By LR Liburd
St. Kitts-Nevis Observer
Cricket is said to be the life-blood of West Indians and it is the only sports discipline to which almost all of its enthusiasts and fans are drawn in support of teams from the Caribbean region in spite of race, colour, creed and religion, as well as the dismal performance in Test matches seen in the not too distant past.
But have we ever wondered why the performance of our senior players was so heavily criticised by pundits worldwide, when compared to that of the earlier years when the West Indies were world champions?
I guess some of us do and many others now understand as truths are now being revealed by some of the senior players, past and present, about the many issues they had and still have with the Dave Cameron-led West Indies Cricket Board (WICB).
The WICB was established in the early 1920s as the West Indies Cricket Board of Control but was subsequently given its current name in 1996. This Board has been a member of the ICC since 1926 and was led by 17 different Presidents before Dave Cameron took over the leadership in 2013 and re-elected to serve until next year (2017).
Many people had commented on his management style, including CARICOM Heads of Government who had called for his resignation along with the other Executives; a style that had led to issues too numerous to mention in this article.
While a number of players had acted in defiance to some of the WICB’s arbitrary decisions, it was not until the senior male West Indies team had won the 2016 ICC Twenty20 World Cup that the major issues were globally revealed.
It was the team’s captain, Darren Sammy, who ‘bell the cat’ and many world renowned cricketers were in support of his statements made following the win during the post-match interview.
Sammy dedicated the win to fans in the Caribbean and the Diaspora and was in high praise of the management team, a CARICOM Head of Government and the players, as he used the opportunity to vent his frustration over long-standing issues with the WICB.
The all-rounder declared that his team “felt disrespected by the Board coming into the tournament” and he sided with the CARICOM Heads of Government in their call for the disbandment of the President and Executives of the WICB.
“I want to thank the Heads of CARICOM. Throughout this tournament they have been supporting the team,” Sammy said.
Sammy also extended a special thank you to Grenada’s Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell while taking another shot at the Board.
“We have gotten emails, we have gotten calls…Prime Minister Mitchell, I know what he is trying to do and I really want to thank him. He sent a very inspiring email to the team this morning and I am yet to hear from our own Cricket Board. That is very disappointing!”
His gratitude and that of his teammates were extended to the Team Manager, pointing out another of the Board’s weaknesses.
“We had a new Manager in Rawl Lewis, who has never managed a team before. We had no uniforms, no printing…the trouble he went through to just get us in this uniform. I got to give credit to the entire team here.”
Several hours after Sammy’s statement, a press release came out from the WICB’s Headquarters in Antigua in which he was admonished by President Cameron.
Among those who were in agreement with Sammy was India’s legendary all-rounder Sachin Tendulkar who, in a tweet, called on the WICB to support the team and address the players’ concerns.
“WI players emerged true champions overcoming challenges on & off the field. West Indian Board should support them & address their concerns.”
Former West Indies captain Sir Vivian Richards is also in agreement with Sammy and had joined in the call for the resignation of members on the WICB.
“I don’t think Sammy would be a liar. I think Sammy is as honest as they come, so it is going to be quite interesting going forward to see and to hear exactly what comes from the Board,” Sir Vivian said.
Another former West Indies captain, Ramnaresh Sarwan is also in support of Sammy and had rebuked the WICB for the manner in which it continues to handle the region’s top professionals.
Speaking to the media in Guyana, Sarwan noted that there has always been issues with the Board and the players but they were never been clearly highlighted.
“I think over the years the West Indies Board tend to do a lot of stuff and get away with it, and during the period that I have been playing we have strike a lot in trying to highlight those areas and nothing seems to be changing,” Kaieteur News quoted him as saying.
He stated that the issue is not about money but the treatment of players.
“I have experienced it; we have been in numerous times where we negotiated and I guarantee you, it is not about the money. Chris Gayle, Dwayne Bravo and Sammy all have big contracts with teams in the Indian Premier League, but I think it is an issue of principle as well, because you don’t want to find yourself in a situation where you under sell your players and I think that is what has been happening and the WICB keep doing it over and over…and to try to paint this picture that the players are ‘money hung’ and I strongly believe that this is not the case.
“Even when we had strikes before, it was something they were trying to paint as well. They are just going to cover-up their way of managing West Indies cricket and they (WICB) don’t want to accept that they have faults and due to the fact they feel they are untouchable…they are being very vindictive towards players. I can go through a whole list of players who they done that to most recently – Dwayne and Pollard.”
Sarwan also stated that it is not that the players are lacking talent, but a situation where they do not have the right people to manage WI cricket, adding that “how long we don’t get that right I don’t think our cricket will be able to rise again. The first people to get blame are the players because that is the product you see on the field, but no one knows what is happening behind the scenes”.
Chris Gayle too had publicly endorsed his captain’s criticism of the Board.
In an Instagram post, Gayle said he is backing Sammy 100 percent and that a shakeup is needed at both the WICB and the West Indies Players Association.
The Instagram reads: “I support and backed him a 100% with his speech, well said about WICB, WIPA needs to be shaken up as well! The struggle is real. Sammy retired from Test cricket but I haven’t. However, I’m not eligible for selection for Test and ODI, think we played our last game for West Indies 2016-Hopefully 2017 the W.I fans can see us again. Thank god for the prize money because the match fee is a joke what WIPA agreed to…so I’m donating my match fees to Charity!”
Following Sammy’s criticism, Vice President of the WICB and President of the Windward Islands Cricket Board Emmanuel Nanthan had announced that the 16 players would share 100 percent of the prize money for winning the Twenty20 World Cup totalling US$1.6M in addition to the match fees of US$1.2M and approximately US$12,000 as part of the sponsorship fees.
On hearing that announcement, many cricket fans in the Federation claimed that the players would not have gotten that incentive if Sammy had not spoken about the Board’s atrocities.
Dwayne Bravo also had his say. According to International Business Times, Bravo had launched a scathing attack on the WICB calling its members “most unprofessional”. He also deemed Cameron “immature”, “small-minded” and “arrogant”, and someone who believes he is at war with his own players.
“No I am not surprised (by Sammy’s comments), we have had enough as players. Too much times people come down on the players, they questioned our commitment, they questioned whether we were really committed to West Indies cricket or is it just the money. A lot of people don’t understand the things we go through as players dealing with our board. It’s the most unprofessional board to me, Sammy spoke from his heart. There is nothing wrong with Sammy’s speech and I support Darren Sammy 100%”, Bravo said, as quoted by ESPNCricinfo.
Bravo, who had a history of serious issues with the WICB including when he captained the team which pulled-out in the middle of the ODI series against India in 2014 over player-payment issues, had not since been selected in the ODI side. He was also removed as captain of the regional Trinidad and Tobago team in the domestic tournament.
Shortly after winning the World Cup, ESPNCricinfo reported that he said the Board refused to listen to what the players have to say.
“It reached a point where we can’t take it no more and that itself encouraged us to go out there and win despite the challenges we have. Even our own Board did not think we were going to win the tournament. We are yet to hear from the President, yet to hear from the CEO, yet to hear from the Director of Cricket. I mean how can you represent the region, and the people who are supposed to be your bosses and in charge of you don’t even wish you well, don’t even support you.
“So I was not surprised at Sammy’s speech because he spoke from his heart. And it’s something that the Caribbean people need to understand, we’re not happy with the way how our cricket is being run.”
In a recent response to the debacle, President Cameron said he was acting in the best interest of WI cricket and much of the criticism he received was absurd and history would eventually vindicate him.
Cameron also said that he is open to meet with the players in order to find a solution.
Since Cameron became President of the WICB, the relationship between the players and the governing body was extremely strained. According to reports, prior to Sammy’s outburst, Gayle had publicly questioned the Clive Lloyd-led Selection Panel’s decision to omit Bravo and Kieron Pollard from the 50-over World Cup
This had led to Gayle being pulled-up by the WICB Disciplinary Committee even as the team was in the middle of the World Cup campaign.
Following that issue and a number of others, many fans have been asking if President Wycliffe ‘Dave’ Cameron is a demagogue.
In an article headlined ‘Is Cameron a law unto himself?’, Guyana Sports Journalist Sean Devers wrote that “Cameron comes over as a very arrogant and disrespectful individual who loves his self importance without understanding he is far less important to West Indies cricket than the players”.