SATURDAY’S CHILD: For whom bell tolls
WHEN C.L.R. JAMES, historian, journalist and cricket fanatic asked, “What do they know of cricket who only cricket know” he did not know the half of it, especially what was going to happen to West Indies cricket after he passed away in 1989.
CLR was born in 1901, seven years after the West Indies played its first international match. By the time of his death in 1989 he had witnessed the dominance of the team over all the other cricketing nations and, in that year, the West Indies convincingly beat Australia, India and England on their home grounds.
Yesterday, the West Indies started a three-match Test series at home against Pakistan, who have already beaten them on this tour in the Twenty20s (3-0) and One-Day Internationals (2-1). Since 2003 the West Indies have lost nine Test series – against India (twice), New Zealand (twice), Australia (twice), South Africa, Sri Lanka and Pakistan, won one against Bangladesh and drawn one against England in the West Indies.
During this period there has been rising anger against the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) from the public and even among some of the Caribbean prime ministers who strongly supported a recommendation in October 2015 for the immediate dissolution of the board. A few days ago, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley of Trinidad and Tobago said, “Caribbean cricket has been hijacked by a small clique of people who are hell-bent on destroying Caribbean cricket, and it is my position that unless the question is answered as to who owns that asset (Caribbean cricket), we are spinning top in mud.”
Dr Rowley’s point needs to be understood in its historical context. When I was growing up, we had some school cricket, we had our village teams and tournaments and there was representative cricket organised, managed, dominated and controlled by “Queen’s Park”. Other Caribbean countries had their own cricket overlords, essentially elite clubs like Kingston Cricket Club in Jamaica, Pickwick and Wanderers Cricket Clubs in Barbados and the Georgetown Cricket Club in Guyana.
They had the power, influence and money to have their own way in the national and regional selection process and it is not accidental that players from the other countries were not selected on representative teams for a long time.
Wikipedia states, “Representatives of the various territories finally got together and ultimately formed the West Indies Cricket Board of Control (WICBC). The preliminary meeting was in Bridgetown, Barbados, from which the informal West Indies Cricket Conference was founded in 1926. The West Indies Cricket Conference held its first official meeting on January 22, 1927, at the Bridgetown Club in Barbados, attended by Mallett and representatives from the Windward Islands, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados and Demerara (British Guiana).
“Delegates from Jamaica and the Leeward Islands were invited but unfortunately were unable to attend. At this January meeting the delegates present decided to form the WICBC, which would be composed of a president, a secretary and two delegates each from Barbados, Demerara, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago and one delegate each from the Leeward Islands and Windward Islands.”
On November 27, 1998, WICB Inc. was incorporated in the British Virgin Islands. From that day it owned West Indies cricket, which was, and is even now, assumed by many to be a “public good”. In the context of cricket, up to that fateful November day 21 years ago, the game was administered and managed by a group representing the people and countries of the West Indies in which cricket was played. It was not owned by them and, in a broad sense, they were accountable to the people of the region and not just to themselves. From that day on, West Indies cricket became the private property of the WICB.
In a legal sense, this was not a hijacking by a small clique. The WICB is owned by the six territorial boards of Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, Leeward Islands, Windward Islands and Trinidad and Tobago. It was done legally by respected and respectable West Indians who quickly and quietly gained control of the game, its players and its profits in the entire region. It did not have to account or report to anyone and could spend the money on whoever or whatever it wanted.
If it resembled an incident off the coast of Somalia it was only in terms of the vast difference between the prize, its size and value against the composition and size of those who gained control of it. For a while that power over cricket was exercised with restraint but that seems to have now ceased and from spinning a ball on a dry, dusty wicket we have reached the top-in-mud state that Dr Rowley condemns.
I remember Dr Rowley in the late 1980s after he became a senator. He would come in from work, dressed in a suit and tie, sit in a row of single seats at the front of the Ladies’ Members Stand at the Queen’s Park Oval and forlornly wave a Trinidad and Tobago flag whenever our team was doing well. That took real guts, pride in our team and a genuine love for the game. It is a love shared by some of our regional prime ministers.
However, until they all love the game and understand what has happened to cricket since it became the property of the WICB, nothing can and will be done. Perhaps there should be another report urging the immediate dissolution of CARICOM for allowing West Indies cricket to be owned, not by the people, but a private institution. In the meantime, however, C.L.R. James must be turning repeatedly in his grave.
• Tony Deyal was last seen saying to West Indies Cricket, “And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”