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TONY COZIER: Sword of BCCI still hanging


TONY COZIER: Sword of BCCI still hanging

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IT HAS BECOME the modern equivalent of a long-forgotten timeless Test.

It is ten months since West Indies players, disgruntled over terms of their contracts, packed their kit bags and prematurely ended their scheduled tour of India.

Stating that the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) had given it “a binding commitment” for nine matches to be played, an angry Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) presented a fully itemised compensation claim for US$41.97 million to the WICB for its “unilateral cancellation” of the series.

At the same time, the BCCI declared that it was suspending “all bilateral cricketing relations with the WICB” until the dispute was resolved.

In spite of the WICB’s contrition that it “regrets and is deeply embarrassed” by the abandonment of the tour, its subsequent formation of a high-profile task force to investigate all aspects of the issue and a proposal from CARICOM’s prime ministerial sub-committee on cricket for a five-point “grand settlement”, the situation remains basically the same.

Throughout, the WICB’s chief executive officer Michael Muirhead has spoken optimistically, often confusingly, of continuing discussions with the BCCI.

On March 31, he told the CMC news agency that the WICB “would send a delegation to India with the main objective of negotiating a settlement which would be amicable and would satisfy all parties”. The aim was to have a deal in which the BCCI’s compensation claim would be repaid “in matches and not cash”.

It was “a matter of negotiations” whether the BCCI preferred One-Day Internationals (ODIs) over the three unplayed Tests from the abandoned tour.

There is no evidence that such a delegation ever visited India.

Muirhead claimed that it was constrained by the BCCI board elections in late March that brought Jagmohan Dalmiya back as president, instead of International Cricket Council (ICC) head N. Srinivasan who had been debarred from holding the position by the Indian Supreme Court, and Anurag Thakur as secretary in place of Sanjay Patel who had conducted all earlier correspondence with the WICB.

After the new BCCI board’s first session, Muirhead said, the WICB was “promised that we are going to have a meeting”.

Muirhead’s next report was two months later, on June 2.

Discussions had been “going very well”, he told the Trinidad Express, so well that a resolution could be reached by the end of the month after the representatives of the boards met independently during the ICC annual conference in Barbados June 22 to 26.

The BCCI seemed to concur. Five days before the Barbados meeting, Dalmiya said the BCCI was “hopeful” the issue could soon be resolved through “mutual discussions”.

Because of ill health, Dalmiya senior did not attend the Barbados meeting. His place was taken by his son, Abhishek. There has been no further word from the BCCI; Thurag has not responded to my recent telephone and email queries.

“We are hoping to have a resolution finalised and documented,” Muirhead said at the time. “Beyond that, I can’t say anything.”

The next time he said anything on the matter was last Tuesday in an interview in the Trinidad Express.

The newspaper quoted him as explaining that, while no formal claim had yet been made, “some officials of the BCCI spoke to us and we were assured that the settlement may turn out to just be matches instead of the money”. It was unclear whether it would be a Test, ODI and T20 series.

Muirhead expected “word about the final decision at the end of the week”. That would be almost three months on from his end-of-June hope. He blamed the holdup this time on the BCCI’s attention on the Supreme Court’s ruling on corruption charges against two of its Indian Premier League (IPL) franchises.

My independent information from India is that the BCCI is unwilling to accept the West Indies minus its hugely popular, attractive IPL stars. Without Dwayne Bravo, Keiron Pollard, Chris Gayle, Sunil Narine and the others, a weakened team would not interest the public; the likelihood is that matches aimed at writing off some of the claim would be run at a loss.

As crucial as the US$41.97 compensation tab is the BCCI’s simultaneous declaration that it is shelving all cricketing ties with the WICB until the consequences of the abandoned tour are sorted out.

With their lucrative contracts for television rights, ground perimeter advertising, series sponsorship and the growing number of their travelling U.S.-based supporters, India’s tours of the Caribbean have become highly profitable for the WICB.

It is a scenario that would leave the WICB between a rock and a hard place.

Going back to IPL players it has already dropped would be far too much humble pie to consume for leaders unaccustomed to such subservience. Without them, the BCCI is unlikely to make a deal on either compensation or resuming relations.

Only compassion for a once close cricketing brother now in trouble, even if of its own making, would prevent the WICB’s demise.

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