The final nail

Tue, Aug 4, '09


Vaneisa Baksh by VANEISA BAKSH

What was accomplished by the West Indies Cricket Board going ahead with the Bangladesh series?

Two things really.

The first was to give Bangladesh a boost with whitewashes in both the Test and ODI series. The euphoria of going from one previous Test match victory against Zimbabwe to two successive whitewashes will probably provide the most potent impetus for the team.
But it was hardly to support Bangladesh cricket's development that the WICB went ahead and fielded a team that could not play Test cricket. Granted, it would not have been an easy decision to scrap the tour altogether as the dispute between the WICB and the West Indies Players' Association (WIPA) got gratuitously shrill and ominous.

But all the players in that annual game seemed intent on flexing muscles and didn’t consider the implications for the more important game of cricket. It doesn't need to be restated here that relations between the WICB and WIPA are too fraught with mistrust for them to have anything resolved other than by arbitration.

That bitter chapter of West Indies cricket history was re-issued as part of what must have been the master plan by the WICB to show the world the true state of affairs. Had they not opted to flex back at WIPA, we would not have been forced to witness a scenario that has surely confirmed that there really is no lower level to sink to. We’ve reached the bottom.

At this point, the most appropriate action might well be to retreat completely from Test cricket, as has been suggested, and try to reconstruct all the related entities into more relevant bodies.

There are those who feel that to do so would be to admit failure -- an unthinkable proposition -- but the truth is West Indies Test cricket refused to acknowledge its own failure and has now embarrassed itself completely by having it thrust down its throat.

The WICB considered itself to be doing the honourable thing by fielding this make-up team. That mentality is that it doesn't matter what is going on inside, outward appearances must be maintained. Nothing would be wrong if we don't admit that nothing is. That superficial preoccupation with keeping up appearances is widespread and old and has always been inhospitable to true development, because it is based on denials of reality. It is why so many dysfunctional relations fester without relief. It is why eruptions occur and trust breaks down irretrievably. How can you fix something if you won’t admit it's broken?

The WICB has not examined its conduct in relation to providing proper facilities, support and a modern working environment for its professional relationships. WIPA is strident in its calls for contracts and agreements to be prepared, discussed and agreed upon in good faith in advance of matches. Whatever WIPA’s tone has become, the reality is that its demands are not unreasonable on those fronts.

Issues such as players' fitness, discipline and performance levels, remuneration packages, and commitment to the game are all connected, but remain undermined by the fact that neither side trusts the other. All of these have been commented upon so often that it is tiresome to repeat them. Indeed, the sheer monotony of the recurring events has rendered analysts obsolete, and only cricket reporters can consider careers around West Indies cricket.

Details of this particular scenario are even more annoying because the WICB shamelessly instructs the hapless young players to invoke the name of Sir Frank Worrell to support their stance, when they know full well that Sir Frank would more likely have supported the idea that the WICB needs to honour agreements, negotiate in good faith and plan its business with acumen and not cunning. Sir Frank as educator would not have wanted to teach young players to disrespect the spirit of the game, nor would he have encouraged them to break solidarity with players like themselves. What happens now to those players after their horrible initiation?

And what greater dishonour can the West Indies have brought to Test cricket than to falsely present itself as having a team capable of playing Test cricket when it did not? Did that not reduce the standard of the game, bring it into disrepute? The ICC should have put its foot down early in this farce, but it is so notorious for upholding its financial end to the detriment of cricket, that its stance was unsurprising.

The repeating details are sorry enough, but the bigger picture is damning. The grimmest and bleakest aspect of the revelations and implications is that West Indies Test cricket is dead.

Whether or not they beat a retreat from the current arena, nothing suggests that it will survive. This generation is not interested in playing Test matches. They don’t aspire to careers as Test players. They’re smitten by the excitement of Twenty/20; they’ve sniffed its lucre and have been fondled by its promise of glamour. Their world is one of instant gratification and giddiness. Ideas of national loyalties are vague concepts parroted listlessly at post-match interviews; and in the context of a shattered ideal of West Indian nationhood, what would they be representing anyway? All the talk of countries under the West Indies umbrella going their separate ways will soon become reality as economies take sides, and the groupings reveal that oil and water don’t mix.

As Twenty20 embeds itself more deeply into the young psyche—and West Indians can find world supremacy in this arena—Test cricket will be squeezed out, and even if the WICB belatedly tries to come to terms with reconstructing a Test team, given the global trend, it will be too late for a comeback.