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TONY COZIER: Stubborn WICB


TONY COZIER

TONY COZIER: Stubborn WICB

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EMMANUEL NANTHAN just doesn’t get it.

In an interview with Sean Devers in the Guyana daily, Kaiteur News, last week, the vice-president of the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) reminded us that “only the shareholders” (the individual boards of Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, the Leeward Islands, Trinidad and Tobago and the Windward Islands) can dissolve the company WICB Inc., registered in the British Virgin Islands. He added that only they could appoint new directors, whether independent or their own.

That is precisely the point.

As is well known, there are 12 shareholder directors at present, under president Dave Cameron and Nanthan or, to accord him his full title as carried on the WICB website, vice-president Hon. Ambassador Emmanuel Nanthan. There are also four “non-member” directors, one a CARICOM nominee.

It is a long-standing arrangement that each of the three committees to review the board’s governance over the past eight years advised it needs urgent change. The reports of the committee headed by former Jamaica prime minister P.J. Patterson and that under St Kitts and Nevis Queen’s Counsel, Charles Wilkin, called for a complete overhaul that would sharply reduce the number of shareholder directors and introduce independents.

The most recent, brokered by CARICOM’s sub-committee on cricket and headed by University of the West Indies (UWI) administrator, Professor Eudine Barriteau, was presented in early November. It went further, declaring that the status of West Indies cricket, once the envy of the world, had become so dire the WICB should be immediately dissolved, its members resign and a new, restructured board selected. It had the governments’ full support.

The WICB’s resistance was as predictable as Nanthan’s bitter charge that it was undertaken by “some CARICOM governments and their academic functionaries”. He charged governments with not supporting cricket in schools, either unaware of the several state-appointed sports councils that provide coaches for schools or else wanting to place the blame for the WICB’s failures elsewhere. Yes, Honorable Ambassador, it is always someone else’s fault.

Presumably pulling the figure out of a hat, he claimed it cost the WICB U$1 million for training a player from Under-15 to international level. If so, he might ask himself why so few have reached that standard over the past two decades.

Its approach is in direct contrast to the openness of Cricket Australia and Cricket New Zealand when confronted by comparable proposals for changes to their constitutions and their structure.

Australia, perennially a powerhouse of the international game, commissioned two independent assessors four years ago to review its board’s governance. It put the proposals of the Crawford-Carter report into train, replacing state delegates with independent directors, not necessarily with strong cricket connections. It was a radical change, generally regarded as a success. 

Two years later, New Zealand’s provincial associations unanimously approved a change in the board’s constitution, reducing its number of directors to eight, all independent. Since then, they have shot up from among the also-rans in the ICC rankings to mid-table; they are now a genuinely competitive force.

In spite of such evidence, the WICB rebuffed the main conclusion of the Patterson and Wilkin reports and are preparing to fight with the governments over Barriteau’s. Wilkin alluded to purely selfish reasons for such a stance: it was simply that the directors wanted to keep their positions “at all costs”.

Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland said during the West Indies’ present struggles in Australia that their plight “is ultimately an issue for themselves”.

Yet he did offer the hope that “people take on board the recommendations [of the Barriteau Committee] just like Australian cricket did at the time we did our own governance review”.

At a pre-match media conference in Melbourne prior to the Boxing Day Test, head coach Phil Simmons restated his frustration of not having all the leading players available for selection and implored the WICB follow Cricket New Zealand’s “pragmatic approach” that accommodates their players engaged in T20 overseas leagues without having to miss cricket for the national team.

Over the past three years, as the West Indies remained stationary, the Black Caps have become an attractive, genuinely competitive team in all forms of the game.

To allay Simmons’ grievances remains problematic. Most of those he obviously referred to have retired from Tests and even the first-class game. Lucrative T20 contracts, way above what they can earn in the long-format international cricket, are obviously the major reason. Yet T20s won’t go away.

While WICB chief executive Michael Muirhead cautioned “top players” to be available for 2016 regional tournaments “to ensure they remain eligible for selection for international competition”, more are signing on for T20s elsewhere. Others are certain to follow, diminishing the strength of regional teams even further.

Test and ODI captain Jason Holder is one of eight West Indians signed on for the new Pakistan tournament in early February; it presents the WICB with a dilemma as he is back from the Test series in Australia too late to play for Barbados in all its Nagico Super50 matches and in time only for the late matches in the PCL.

Perhaps the plan to shift the season to May through November offers the WICB enough breathing space to follow New Zealand’s “pragmatic approach”, except that, as Nanthan confirmed last week, it is known more for its intransigence than its pragmatism.

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

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