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TONY COZIER: Windies cricket: Back to The Future III


TONY COZIER: Windies cricket: Back to The Future III

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FOR all its global hype, Back to the Future Day last Wednesday might just have escaped your attention.

As it was explained in hundreds of newspapers and websites, Back to the Future II was the title of a 1989 movie that propelled its two main characters, Marty McFly (played by Michael J. Fox) and Doc Brown forward to October 21, 2015. It was a sequel to an earlier edition when the two made the reverse trip back to 1955.

As the movie series was out of Hollywood, cricket didn’t merit a mention. The alternatives for the distinctly unAmerican game may be found in the 1980 and 1990 editions of The West Indies Cricket Annual.

I was the publisher and editor during the Annual’s 21 years existence. For 1980 and 1990, I commissioned articles from an administrator, a player, an umpire and a fan asking them to outline how they saw the coming decade. I am currently waiting, but not holding my breath, for the official creation of a West Indies Cricket Annual Day.

What is clear over the intervening 35 years is that, for West Indies cricket, the more things change, the more they remain the same.

As the relevant contributors observed, distrust between the board and the players was building since the leading West Indian players joined Kerry Parker’s World Series Cricket in 1977. It has continued to destabilise the regional game, leading to three strikes and to the latest turmoil over the team’s unprecedented withdrawal of the tour of India last October.

The dismissal of incumbent captain in India, Dwayne Bravo, and team member Kieron Pollard from the One-Day International (ODI) squad has now indirectly, yet clearly, led to the suspension of a coach, Phil Simmons, the first of its kind.

In the 1970s Annual, Peter Short, then president of the Barbados Cricket Association (BCA) and its representative on the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB), of which he was later president, was close to the mark when he cautioned about the possible repercussions of the increasing number of West Indians then joining overseas teams.

“We are delighted they can earn a living playing cricket (but) this does bring with it certain problems,” he wrote 45 years ago. “There is the question of a possible conflict of contracts and this, at times, creates a doubt in the professional’s mind as to whom he should serve.”

Bravo, Pollard and several others are on the books of Indian Premier League (IPL) and other teams in the expanding world of T20 franchises, a phenomenon unexpected back in the 1970s and 1980s. They have played virtually no cricket in WICB tournaments in recent times.

It was a recurring theme in Short’s 1980 contribution. Three years after Packer’s name was first associated with the game, he acknowledged that one of its “few good legacies” was that players were better and more equitably paid; he identified the problem this time as ‘senior players forming an inflated opinion of their own value’.

In his 1980 piece, Deryck Murray, at the time the West Indies vice-captain and secretary of the Players’ Association, had an opposite take.

The rapport between board and players had been “soured with rancour and mistrust” by what he termed “the war years” of Packer.

“This must be overcome before anything constructive can be embarked on,” he wrote. “If the West Indies is to flourish in cricket’s New Deal, we need new attitudes and new ideas and we need liberal minds to work for progress.”

Ten years on, Jeffrey Dujon had taken over as WIPA secretary. The wicketkeeper as the West Indies rose to the pinnacle of international cricket through the previous decade, he cited instances that had “contributed to strained relations” with the board.

One was the lack of information on the players’ contracts for the inaugural live TV coverage in the home series against England that year. It is the kind of complaint that has resonated down the years; it was the players’ basis for the India tour pullout.

The difficulty, according to Dujon, was caused by a professional team administered by honorary, part-time administrators, conscientious no doubt but without the incentive to devote the time to making West Indies cricket profitable.

It had bred a “bad relationship” between the two and permeated to young players at the start of their careers, rendering it difficult for the board to relate to them and vice versa.

The WICB is now fully professional with a staff of 32. It has recently forged a new understanding with a previously militant WIPA; it ensures new financial contracts for those in the revamped first class tournament, the Professional Cricket League (PCL). Yet several top players, including captains Jason Holder and Darren Sammy, are not WIPA members.

To use Murray’s words from 1980, it is a situation that must be overcome “before anything constructive can be embarked on”.  New attitudes, new ideas and liberal minds are needed to work for progress.

That, it seems, is an item on the agenda for cricket’s Back to the Future III.

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