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HERE we go again in the interminable battle for control of West Indies cricket. So it has been for much of this century, and the latest very public row between the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) and the West Indies Players Association (WIPA) is only its latest manifestation. The fallout from the WICB’s decision not to renew Ramnaresh Sarwan’s retainer contract for the coming year was as predictable as a spot-fixed no-ball. The WICB was clearly intent on taking a stance on the issues of fitness and commitment that have permeated the team with ruinous effect. The WIPA felt equally obliged to argue the case for a high profile member, “one of the most senior and experienced batsmen in the West Indies cricket team”, as it redundantly put it. There have been the familiar daily charges and countercharges – with one new twist. Most noticeable has been a change to a more assertive approach from the previously compliant WICB. This much was evident in its strong assertion that the “WIPA has no role whatsoever in determining which players are nominated for retainer contracts”. “This is the role of the WICB selection committee.” The WICB would have been painfully aware that the WIPA did, indeed, have a role in deciding who should represent the West Indies, not once, but twice, through the strikes by the leading players in 2005 and 2009. Had enough Its recent statement implied that it had had enough of sand being kicked in its face, of WIPA militancy and of its repeated losses on arbitrated disagreements. Its use of the word “bully” in one of its statements – as in “the WICB will not allow WIPA to bully its way in the media by peddling misinformation, half truths and disingenuity and resorting to cheap PR gimmicks . . . ” – reflected how browbeaten it had become. While the WICB has had a steady roll-over of presidents and chief executives, most relieved to escape from such a confrontational environment, the WIPA has been under the constant, uncompromising and dominant leadership of Dinanath Ramnarine for the better part of a decade. Now Ernest Hilaire, its latest boss, appears ready to reclaim the WICB’s position. It is a struggle for the very future of an organisation repeatedly undermined by its insularity (most obvious even in the present case) and regularly criticised for its incompetence. He strongly endorsed the selectors’ position on Sarwan and others excluded from contracts and sanctioned the first published, explicit selection policy. The WICB’s original report on those it did not retain from the previous year stated only that “Sarwan and [Jerome] Taylor’s limited availability for the West Indies over the past year due to injuries weighed heavily against them”. “Sarwan and [Narsingh] Deonarine’s general levels of fitness were also deemed unsatisfactory,” it added. Open and transparent In what appeared to be a deliberate plan to become more open and transparent, the WICB elaborated on the contracts’ issue for the exclusion of Sarwan, Jerome Taylor and Narsingh Deonarine. Inadvertantly or not, it opened up a can of worms. If chapter and verse could be revealed on certain players (“following numerous queries from the media”, the WICB stated), surely it should apply to all. Prompted by Minister of Sport Anil Roberts, in a move typical of Caribbean politicians, Azim Bassarath, president of the Trinidad and Tobago Cricket Board (TTCB), a full member of the WICB, wrote to president Julian Hunte questioning why Denesh Ramdin had not retained his contract and why Lendl Simmons was not chosen. Hunte might have referred him to Ramdin’s declining form and suggested he check with the Trinidad and Tobago team management on Simmons – or whatever. But the details on Sarwan and the others should have committed him to a response to Roberts/Bassarath, so far unforthcoming and likely to remain that way. Bissoondyal Singh, vice-president of the Guyana Cricket Board (GCB), another full member of WICB, was among a group of administrators who described the omission of three Guyanese – Sarwan, Narsingh Deonarine and Travis Dowlin – as “an insult to Guyana’s cricket” and criticised the GCB’s long-serving president Chetram Singh for his “deafening silence” on the issue. Others might have more legitimately questioned the disparity between the specific stipulation in the selection policy that a player “must display exemplary behaviour on and off the field of play” and the retention of Sulieman Benn, a player twice suspended by the ICC, and docked his full match fee for defying captain Chris Gayle’s instructions in a One-Day International, all in the past nine months. Valid query Another valid query would have been whether everyone contracted met the required standards of fitness and commitment. What is next in this latest saga can be only guessed at. The only certainty it that it is now up to the players. Those offered contracts (reportedly on a category scale of US$120 000, US$80 000 and US$60 000) were given until September 10 to indicate whether they would accept. The WICB stated that if it didn’t hear one way or the other by then it would make “alternative offers”. Nine days have passed and there has been no hint as to who, if anyone, has scribbled on the dotted line. While the WICB made it plain that a central or development contract is “not a prerequisite for being selected to represent the West Indies” – a one-off match/tour contract would be used in such a case – nine of the 14 now chosen were among those who did not show up for the home series against Bangladesh last year. If they decided, in solidarity with Sarwan or on whatever other grounds, to decline the offer, it is unlikely they would once more make themselves available for the next tour – to Sri Lanka for three Tests, five ODIs and two T20s from November 11 to December 21. That would result in the despatch of another below-strength West Indies team, as in 2005, also to Sri Lanka, with all that entails. Such a scenario hurts both players and board. It is a reality that might just be enough to finally bring the war to an end.