Lessons From a Cricket Crisis
Sun, Mar 13, '05
Professor Luria, a famous Russian scientist once said that human behaviour is influenced by goals of the future but is also shaped by history and past experiences. He added that not only does the brain create these goals but it also subordinates all of its activities towards achieving them. In crisis situations, our brain chemistry is changed. Thinking often becomes negative and combative and our span of concentration is narrowed and locked in to the immediate. Valuable lessons from the past are then lost and once positive visions of the future become vague and hazy.
Almost thirty years ago, world cricket was plunged into crisis when Kerry Packer challenged the cricket establishment, signed fifty of the world's greatest players and started his own World Series competition. The war between these two combatants was fierce and acrimonious. Just about every cricket board joined the battles on the side of the establishment and dropped the Packer players from their teams. The West Indies Team, of which I was manager, was no exception and when the West Indies Board of Control dropped a few of the Packer players, other team members came out in support and withdrew from the team.
In England, Packer players were banned from playing for England and for their counties. Serious court battles then ensued in England. Much to the delight of World Series, the players won those battles when the courts ruled against the establishment for restraint of trade and I believe wrongful dismissal of players. The establishment was then forced to relent and reinstate the banned players.
Last week, the WICB announced that three of its best players, along with four others, will be dropped from the team for the upcoming series against South Africa and Pakistan because of sponsorship disputes. Already, one Caribbean judge has recognized the rights of West Indies players to pursue individual sponsorship. Are we now in danger of having history repeat itself in the West Indies team and in the courts?
Some very positive things happened to the West Indies team during the World Series crisis. Before the start of World Series, West Indies had won the first Cricket World Cup and showed that it had enormous potential. But, in 1975/76 the team was shattered physically and psychologically by Australia who won the Test Series five games to one. A year later, the team came to World Series. As manager I saw a team with a clear mission and renewed motivation. These were topped up and refined in no small measure by the establishment?s rejection and isolation of the Packer players. That exiled status challenged and fired up our players to become the best team in the world. Under the skillful leadership of Clive Lloyd, that did not take long. What was viewed by many as a crisis was turned into a unique opportunity by the players.
Our players won a ?mini-world cup? in England last year but then went to Australia and did very badly. Like their predecessors, can they use the current crisis as an opportunity and make a quantum leap in performance? I believe they can. But, coaches and team leaders will have to display their mettle and show their players what is possible and what they (players) are capable of doing in the future. In addition, they must question themselves and ask if they can use their leadership and motivational expertise effectively to help the players create that future. This change will only happen if the team is allowed to perform in a free, harmonious and creative environment.
Lots of the success of World Series was due to the great wisdom of Kerry Packer. As a sponsor and leader he earned the admiration, trust and respect of all of his players for his fairness, as well as his toughness. And he achieved this by first showing the players that he trusted and respected them. Unlike most of the sports organizations of that era, Kerry placed the players at the centre of his organizational model. Everything revolved around them, not around management. The ?master/servant? relationship did not exist.
I remember an incident in Melbourne when a top manager of World Series asked the wives of some of the West Indies players to leave the VIP area. I reported the incident to Packer who angrily summoned the manager and told him in front of the wives and players that as far as he was concerned the players were the most important people in World Series and that their wives were free to sit wherever they wanted. He then asked the manager to leave the room. By that action, Kerry cemented the players? love and respect for him.
As the sponsor of World Series, Kerry never lost sight or respect for the wonderful game of cricket and the welfare of his players which he placed ahead of everything else. He never crossed the line between the sponsor and players. He did not get engaged in the dynamics of the team, on or off the field, unless he was asked to do so by the captain and team manager. And he never got involved or interfered with the selection of the team.
Tony Cozier recently said that some of the combatants in the current crisis might not know the difference between George Headley and George III. Well it is now an opportune time for all combatants to take a time out, step back from their entrenched positions, and start taking some serious history lessons about the importance of the great game of cricket to the West Indies and its people.
* Dr. Rudi Webster is a former first class cricketer who now serves as Director of the Cricket Academy of St. George's University in Grenada. This article appears by special arrangement with the ChappellWay Web site.