By inadvertent, yet timely coincidence, the directors of the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) hold their quarterly meeting in St Lucia on December 12 and 13, in the middle of the first Test against Australia in a series long written off as embarrassingly one-sided.
Their first order of business is to come to a position on the Caricom review panel’s report on its governance; WICB president Dave Cameron was slated to meet on the issue with the head of the Caricom sub-committee on cricket, Grenada Prime Minister Keith Mitchell, on Friday. Since the report recommended the board be “immediately dissolved and all current members resign,” to be replaced by an interim board, their response is predictable.
As potentially critical as it is to the future of the WICB, the continuing, and seemingly escalating, weakness of the team requires the directors’ equally urgent attention. It has caused such overall anguish that it brought an emotional reaction from Sir Garry Sobers, by consensus the greatest of all cricketers, at a media conference during the team’s recent tour of Sri Lanka.
The Australian media, if not Cricket Australia itself, based the West Indies’ dismal record in proposing more competitive New Zealand replace them for the showpiece Tests in Melbourne and Sydney. Because of already set international itineraries, it was impractical but it did reflect widespread opinion.
The loss by 10 wickets in their solitary warm-up match in Brisbane to a Cricket Australia XI with an average age of 21 and comprising six players on first-class debut reinforced the fear over the relevance of the three Tests.
The West Indies have lost all four of their Tests since June, by nine wickets and 277 runs to Australia in the Caribbean and by innings and six runs and 72 runs to Sri Lanka. There were four individual hundreds against, none for. Last week’s result in Brisbane has been the most humiliating of all.
The directors need to hear from Cameron and equally from Richard Pybus, the Englishman who has been director of cricket since October 2013, as to the reasons for such continuing failures.
Until now, they have been silent as the two effectively ran matters on their own. None has put forward a view on the effects of the suspension, and subsequent reinstatement, of head coach Phil Simmons or on his strong defence of the charge of “outside interference” in team selection that pointed to Cameron and Pybus.
The disruption of replacing him for the Sri Lanka tour with selector Eldine Baptiste as interim coach clearly troubled the players, not least the young captain Jason Holder.
Baldath Mahabir, a Trinidad and Tobago director, is the only one to protest by resigning, terming the WICB “unprofessional, tardy or lax in many instances.”
Pybus’ first project, accepted by the directors, was to introduce a franchise system in the region’s annual first-class tournament, encouraging teams to draft players from other territories; such “cross-fertilisation,” as it was dubbed, was not previously possible.
Pybus’ point was that it effectively existed in all other Test playing countries and that the West Indies had been “left behind dramatically” as a result. The new arrangement would “close the gap.”
Cameron backed it up by giving year-long contracts, each worth between US$15,000 and US$36,000, to 90 franchise players. He formed the Professional Cricket League (PCL) that, for the third time over the past decade, filled the season with home-and-away matches, rather than a solitary round. He called it a “revolutionary introduction into the West Indies cricket landscape.”
The PCL is now in its second season. Its structure is disjointed. The first five rounds are between November 6 and December 14 after which it breaks for the one-day Nagico Super-50. The remaining five rounds are scheduled from February 12 to March 21 with an unexplained 10-day break in each. There is no continuity for the players.
The ICC World T20 is in India March 11-April 3; the domestic Caribbean Premier League (CPL) domestic T20s in 2015 ended July 16. At least those likely to go to Bangladesh have their overseas T20s to keep them in touch.
Cameron has pleaded for patience on the PCL but there has been no evidence that the “revolutionary introduction” is achieving its purpose of West Indies “closing the gap.”
Performances in 2013-14 brought batmen Shai Hope and Shane Dowrich into the Test team. Both represented Barbados, their home team. So far this season, Vishal Singh has staked his claim, aged 27, with two hundreds in three matches for Guyana; Alzarri Joseph, a strapping, 18-year-old fast bowler from the Leeward Islands, has emerged as a definite prospect.
Otherwise, there has been no change to the usual low totals (eight under 150 against six over 300) and the dominance of spin bowlers (five top the averages).
It is obvious that not only the WICB’s governance needs to be overhauled but the organisation of the various tournaments as well.
On their last tour of Australia in 2009-10, the West Indies were also the butt of supercilious comment in the press after Queensland amassed 617 for seven declared in the warm-up match and defeat by an innings and 65 runs followed in the first Test.
“If this is the best the combined might of the Caribbean can muster, then Test cricket is in terminal decline,” was one eminent writer’s take. Another suggested Cricket Australia should cancel the tour and refund all tickets. West Indies cricket had become “a complete and utter joke,” he added.
Kim Hughes, who quit as Australia captain midway through a series when the West Indies ruled the world, called the team “an embarrassment to themselves.”
Within a few weeks, the same West Indies had the better of a drawn second Test and lost a hard-fought third by 35 runs.
Such a recovery is unlikely this time. Denesh Ramdin and Kemar Roach are the only survivors from that series; captain Chris Gayle, Dwayne Bravo and Darren Sammy now prefer T20 franchise teams to the West Indies, Ramnaresh Sarwan and Shivnarine Chanderpaul have been dropped, Brendon Nash has gone off to Kent and the teenaged opener, Adrian Barath, has disappeared off the radar.
Apart from Marlon Samuels and Ramdin, Holder and Simmons have no such experience at their disposal. Yet Darren Bravo, Kraigg Brathwaite, Samuels and Jermaine Blackwood have proven themselves against strong opposition. Jerome Taylor and Roach each has over 100 Test wickets.
There are more than strictly cricketing reasons for the team’s recent capitulations; the hammering they got from the Cricket Australia novices told the story in demeaning black and white.