The sad state of West Indies cricket will come into sharp focus this week when some of their best players take part in an Australian Twenty20 tournament — just days after sitting out the latest embarrassing Test defeat.
Chris Gayle, Dwayne Bravo and Darren Sammy will all show their talents in the Big Bash League, after they were notable absentees in the West Indies’ innings and 212 runs Test loss to Australia in Hobart.
A stand-off with administrators, complete with a players’ strike and the coach’s suspension, is at the heart of what has been a dizzying descent for the former “Calypso Kings”.
The West Indies have been stuck in the mire since Australia’s watershed series win at Jamaica’s Sabina Park in 1995.
In 197 subsequent Tests, they have won just 42 — 21 percent — and are above only Bangladesh and Zimbabwe on the Test rankings.
For those with memories of the grander times of Garfield Sobers, Clive Lloyd, Viv Richards and Brian Lara there is a hollow feeling watching the current crop.
So how did it come to this? How could the West Indies have become the ‘easybeats’ of world cricket after producing so many dynamic and inspirational characters?
Fazeer Mohammed has been broadcasting on West Indies cricket for 23 years, and is in Australia witnessing yet another dispiriting chapter in their history.
“West Indies cricket has been in this situation for almost two decades so it’s more of a systemic issue that ties in all aspects of governance of the Caribbean game from the boardroom to the field of play,” Mohammed told AFP.
“Three reports commissioned by the WICB (West Indies Cricket Board) in the past eight years have all recommended fundamental changes to the administrative structure yet these recommendations have been ignored.”
Now Caribbean prime ministers are involved following the latest recommendation calling for the immediate dissolution of the present administration and the setting up of an interim management committee.
Last year the West Indies players, disgruntled over terms of their contracts, and walked out of their tour of India.
India’s BCCI has presented the cash-strapped WICB with a compensation claim for US$42 million, covering the loss of media rights fees, sponsorships and ticket revenue.
Bravo, the captain and players’ spokesman in India, and Kieron Pollard were dropped for the subsequent ODIs in South Africa and this year’s World Cup.
Bravo and Sammy are now long-term absentees from the Test side, and Pollard is yet to make his Test debut. Gayle blames chronic back problems for his reluctance to play the five-day format.
Meanwhile coach Phil Simmons was suspended in September after criticising selection for the tour of Sri Lanka, before being reinstated last month.
Trinidad and Tobago board chief Suruj Ragoonath says the onus is on administrators to make sure players prioritise playing for their country over lucrative Twenty20 cricket.
“We must understand that the sport of cricket now is not what it used to be many years ago,” he said in the Trinidad and Tobago Guardian last weekend.
“Therefore we at the administrative level must find ways and means of dealing with the problem of players choosing to play for club rather than country.”
Lara, who scored 34 centuries in 131 Tests and ranks as one of cricket’s greatest batsmen, also faults the administration and says there has been a breakdown of trust between the board and the players.
“I think it’s bad governance. I think the West Indies Cricket Board has faltered over the years,” said Lara, currently in Australia.
“We’ve had the same sort of thinking from the 1970s right through until now. There’s nothing new going on in West Indies cricket, especially at administrative level.”
“The guys don’t trust the board anymore.”
The current West Indies team has no shortage of greats mentoring them, from manager Richie Richardson, travelling selector Courtney Walsh and bowling consultant Curtly Ambrose.
During the Hobart debacle, Darren Bravo scored a century and opener Kraigg Brathwaite hit 94, showing talent still exists, and Richardson has been trying to instill more confidence in the largely inexperienced team.
“We have to back ourselves and look to win. We have a young team we are moulding,” said Richardson, who amassed 16 centuries in 86 Tests before retiring in 1995.
Confidence will help, but it looks likely to a long, tough tour for the West Indies, who will play the second Test from December 26 in Melbourne — with the Big Bash still in full swing.