Enter Portia into WICB, Gayle impasse
There was likely to have been as much steam and pungent hot air during the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) directors meeting in Castries, over the last two days, as from the nearby Soufriere sulphur springs.
At a time when the organization, through its leadership, continues to show unmistakable signs of becoming ever more arrogant and unmindful of the reason for its existence, there were awkward matters to be dealt with and a stack of pointed questions for president Julian Hunte to answer.
Most prominent concerned the official response, made in the collective name of the WICB only a few days prior to their gathering, to observations by recently-elected Jamaica Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller at the Jamaica Cricket Association’s annual awards function.
It effectively accused Simpson-Miller of ignorance and, by extension, incompetence, stating that, among other things, she “did not have the benefit of the full information of the matters on which she spoke”. It is a charge guaranteed to raise the hackles of any politician, not least a prime minister (and also minister of sport) who would have had the “full information” on any subject affecting the WICB through the reams of its regular media releases, if not from the WICB’s Jamaican directors.
Clearly speaking to her constituency, Simpson-Miller predictably focused on the issues of the moment affecting Jamaica – the continuing stand-off between the WICB and Chris Gayle, a Jamaican, the absence of a Test at Sabina Park during the forthcoming Australian tour, and the non-implementation of key recommendations of a committee on governance, commissioned by the WICB and headed by one of her predecessors, P.J. Patterson.
What gained no attention in these parts of the cricketing West Indies, apparently including Factory Road in St John’s, was her pointed opposition to the growing feeling that Jamaica should pull out of West Indies cricket and go on its own.
“What we need to do is regain the sense of unity to once again dominate the world,” she said.
In light of what was to follow, a sense of unity seems more of a fantasy than ever.
According to the newspaper coverage of her speech, which the WICB presumably used to form its indignant reaction, Simpson-Miller said the Gayle dispute was untenable and that she was disturbed by how long it had been allowed to continue.
“Justice delayed is justice denied,” she said.
“This matter demands an amicable resolution as quickly as possible”. Unless the reporters missed it, she did not hold the WICB culpable but simply expressed the general public feeling – and not only in Jamaica – that it has dragged on for too long.
She also expressed her displeasure at Jamaica not being awarded a match during the Australian tour. As it affirmed later, the Jamaica Cricket Association (JCA) said her position on this was “no different” from its own.
Why those at the WICB responsible for such things felt this merited a strong, lengthy and widely distributed rejoinder is unclear. If they felt they needed to reply to Simpson-Miller, any capable public relations company would have advised a private letter, couched in far less confrontational language.
As if it did not have enough on its plate, especially in its relations with CARICOM and some individual governments, the WICB has predictably set off furious reaction in Jamaica and yet more controversy.
The JCA, one of its founder members and a shareholder, quickly and publicly stated its “complete rejection and condemnation of the unjustified and disrespectful criticisms” aimed at Simpson-Miller. It claimed that none of the WICB members in Jamaica had been consulted about the offending release and called on president Hunte to state “whether or not he sanctioned or sanctions the statement”.
As a portent of what was to follow, the website, caribbeancricket.com, claimed it had learnt that some WICB officials “are disgusted by what they consider a rude, disrespectful and malicious” JCA release. They were adjectives that carried a familiar ring.
Now Simpson-Miller warns that she “will not forget their response” and vows to raise “the rudeness and crudeness of the present leadership of the West Indies Cricket Board” with the heads of government at the next Caricom meeting.
If, after all this, there was time to consider other items, directors would also have sought an update on the divide between the Guyana government and the Guyana Cricket Board (GCB), one of its shareholders, to which its only reaction so far has been to shift to other locations all matches scheduled for Georgetown, among them the third Test in the imminent series against Australia.
Someone in the room might have pointed out that this denies ardent Guyanese fans, who had no involvement in the administrative wrangle, the enjoyment of seeing top-class international cricket, and their own team perform, as they have had every year since the early 20th century. Was this the only option, rather than resorting to what boils down to cutting off its nose to spite its face?
The Jamaica directors had already openly questioned on what authority was the Australia Test so rapidly assigned to Dominica. They claimed they were not consulted, a position echoed in private by others, less bold. This was denied by the WICB which said Sabina Park would be granted a Test during New Zealand’s tour in July and August.
Darren Sammy’s position might also have come under scrutiny. The unprecedented decision to appoint him captain for three successive series, as well as the World Cup, was clearly to bring stability to the position and made through majority agreement. But the time has come to ask for how long can he be guaranteed the role if not backing it up with performances with bat and ball.
There was another issue that, if it materialized, would also have created heated debate.
Even before the meeting, there was well-informed talk that an ad-hoc committee on governance, reportedly chaired by lawyer Charles Wilkin, a former Leeward Islands left-arm spinner, had proposed, among other things, an extension of Hunte’s presidency for another three-year term, to add to the two already served. A different method of choosing WICB directors is purportedly another of the committee’s points.
If it was laid on the table, those around it, even as out of touch as some are, would surely have realized what the public reaction would be should such an unpopular president, a WICB member since 1971, be returned again – by whatever process.
Who knows, the WICB meeting might also have set aside a minute or two to discuss the declining standards of West Indies cricket.