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A Plea for Change

Martin Chandler | 6:03am gmt 06 Jun 2012
Academic websites tell me that Professor Keith Sandiford taught history at the University of Manitoba from 1966-1998, and that he is one of the pioneers of the historical sociology of sports and has published extensively in that field. A couple of years ago I was looking for some contact details from him because, as an adjunct to that field of expertise, he has also written extensively on West Indian cricket, and I hoped I may be able to enlist his help in tracking down a copy of an obscure cricket book that was published in Jamaica in the early 1960s. He was kind enough to offer his advice on that and, more importantly, agreed to cast a critical eye over the features I have written on West Indian cricketers since that time. He is fortunate enough to count Garry Sobers amongst his personal friends and his passion for the game, and his West Indian roots, has shone through in all his communications with me. Like so many he is caused much distress by the current state of the game in the Caribbean, and has given vent to his frustrations in this open letter:-

It has become increasingly difficult for me to conceal my anger and disappointment. Here am I cheering fervently for the West Indies, as usual, and watching my team sink further and further into the morass of defeat and humiliation. I would not be so frustrated now had we been losing simply because of lack of skill. Over the past two years, however, we have been losing largely because of managerial incompetence and stupidity. The litany of fundamental errors committed by the WICB is too long to be repeated here, but surely there are enough of them for the Caribbean community to bestir itself at long last and rid our cricket of this gigantic albatross that has become the laughing stock of international cricket?

I am frustrated and angry because the time has come for us to turn the proverbial corner. Over the past few years, we have unearthed some potentially world-class talent in Barath, Bishoo, DM Bravo, Kirk Edwards, Martin, Narine, Rampaul, Roach and Russell. We are also witnessing the maturation of Deonarine, Fidel Edwards and Samuels. These players provide a solid nucleus around whom a powerful team can be built. But the Board has not understood that it is impossible to reconstruct a team by first removing its very foundations. It is absolutely essential to provide promising young cricketers with world-class veterans to offer example and guidance. The rookies can never receive inspiring leadership from a mediocre and inexprienced player who cannot otherwise command a place in the Test XI. The complete melt-down of our Top Four both at Lord's and at Trent Bridge was the major cause of these two losses. It is highly unlikely that with Gayle and Sarwan, we would have found ourselves so often in such desperate straits so early in the innings.

Had we the intelligence to secure the support of Gayle, Sarwan and Taylor (our very best players), we would almost certainly have won all of our tours and tournaments since 2010. But the sad fact is that we began on the wrong premise. Ernest Hilaire, our CEO, has obviously taken the view that the WIPA has been the root of our difficulties since 1998. He is therefore committed to its destruction by bringing the international career of all of its veterans to a summary conclusion in the hope that the inexperienced substitutes would be more docile. I have gathered from reasonably reliable sources that he has privately declared (and publicly hinted) that such players as Benn, Chanderpaul, Gayle, Sarwan and Taylor will never represent the WI again so long as he can help it. This incredibly jaunticed attitude should immediatelty have led to his own dismissal. The WICB ought to be conscious of these fundamental truths: the players are always more important than the administrators; and the players are always the Board's most precious assets.

The WICB argues that, since we did not win anything of substance when Chanderpaul, Gayle, Sarwan and Taylor were playing, it does not matter now if they are dropped. This is really so absurd that it is unbelievable. The WI were not losing because of their finest stars. We were losing because our best players were not accompanied by an adequate cast. Anyone with a passing knowdge of cricket history will remember that the the WI did not win a single Test match of the 20 they played at home during 1967-73. This protracted stretch of futility included 10 Tests against India and New Zealand who were then not very highly regarded. Should the WICBC (as it then was) have dropped such stars as Gibbs, Hall, Hendricks, Kanhai and Sobers?

Apart from our failure to select our very best squad to tour England this spring, the Board was so lax as to fail to procure the necessary visas for three of our players. What manner of professionalism is this? The WICB also failed, quite signally, to negotiate a reasonable programme for our players. Everyone knows that West Indians, even in our Glory Days, have never performed that well in an English spring. Predictably, our inexperienced batsmen had no hope of countering the swinging ball effectively and our inexperienced bowlers did not know how to utilize the favourable conditions. Asking our team to play a Test match at Lord's on 17 May was cruel and unusual punishment. I was frankly astonished that we were able to prolong the mismatch beyond three days without the intervention of the elements. It would have been much better to agree to play a few warm-up matches, all the T20s and the ODIs BEFORE embarking on the more important Test series. This would have made the competition a lot less one-sided.

All we have done in the past several years is to shoot ourselves quite expertly in our collective knees. We shall continue to do so, I very much fear, until we rid ourselves of Hilaire, Gibson and Sammy. I am more and more convinced that WI cricket will continue to suffer until we can somehow reconstruct this arrogant and dysfunctional Board.

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