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UNSURPRISINGLY, the attention on the retainer contracts offered by the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) for the coming year has focused on the few high-profile players not granted one and the two, possibly soon to be three, who have chosen to go their own way. Of far more significance than the elimination of Ramnaresh Sarwan, Jerome Taylor and Denesh Ramdin from the list or the decision of Dwayne Bravo and Keiron Pollard to take their chances on the burgeoning Twenty20 international circuit, rather than be bound by the requirements of West Indies cricket, is the absence of conflict and controversy between the WICB and the West Indies Players Association (WIPA) that was previously a routine feature on such occasions. True, there was a hullabaloo over Sarwan’s exclusion. He is, after all, no ordinary player but a former captain, albeit fleetingly, and, in the present setup, second only to Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Chris Gayle in terms of experience, runs and worth. Even that disquiet subsided as 22 of the 25 chosen signed their central retainer and development contracts without so much as a decibel of dissent. It is the first time in five years the issue has been settled by the October 1 deadline. Three times it spilled over into the following year. Calmer times And this time the process did not require the intervention of a CARICOM president or prime minister, the mediation of a retired Commonwealth secretary-general, the arbitration of a chief justice or the involvement of a governmental sub-committee as was repeatedly the case. Given the long background of aggression and animosity between the WICB and the WIPA, it is probably too much to expect but perhaps it is the first sign of calmer times than those that have contributed so greatly to the present state of West Indies cricket. The WICB’s appointment of a players’ relations officer offers more encouragement on this score. Among the signatories are seven who withdrew from the Bangladesh series in the Caribbean last year during yet another disagreement over contracts. Adrian Barath and Daren Bravo, two of the brightest young prospects, opted out against Bangladesh. Now they have spoken enthusiastically about being included among the central retainers for the first time, as has the newcomer, Shane Shillingford. Whatever caused the problems in the past, the incentive to accept was compelling. Contracts for the top 15 are on three basic payment tiers – reliably reported to be US$60 000, US$80 000 and US$100 000 for the year from October 1. Match and tour fees are on top of that. Given the amount of international cricket at present (Test and limited-overs series away to Sri Lanka, at home against Pakistan and India and the World Cup in India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh come under the contracted period), someone like Barath stands to earn an annual income as high as US$180 000. Barath is 19 and just out of school. He noted last week that it now provides him with “the financial security that I need at this stage of my career”. “By getting this contract, what it tells me is that I am now a professional cricketer and it is like working on cricket every day from now on,” he told the Trinidad media. “Now, I can concentrate fully on representing the West Indies and doing my part to get us back to the top of world cricket.” Bravo, 21, the younger brother of Dwayne, had a similar take on it. So why have the elder Bravo and Keiron Pollard – and possibly Chris Gayle who has sought and been granted an extension on his cut-off date – chosen not to follow suit? As with most other professions, the answer is financial. Bravo and Pollard are all-rounders whose power-hitting and electric fielding render them ideal for the newest, shortest, most popular and most lucrative form of the game. They also bowl but that’s neither here nor there in the hurly burly of the game’s four-overs limitation. In demand Their talent and ebullience make them stars and they are in demand in the largest and richest Twenty20 countries. Both are on the books of the Indian Premier League (IPL) franchise Mumbai Indians who paid Pollard US$750 000 for his services last season. With their packed itineraries, they would obviously be unable to fit in all the regional tournaments that the WICB reiterated, in its recently published selection criteria, are compulsory for inclusion in West Indies teams. It does not rule them out altogether, for the WICB has stated that being a contracted player “is not a prerequisite for being selected to represent the West Indies” – once its selection conditions are met. But it does make it very difficult. Bravo and Pollard have already been chosen for Trinidad and Tobago for next month’s regional 50-overs tournament in Jamaica, putting them in line to be chosen for the subsequent 50-overs World Cup in February and March. The same would be valid for Tests and Twenty20s, but only if they also turn out in the WICB’s first-class and Twenty20 series in the new year and be available for preparation camps that now precede each series. Bravo has promised a statement to explain his choice. He would have agonised long and hard over it. Apart from absence through injury, his has been an automatic place in the West Indies team ever since his debut in 2004. While his figures in 37 Tests and 107 One-Day Internationals do not do him full justice, he adds energy to any team. No one so palpably enjoys his cricket as much as he does. As deputy to Gayle, it would be safe to assume that Bravo was next in line for the captaincy. Now that his availability is no longer assured, it is a post to which he can no longer aspire. Pollard’s decision would have been more straightforward. Although he possesses the ability and craves the chance to prove himself at the highest level, he is yet to play a Test and his figures for the West Indies do not guarantee him a pick, even in the shorter forms. Future Yet there is no cricketer, West Indian or otherwise, more in demand internationally. West Indies cricket is in such a state at present that it can ill afford to lose such talent. With Twenty20 leagues mushrooming hither, thither and yon, our players will increasingly have to decide on their future as Bravo and Pollard have done. The WICB can counter such enticement with the kind of contracts that have now so appealed to the young first-timers. •Tony Cozier is the most experienced cricket writer and broadcaster in the Caribbean.