Friday, April 8, 2016

Rally Around the West Indies

World T20 Finals: Last Over, 19 needed - Ben Stokes bowling to Carlos Brathwaite
6, 6, 6, 6 

The Champion song rang across the Eden Gardens as West Indies cricket soared. The men became the first team to win the T20 World Cup twice. Just hours earlier the women had won their maiden title. And a few weeks back the Under-19 team had won a world cup of their own. It was time for celebrations. Even the most partial cricket follower was soaking in the happy feeling of the West Indies’ victories. 

Everything seemed perfect in the West Indies Cricket world. Until their skipper, Darren Sammy dropped in a harsh reality check. In an emotional victory speech, he described the struggles his team had faced, mostly from their own board. 

"We started this journey … people were wondering whether we would play this tournament. We had a lot of issues, we felt disrespected by our board .... We had a new manager in this tournament in Rawl Lewis, he had never managed any team before. He came here, we were at a camp in Dubai, but we had no uniforms, no printed … he left Dubai, went to Kolkata, that's where he started. The trouble he went to, to get us in this uniform ……Lastly I really want to thank the heads of CARICOM, throughout this tournament they have been supporting the team, we've got emails, we've got phone calls,… and I'm yet to hear from our own cricket board. That is very disappointing......For today, I'm going to celebrate with these 15 men and coaching staff. I don't know when I'm going to be playing with these guys again because we don't get selected for one-day cricket. We don't know when we're going to be playing T20. So this win, I want to thank you my team, I want to thank you coaching staff … everybody know West Indies are champion!" [Full Text]

Disrespected by Board! A manager who has never managed before! No uniforms!
Pretty damning words! Says a lot about the state of West Indies cricket. Pay disputes are now part and parcel of the West Indies story. As are weird selections. Players choose to play franchisee cricket over playing for West Indies. There has even been a tour pull-out, of all places, India, one country whose board you do not want to mess with. There have been farcical tours where players have been picked on the basis of who agreed to toe the Board’s line. Ironically, Sammy himself was first picked in such a series. He was appointed captain because he was considered an establishment man and now has fired the biggest salvo against his board at the biggest stage of them all. Ah! The irony of it all. (He has become WICB’s ownFrankenstein monster).

Some would say it’s the players who are to blame. They have given into greed and play only for money. They are a bunch of mercenaries who only turn up for West Indies when they do not have any other paymaster. Could be true. But if the incentive to play for a franchisee is more than that for a country then the administrators also have to take the blame. After all this is a board which sold out its team to a fraud billionaire, imposes weird selection criterion for its best talents. At the same time manages to anger the most powerful cricket board. The pay disputes have gone on for too long to be just a player issue now. 

On the field, the West Indies players are the most sought after in the T20 franchisee world because they are match-winners and more importantly are always available. But as a team, hardly anyone is interested in a series with West Indies. [Aside – how can so many T20 leagues avoid clashing with each other, while international assignments do?] 

If the Board head honchos had any sense of shame, they would have resigned after Sammy’s outbursts. But then that’s too much to expect from any administrator across sports in any part of the world. They need to be hounded out (a la Blatter or Srinivasan). All they have offered is talks with the key players on their future after the IPL (After all in West Indies cricket, a T20 league always takes priority over all other matters). 

West Indies cricket has always lacked money but has been full of individual flair and passion. Since their inception, their players have played for other teams. Earlier it used to be for the counties and league cricket in England and Australia, and then for Packer. So the current lot is just continuing the trend of their predecessors. Only they have more options now. How the Board manages the money pumping in from the CPL is a bigger question. And that will be the key to deciding the future of their cricket, specially in the longer formats.

The wins prove that West Indies still has talent and more is coming up. Yet how much of it will keep playing for West Indies is a big question. Something which needs to be sorted out together by the Board and the players. Otherwise the end is nigh for West Indies cricket. 

Sammy's speech was the best thing to happen for West Indies cricket. It carried more punch than the 4 Carlos Brathwaite sixes combined. And it seems to have reignited the Fire in Babylon

While we wait for the next salvo in this war, here is to the Champions. After all everyone knows that Sammy and his men are Champyons!!!

Nishant Kumar for DieHard Cricket Fans
Follow Nishant on Twitter @NishantSKumar

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