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Fiddling while cricket churns

Tony Cozier

Fiddling while cricket churns

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Whenever it seems things simply cannot get worse (in other words every other week), West Indies cricket lapses into further sharp decline.
Weakened by strikes, litigations, injunctions, arbitrations and constant, outright animosity between the administration and the players’ association, its latest, lingering malady has brought its condition ever closer to its terminal demise. And it is in danger of spreading.
The nationalization of Guyana cricket by the government, in overthrowing the fractured Guyana Cricket Board (GCB) and replacing it with its hand-picked interim management committee (IMC), has placed the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) in a quandary.
It demonstrated, once more, its lack of leadership in failing to provide direction when the serious problems that have led to this sorry impasse were clearly developing in one of its constituent territories, a founder member in 1927 and the country where the shoots of West Indies cricket were first planted in the late 19th century.
It has now reached the stage where it feels it has no option but to back the GCB as the sole administration for the game.   
If reports out of St John’s are anything to go by – and there is every reason to believe they are – the WICB cannot again procrastinate over a similarly developing situation in Antigua and in the Leeward Islands as a whole.
It needs to step in sharply to ensure the same chaos doesn’t overtake another of its members.    
In Antigua, where it emerges that the association has not held elections for five years, Sports Minister Winston Williams has bluntly told its president, Enoch Lewis, a WICB director, that he “will not allow this situation to continue in our national sport, to simply erode our gains in the past and dash the hopes and dreams of our young people.
“I don’t know that we can sit back and afford for this charade to go on,” he added.
Last week, Kenny Benjamin, the former Leewards and West Indies fast bowler and now government coach, asserted that “a crisis of leadership” was crippling Leeward Islands cricket (once the strongest entity in the West Indies, for some time now the weakest).
He claimed that the last Leewards association elections were “a fiasco” and that president Gregory Shillingford, also a WICB director, did not have the support of “the hardcore” associations.
According to Benjamin, Nevis and Anguilla did not vote for him and St Kitts and St Maarten simply did not bother to turn up.
The WICB needs to have such charges heard and, if correct, dealt with.
Already, CARICOM has flagged its intention to take a keener interest.
At its annual conference in July, it “expressed serious concerns about the future of West Indies cricket and the need to address its long-term development”.
Its sub-committee on cricket later stated that it would carry out “an assessment of the prevailing arrangements for governance of West Indies cricket to determine whether the best interests of cricket in the region and of its people are being served”.
All of this is disturbing enough. It is all the more serious, given recent developments at the international level.
Under guidelines established at its annual conference in Hong Kong last July, the global game’s governing body, the International Cricket Council (ICC), following the lead of its football and Olympic counterparts, gave itself the power to “suspend a member country in the event of government interference in the running of a national cricket board”.
On the Guyana impasse, there have been belated meetings between relevant government officials and WICB president Julian Hunte without the solution that is absolutely critical to the future of West Indies cricket.
Hunte and his directors were scheduled to discuss the matter at a teleconference yesterday but time is short. The 2012 first-class season starts on Friday.
The position as it stands is one of complete farce.
Although the WICB is seemingly awaiting the outcome of yesterday’s teleconference before making clear Guyana’s status in the tournament, the general expectation is that it would accept only the GCB team and schedule all its matches away from home since the original choice is Guyana’s state-owned National Stadium at Providence. Dominica was reported to be the alternative for the opener against the Leeward Islands.
Preparing for participation, wherever, the GCB and the IMC selectors announced identical teams of 13, except that Shivnarine Chanderpaul was the GCB’s captain, Ramnaresh Sarwan the IMC’s.
An indication as to which way the confused players were swaying, seven of the IMC invitees turned out to a practice and fitness session on Friday, under new chief selector Roger Harper, the former West Indies off-spinner, and the reinstated coach, his brother Mark. Chanderpaul, Narsingh Deonarine and Sewnarine Chattergoon, all Test players, did not.
Obvious questions arise out of the shenanigans. Which captain leads the team come Friday? Chanderpaul or Sarwan? And where? Indeed, will there be a team at all?
If the WICB’s stance is unchanged, location is switched and Chanderpaul, not Sarwan, is recognized as captain, it is likely that the IMC players would remain at home and others would be hastily cobbled together to take their places.
West Indies cricket has been that way before, with the withdrawal of those chosen a couple of days prior to the Test series against Bangladesh in 2009. The outcome was predictable, humiliating defeat.
Sadly, the players are the ones caught in the middle, with the West Indies Players Association (WIPA) quick to charge that those with the IMC are being intimidated. So it was in the Bangladesh mess, except the other way round.
It is yet another case of embarrassment to the proud tradition of West Indies cricket. Not that anyone on the warring sides seems to care.