into five ODIs and two Twenty20s, further strangling Test cricket. The stark truth, as the WICB repeatedly states, is that the only profitable home tours are those by India and England (with their host of travelling supporters and Sky TV coverage more so than the advertisers). All the others result in losses in a region of steep hotel and travel costs, small populations and increasingly struggling economies. When Zimbabwe toured last March, there was a sprinkling of advertising boards on the ground, all from WICB’s few sponsors. By then, Digicel had dropped their title sponsorship, a hint of their later involvement with the CPL. So it was last year when New Zealand and Australia came, their time zones inconvenient for TV viewers back home.
The ICC hasn’t listed India to return until February 2016 for three Tests, five ODIs and one Twenty20.
England have been split into separate tours (three ODIs and two Twenty20s next February-March, three Tests in April 2015). The same number of spectators will hopefully follow them.
All of which might yet change. As long as India can be lured back, the ICC programme has no bearing.
Nothing, however, properly explains how the WICB hasn’t been able to attract sponsorship for its major tournaments since the days of Shell, Sandals, Geddes Grant/Harrison Line, Busta and Red Stripe a decade and more ago while CPL coolly signs on Limacol and Courts right away and entices Digicel over. Their impressive victory over Sri Lanka at Sabina Park on Friday in the opening match of the Celkon Mobile Cup was some instant consolation for the West Indies’ disappointments of the Champions Trophy in England. Apart from a sharp team effort, the most satisfying aspect was Chris Gayle’s 129 off 100 balls. It was an overdue return to his best from a player so crucial to the batting that his early exit places pressure on the unpredictable middle order.
In 14 ODIs innings since his 125 against New Zealand, also at his favourite Sabina almost exactly a year ago, his highest score had been 39; the West Indies lost eight and tied one of those matches.
It is the last, decisive, rain shortened group match with South Africa, where the result was decided by the Duckworth/Lewis method that has caused most West Indian comment from the Champions Trophy, especially in relation to the convenient alteration in the playing conditions to accommodate the 20 overs for a match in the final. They specifically stated: “There will be a provision for an additional 60 minutes to make up for any time lost.”
When Kieron Pollard top edged his swing at Ryan McLaren against South Africa to level the scores at 190 under Duckworth/Lewis, umpires Steve Davis and Rod Tucker decided that rain that had already reduced the match at Sophia Gardens to 31 overs an innings was too heavy to continue, even as Darren Sammy reached the middle to replace Pollard.
They also ruled that the additional 60 minutes were up. So South Africa went through to the semi-final on superior net run rate.
When rain at Edgbaston delayed the final even longer – to the point where television and radio commentators anticipated there would be no play – the ICC’s technical committee met and decided to extend the original provision in the playing conditions by a further hour in an effort to get in the minimum 20 overs needed to make a match.
In other words, the six-man committee (former Test players David Lloyd of England and Saurav Ganguly of India were the independent members, another ex-Test player was the tournament director Steve Elsworthy of South Africa) agreed – reportedly not unanimously – to alter the playing conditions or one match.
In his typically forthright manner, Michael Holding made the point on television that it was an inequitable decision and a dodgy precedent. It is no secret that the team’s management felt the same. It was certainly worth a strong letter to the ICC from the WICB; it seems unlikely that there was one.
The results might well have been different had the same been done in the West Indies’ match against South Africa and, earlier, Australia’s against New Zealand than was abandoned as a no-result after 15 overs of New Zealand’s reply to Australia’s 243 for eight off their 50.
It was not the only contentious issue but, in spite of the weather, the tournament was so popular that there was a strong body of opinion that it should not be the last, as the ICC has deemed. But the concoction to get the final finished was clearly a fundamental flaw.