By Nishant Joshi
THERE has been an awful lot of sly, derogatory commentary about the West Indies since the start of their tour of England, largely by a section of the media who no doubt would have preferred Wes Hall, Charlie Griffith, Joel Garner, Malcolm Marshall and Michael Holding bowling to Ian Bell, as West Indies whitewashed England without breaking a sweat.
Those who were deriding a three-Test series are the same ones who are now saying that this West Indies side are the worst thing since…well, the last West Indies side to tour England. Plenty of noses have been turned up in the general direction of a young West Indies side, not least from the glass house of Test Match Special condescender-in-chief, Jonathan Agnew. Referring to Kemar Roach in tones suggesting he was a ringer brought in off the street, Agnew described the Barbadian quick bowler as “a good prospect.”
Roach, a man who will complete four years of international cricket in August, has an Indian Premier League (IPL) contract, and nearly 150 international wickets to his name, will no doubt be thrilled to hear such sage encouragement. It does add to the commonly-held thought that the snootier of the English commentators don’t watch any cricket unless England are playing.
Which is fine, I suppose, if you’re not being paid to commentate on cricket for a living.
‘To Hell With This’
There has been a lot of anti-IPL rhetoric in the past week, with many commentators mentioning that West Indies should have Sunil Narine and Chris Gayle at their disposal. As a result, plenty has been said about the IPL being the scourge of cricket, and how we’re on a slippery slope that will end with us all on our knees in the depths of Hades, begging The Almighty – let’s call him ‘Sachin’ – for mercy.
The IPL is not the problem – it’s the West Indies Cricket Board’s (WICB) inability to deal with it.
Michael Holding summed up the incompetence of the West Indies board in what will surely become a legendary rant (once it’s uploaded to YouTube, behind the back of the game’s erstwhile gatekeeper of integrity, Giles Clarke). In typically eloquent fashion, Holding explained in his molasses drawl the case of Jerome Taylor’s epic mishandling by the WICB. Despite being their best fast bowling prospect of the last few years, Taylor’s last game for the West Indies came two years ago. His last game of First-Class cricket was just over a year ago.
The reason? This time last season, Taylor was instructed to play a full season of First-Class cricket in the West Indies before he could even be considered for selection for the national side. There was no reason for him to be singled out like this, barring pure bloody-mindedness.
Having built homes for both himself and his mother in Jamaica, and focusing on business interests, Jerome Taylor has enough money to buy a few of Chris Gayle’s gold chains, and so he has understandably taken a ‘to hell with this’ attitude towards the WICB. Aged just 27, it looks like Taylor’s cricket career is finished, just as it should be peaking.
From time to time, one player is bound to feel alienated, particularly if he is more inclined to march to the beat of his own drum. However, in effect, WICB have alienated a generation of its finest talent – Chris Gayle, Dwayne Bravo, Jerome Taylor and Ramnaresh Sarwan are all players who would improve the Test team markedly (and add Kieron Pollard, who is also without a central contract, for T20Is and ODIs).
The team is desperate for players of this class, but as ever, it has been up to the WICB to rectify this frankly horrific situation, but they only seem intent on drawing out this saga in the most bloody-minded fashion.
Sarwan’s case is particularly tragic for me. He is currently playing for Leicestershire, and spoke to BBC Sport about his recent experiences with the West Indies:
“Mentally I was broken down, not from the stress of playing, it’s just certain individuals have drained me mentally. It took a toll on my confidence and the way I play.”
On his chances of returning to international cricket, he said: “I’m big on principle and when I was in the dust being kicked by my own people I was given an opportunity by this club and I will not forsake that or betray anyone.”
The anger, the disdain with which Sarwan spoke was particularly damning. There was genuine hurt in his voice, coming from a man who has 15 Test centuries to his name, and is still only 31.
I instantly recalled the moment where I fell in love with Sarwan the cricketer. He was just 22 years old, and one of the classiest young batsmen going. Chasing 228 in a World Cup match against Sri Lanka at Cape Town, Sarwan was felled by a Dilhara Fernando bouncer – talk about your bad luck – and taken to hospital for an X-ray.
Just under two hours later, he surprised everyone by returning to the middle, in a maroon cap, valiantly attempting to rescue West Indies from a hopeless position. Sarwan ended with 47* off 44 balls, as his team fell just six runs short. On paper, his effort was in vain, but it was one that proved his determination to the world.
In the interests of fairness, it must be said that WICB are not unique for their incompetence and underhanded dealings. After all, Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) executives have made a living out of their bumbling buffoonery, although at least their outright stupidity has led to more hilarity than harm, and so has been slightly easier to swallow (at least for the neutral fan). CSA too have been under a dodgy financial cloud for a while now. However, neither board has come close to the catastrophic ‘governance’ of West Indies cricket over the past few years.
Remember those sham times when West Indies were forced to play their second eleven, for an entire series against Bangladesh? This was three years back, when Floyd Reifer was appointed captain and Chadwick Walton was wicket-keeper. And lest we forget, in 2005, ten players – including Brian Lara – withdrew from a series against Sri Lanka. Times have hardly improved.
No other country has faced such problems – not even Pakistan.
My inkling is that the World T20 in September will be a turning point for West Indies cricket. By some fluke, by some miracle, if WICB can call an amnesty and have their first-choice XI to pick from, West Indies will have an awesome chance of winning the tournament outright. It may be wishful thinking, but from that point, surely all parties would be more willing to discuss the future.
Ultimately, West Indies cricket is being devastated by an incompetent board, and it’s astonishing that WICB are willing to cut off their own nose to spite their face. Their self-serving CEO, Dr Ernest Hilaire, thinks that he is bigger than the players, and wants to stamp his non-existent authority all over them. This is not the mark of a leader – it is the mark of a coward.
Strong leadership is needed – and if it can’t come from within WICB or the players themselves, the ICC must take matters into its own hands. Yes, the WICB are well within their own rights to commit hari-kiri, but it has been proven for the best part of a decade that they will be too stubborn to resolve any internal disputes amicably, and moreover, the international cricket community cannot continue to idly sit and watch this most tragic implosion.
It’s up to the ICC to man up – nobody wanted it to come to this – and assign a mediator to resolve this long-running conflict.
(Nishant Joshi is the editor of AlternativeCricket.com, and The Alternative Cricket Almanack 2011. AlternativeCricket.com is currently developing a scholarship for young Afghan cricketers. You can follow them on Facebook (facebook.com/alternativecricket) and Twitter (twitter.com/altcricket)