To understand wotzup in the Caribbean, you have to combine a knowledge of geography, history, politics, human nature and leadership. An understanding of the pervasiveness of American culture and how it seeps into the holes left by human weakness might also aid your clarity.
The West Indies are a loose federation of 27 islands which roughly encircle the Caribbean Sea, south east of the Gulf of Mexico. Just about everyone has had a hand in discovering, exploring and exploiting them, most notably the British, which is why cricket, that symbol of Empire, has been played on the islands there. The West Indies team is selected from the member nations from within that group of twenty seven. Therefore, when players pull on that maroon cap, they are not representing their country but a disparate group of countries.
Traditionally, this was always the reason the West Indies could produce fine cricketers but not necessarily fine cricket teams. Apart from selection disputes and the jockeying for power among the nations who make up the West Indies Cricket Board, before 1960 there was rarely a sense of oneness.
This changed when Barbadian Frank Worrell became the first indigenous West Indian cricketer to captain the team in 1960, possibly because of his colour which was certainly a rallying point for some but especially because of his skills in man management. At his disposal for two watershed tours of Australia and England were some of the greatest names in West Indies cricket history including the greatest cricketer of all time and all nations, Gary Sobers, but there was more to it than that. Worrell insisted on standards of behaviour and instilled desires in his men usually associated with belief in nationhood not just self. Worrell's impact spread beyond his team and cricket was changed in both Australia and England by those tours. We could certainly do with the level of sportsmanship he epitomised.
After cricket, he managed West Indian teams for a short while and became a senator representing Trinidad & Jamaica where his belief in federation may have had far reaching affects, had he not died of leukaemia, tragically early at 42.
Unfortunately, his gains were largely lost and his world class team were shadows by the time they reached Australia in 1968-69. By the mid 70's, under the captaincy of Clive Lloyd, they were again a loose collection of talent which occasionally blasted opponents out of the water but couldn't sustain their performances. In 75-76, they were flogged 5-1 by Australia, in Greg Chappell's first series as captain, a series memorable for three things: the mastery of Chappell's batting; the emergence of a brash, swaggering kid called Viv Richards; and a sustained pace battery from that sheila Lillian Thomson. Noting how uncomfortable the Aussies had been on a fast Perth track when Andy Roberts took 7fa and blasted them out with the support of young teenager on his first tour called Holding, Lloyd went away and formulated the basic blueprint for a West Indian dominance that would choke world cricket for the following eighteen years.
The engine room of his plans were four very fast, very hostile bowlers who sustained the attack by bowling only 12 overs an hour, an aggressive batting lineup that scored runs quickly and captaincy which was relentless, thorough and completely supportive of its players. Whilst the names changed over the years, the impact remained the same with the exception of the captaincy. Man management is a gift. Worrell had it, Lloyd had it but his successors didn't. Gradually, under Richards, Richie Richardson and Lara, things became unstuck, with the turning point being Richardson's ungracious response when Mark Taylor's Australians finally unseated the West Indies in 1994-95. His spiteful claim that the Australians were not that good a side, made to the media after the presentation of the Frank Worrell Trophy to Taylor, was not the legacy that either Worrell or Lloyd left him.
By the late nineties, success on the cricket field was harder to come by and usually based on individual performances, often from Lara, but hedonism had replaced pride or team spirit and quality players were becoming harder to find thanks to the lure of American college contracts. Young lads from the Caribbean were being snapped up on lucrative contracts in sports such as basketball and baseball for figures poor boys from financially deprived cultures could only dream of but cricketers would never see. These opportunities became the dominant force and the preferred future for island kids, as more and more of the American black culture was soaking into the pours of of West Indian skins, in much the same way that it had from the Empire following the second world war. In the seventies, before their own cricket heroes completely covered the horizon, a Jamaican 12 year old could tell you all there was to know about the Chappell's or Walters or Lillee and English cricketers were their second favourite. It was much the same adulation that Indian kids have now for our players. Twenty years later, in the late nineties, it was all Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan and the number 23 on shirts wasn't hero worship for Shane Warne!
Off the field, the WIBC was struggling. Poor results, declining incomes because those results and the all pervading lure of and interest in American sports - a new colonialism - and bad management by the Board had led to increasing argument among member countries which was concerned less with resolution and more with a power struggle for control. The damage this was doing to an already wounded beast may not have been apparent as the noughties started but the lack of fruit on the tree is all too apparent now and stems from a lack of judicious pruning.
In 2006, the then President of the WIBC, Ken Gordon, a moderate, commissioned an investigation into West Indies cricket, to be headed by PJ Patterson (not the fast bowler). The report, handed to the Board in 2007, called for wide ranging changes among its 65 recommendations and was hailed across the Caribbean and beyond in other cricket playing nations, as a clear, workable, and important document upon which the West Indies could anchor their survival.
The new President, Julian Hunte (no relation to the rather superior, Conrad Hunte) has chosen to lead the WIBC in a different direction and has adopted only 47 of the recommendations, completely ignoring the major reform that was the centrepiece of the report. That reform would have seen the formation of the West Indies Cricket Council, a representative body of all of the cricket playing nations of the West Indies, with a Chairman elected by that body. It would be the supreme controlling body of cricket in the Caribbean and the current WICB would become a paired down, executive body, answerable to the new WICC. Strangely, President Hunte and his group have been unwilling to relinquish power. Hunte is a former union official who now owns his own insurance company and is a career politician. He has no cricket playing background.
Member nations are showing signs they have had enough. Trinidad and Tobago boycotted the recent AGM of the Board, which amounts to a very large rebuke from a very powerful player in the politics and cricket of the Caribbean.
Add to the mix Dinanath Ramnarine, a disenchanted former Test leg spinner of average ability, who retired from cricket at 29 because he spent the last two years of his career in the Test wilderness with no explanation from officials. His belief was that he was scrapped for being an outspoken critic of the WICB. In 2002, he was elected President of the West Indies Players Association and has taken a rather nondescript and ineffective organisation to a point of real power in West Indies cricket. His rise coincided with the furore over the Marlon Samuals suspension. He has a "no prisoners" approach to negotiating over players pay and conditions , which included leading players withdrawing their services for a 2005 tour of Sri Lanka. As Tony Cozier says "The upshot has been fees and conditions from the WICB for leading players which were unthinkable when he took over." He became so dangerous to the WICB that Hunte offered him a seat on the Board but as with all such marriages of convenience, the annulling came sooner than later and was bloody. Ramnarine resigned has been a more effective voice of the players since.
Dinanath Ramnarine and the WIPA want to establish better pay, better conditions and the same superannuation provisions now available for most of the leading teams in world cricket. It's the theory of "if your pay peanuts, you get monkeys", although he wouldn't want to say that around Andrew Symonds. Not surprisingly, Julian Hunte and his reactionary WIBC, don't want change, don't want to invest in the players and now, see it as imperative that this challenge to their power base from the WIPA is fought off. In the process, they are killing a a game already badly in need of a transfusion in this part of the cricket world.
Thirty years behind England and Australia, this dispute has at its core the same sort of power struggle which fractured cricket in the late 70's, with the exception that Kerry Packer never sought to control the game, just the TV rights. Ultimately, no matter what happened, the game was never in jeopardy in England or Australia. That's not the case in the West Indies.
John Dyson was scrapped because he was seen to be a players man and was pointing to the need for change at the top - something the Patterson Report had done clearly. Media in the Caribbean have been very critical of the WICB and have placed great pressure on the Board for Patterson's recommendations to be fully implemented. In many ways, the player's dispute is a distracting sidelight to the main game.
The Board have not chosen leading players for the Champions Trophy and negotiations have fallen apart again, in the last few days, even after a high level negotiator was approved by both sides. What this means for the approaching tour of Australia is anyone's guess but one would think it likely a truce may be negotiated as a tour of Australia is the best trip a West Indian cricketer can make and certainly the most lucrative. Chris Gayle has enough pride to want to tilt at the Australians, especially when they are vulnerable and Chanderpaul likes our tracks, especially without Warne. Mind you, with people that bloody minded on either side of this dispute and human nature what it is, perhaps we had better invest some time in reading the player bios so we know who we are looking at.
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