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Probe needs fresh eyes

Tony Cozier

Probe needs fresh eyes

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AS West Indies cricket teeters on the edge of extinction, with the president of the board, his directors and the players all seemingly unaware of how close they have brought it to the precipice, yet another independent committee has been given the challenging job of trying to save it from itself.

At its emergency meeting in Barbados on Tuesday, the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) announced it would set up an imposingly designated task force, “comprising critical stakeholders”, to review what it euphemistically described as “the premature end of the tour to India”.

It has been charged with meeting all parties involved in the tour’s unprecedented abandonment that prompted the unequivocal disgust of their hosts, the present strong-armed enforcers of the world game, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). It would then convey its findings to the WICB.

The members of the task force were still to be named up to late yesterday; all the usual suspects, politicians most prominent, were lining up for a pick.

What is required is fresh thinking from a new group without any previous agenda.

WICB president Dave Cameron and West Indies Players Association (WIPA) president Wavell Hinds, whose disagreement with the players triggered the altercation, along with those on the ground in India – team manager Sir Richie Richardson, chief selector Clive Lloyd, the widely respected captain of the unforgettable era of West Indies domination, and the striking players – would obviously be prominent among those involved in the inquisition.

Explanations are likely to be sought from Cameron as to how the India situation got out of hand so that the WICB now finds itself in its present position.

For all the shocking finality of the players downing their bats and balls and heading home, the buck stopped with the WICB, the governing body of the sport in the region; this much the BCCI made clear in blaming it for its “inability to resolve internal issues with its players”.

Cameron had the opportunity, at a media conference originally scheduled to follow Tuesday’s emergency meeting, to at least respond to such sharp public censure and to the timeline the BCCI set out that led to the final decision.

It never materialised; it was replaced by a release that listed the four decisions made.

The couple of diligent reporters who managed to buttonhole Cameron afterwards were told they were restricted to two questions.

“We deliberated on all the matters. We’ve come up with a few positions that we are going to take forward,” was all they got – and the sheet of paper with the meeting’s decisions, another of which was to “request a meeting with the BCCI”.

Either Cameron and his advisers believed it would serve no purpose to further aggravate their powerful, indignant hosts by responding to the certainty of difficult questions or, more likely, he wasn’t prepared to face them from the pack of relentless journalists.

The likely queries were obvious.

Would he like to comment on the BCCI’s revelation that it had received his email at 3 a.m. (India time) on October 8, 11 hours before the scheduled start of the first One-Day International (ODI) in Kochi, stating that he was withdrawing the team from the tour?

Was he aware that, as the BCCI timeline put it, its secretary Sanjay Patel “rushed to Kochi and spoke to the players and managed to get on with the match”?

Did his position not dictate that he should have undertaken such a mission himself, as soon as he could get to India? As it was, neither he nor any of his directors made the trip, even as the conflict became increasingly more impassioned.

Cameron might have commented on Patel’s assertion that he asked him in Dubai on October 12 whether the rest of the tour would proceed and the claim that he replied he would give an answer by close of the business day, October 15?

The BCCI maintained that it took an emailed reminder from Patel to prompt him to reply, at 3 a.m. (India time) on October 17, that “the WICB are not able to provide any assurances or guarantees”. The correspondence said it would “communicate its position by the end of the day on October 17”. Was that so?

Most astonishing of all the BCCI’s assertions was that the first email it received cancelling the tour came at 10 a.m. on October 17 from Richard Pybus, the director of cricket and an employee of the board, the reason for whose presence in India was obscure.

“WICB’s position is that if the players refuse to play, then the players must return home and the rest of the ODI and Test tour is called off,” the BCCI quoted Pybus as stating in his email.

“This has been discussed with the WICB president and CEO and they are fully aware of developments here.”

According to the BCCI, confirmation came four hours later from the manager, Sir Richie Richardson.

“On behalf of the entire squad and WICB, I apologise for the inconvenience caused,” it ended. So did the tour.

Surely proper protocol dictated that such weighty decisions should be conveyed by the president himself, not by his subordinates. The big shots at the BCCI clearly don’t take such snubs lightly.

Hinds and Bravo, who acted as the spokesman for the players in India, are obviously among the other “critical stakeholders” stated in the task force’s terms of reference.

Daren Ganga, the former Test batsman, Trinidad and Tobago captain, now television analyst, noted that Bravo would need to specify the reasons for strike action that he described as “a last resort”. For his part, Bravo complained that much of the criticism of the players’ action has come from those “without knowing the relevant facts”.

“In time, I believe all the facts will come to light,” he said.

Presumably, this would be through the task force.

In its media release, the WICB conveyed optimism that “a way can be found to repair the damage that has been caused and to ensure that similar events do not recur, with the focus being on the betterment of West Indies and world cricket”.

It’s a tall order.

To “ensure that similar events do not recur” would need a dramatic change in the thinking of those who administer the game.

Relations between the board and the players have always been fraught; this was the fourth players’ strike in the past 15 years. Never before had one taken place during a tour.

Yet several past reports recommending transformation have been ignored by those reluctant to surrender power.

The latest crisis may just be the catalyst that forces them to.

•Tony Cozier is the most experienced cricket writer and commentator in the Caribbean.