What does the Trini boycott of WICB mean?

Mon, Aug 10, '09


WICB Under Scrutiny Republished from DigicelCricket.com

In what has been described by the Trinidadian Guardian as an historic move the Trinidad and Tobago Cricket Board boycotted the most important meeting of the West Indies Cricket Board – its parent body. This bold and unprecedented action has been taken but what are the implications?

The clearest implication of this effective breaking of the ranks is to blow out of the water the impression that the WICB was desperately trying to create – that it is unified in its position of continued marginalization of the first choice players who had boycotted the initial phase of the Bangladesh tour over pay and contract disputes.
The entire 13 man squad along with dozens of other players had refused to play for the West Indies forcing the WICB to select a replacement squad of mostly unknowns which was led by Floyd Reifer and which was consequently soundly thrashed by the lowly rated Bangladesh.

The president of Guyana, Bharrat Jagdeo called the WICB and WIPA to a meeting in Guyana after the Digicel Test Series and the players agreed to make themselves fully available for immediate selection. However the WICB ignored them for the Digicel ODI Series and the one off Digicel Twenty20 and persisted with its hastily arranged replacement players which was once again humiliated by the Bangladeshis.

The WICB, in a terse media statement, delivered a firm slap in the face of the players by even further ignoring them for the ICC Champions Trophy preliminary squad and declaring that they must return to playing regional First Class cricket to effectively requalify to play for the Windies team.

The governing board had appeared unified in this hard lined position of refusing to select the regular players who bring fans through the gates and who, more than anyone else, ensure hefty television rights packages for the WICB.

What the action by the TTCB has done is rip to shreds any notion that the WICB’s bullish position is a cohesive one. The TTCB has effectively now taken the side of the maligned players, showing its clear support by stating, in a letter to the WICB, that “the WICB is characterized by flawed relationships with sponsors and major partners, including the players, as well as an inability to attract sponsors for regional tournaments,” as reported by the Trinidad Guardian.

This is a scathing and damning condemnation of the nature and operation of the WICB, not by an external force, but by an internal , well informed body. It follows a call, in late 2008 by Denis O’Brien chairman of the WICB’s main sponsor Digicel for the resignation of president – Dr Julian Hunte – and then CEO – Dr. Donald Peters. O’Brien made the call following a bitter row with the WICB over its sponsorship rights pertaining to the Stanford Superstars match. Digicel emerged victorious after the matter was taken to arbitration.

Dr. Peters resigned earlier this year while Dr Hunte was expected to be returned as president at the ongoing AGM.

Following the recent player boycott, Martin Williamson, the executive editor of the world’s leading cricket website – Cricinfo – was moved to write that Dr. Hunte presided over a board which treated its players with “the contempt of a Victorian factory owner.”

The TTCB is considered by many as the most powerful and prominent regional cricket board and the boycott of the WICB AGM will have far reaching effects in the immediate future. Is it the first real sign of a break up of the much famed, acclaimed and beloved West Indies cricket?

Tony Cozier, the leading West Indian cricket writer and commentator, suggested that the end is nigh if corrective action is not immediately pursued.

“The talk of the break up of West Indies cricket into its constituent parts or, conversely, its demotion to the second division of a proposed new Test match league, grows louder by the day,” Cozier wrote in his weekly syndicate column after news broke of the most recent twist in the ongoing saga that is West Indies cricket.

“The dire repercussions of such eventualities should be obvious but those promoting the concepts, for various reasons, appear either unmindful of them or convinced of their inevitability after a decade and more of decay,” continued Cozier.

“One way or another, they would surely destroy “one, if not the only one, West Indian exercise in cooperation which has successfully stood the test of time”, as the late Barbados prime minister Tom Adams once put it,” Cozier warned.

The TTCB’s action is not to be taken lightly but to suggest that it will lead to a fragmentation of West Indies cricket is still premature. In informing the WICB of its intention to boycott the AGM, the TTCB itself made it clear to the WICB that it will not pursue such a course.

The immensely influential TTCB though has now responded to the WICB lethargy by turning its back on the WICB and may cause other regional boards to follow suit which will then likely force the WICB to restructure itself as per the recommendations of the PJ Patterson Commission.

In recent years, the TTCB, has been acknowledged to be the most progressive national governing body by some distance. Even in a testing financial climate it has been able to attract committed and enthused sponsors for its tournaments, has a vibrant competitive club structure at all levels, has invested in broad-based cricket development and manages a popular semi-professional league in which dozens of regional players participate.

The result has been the Trinidad and Tobago national team consistently raking in trophies on an annual basis. In the inaugural Stanford 20/20 Tournament in 2006 they were losing finalists and in the next edition in 2008 they returned to take the top title and the accompanying US$1m prize. Their win has qualified them to participate in the upcoming inaugural multi-million dollar IPL Champions League later this year in India.

Further it is no secret that the TTCB president, Deryck Murray – the former Windies wicketkeeper and vice captain – harbours ambitions to take over the WICB presidency. The Murray led boycott may have been engineered to demonstrate in no uncertain terms its unhappiness and disenchantment with Hunte’s leadership. However the boycott brings into focus a growing disinterest in West Indies cricket as a result of the WICB’s hard lined position against the players, particularly the established players.

Fans, particularly in St Vincent, Grenada and St Kitts – where the Bangladesh series was played – stayed away, effectively boycotting the matches involving the replacement squad. The fans turned out for two One Day International matches in Dominica mainly because it was the first time international cricket was played on the island and there was the novelty effect. Even after the WICB opened the gates in St Vincent only a handful of fans turned up to the mostly empty ground.

International news agencies Agence France Presse and Associated Press pulled their photographers from the recent series against Bangladesh while SkySports discontinued showing the series in the money-spinning English market.

The local media in all four territories showed a general disinterest in the matches. In some cases no local journalists turned up to the media center during the matches to cover the events and file reports. And except St Kitts (where five locals appeared), only one local journalist appeared to work on the matches in other instances.

The problems for Dr. Hunte and his beleaguered board are increasing exponentially almost on a weekly basis yet rather than pursue immediate negotiations in order to effect a meaningful resolution the board insists on remaining indefatigable.

There is hope yet. The Jagdeo meeting committed both the WICB and WIPA to mediation to be led by former Commonwealth Secretary General Sir Shridath Ramphal. The mediation process is expected to be completed before the end of this month but whether it will lead to a long lasting resolution remains to be seen.