For years, this bunch of West Indian cricketers have claimed that their pleas for a fair deal have either fallen on deaf years or been silenced. But on Sunday, with the entire world in attendance, Darren Sammy decided to hang the dirty laundry for all to see.
For most, the West Indies were an embattled team full of superstars who had overcome great odds and an ‘incorrigible’ cricket board, who couldn’t even arrange for kits, to become the two-time T20 champions. For some others, they were a bunch of spoilt prima donnas trying to twist and control a board trying its best to keep its house in order. Maybe the truth lies somewhere in between. It’s unlikely that we can deduce who’s right and who’s wrong. There are too many grey areas to this multi-layered issue.
On the face of it, the focal point of the bitter relationship between the players and their board is money. A majority of the team don’t appear in any other format but T20 for the West Indies. And the WICB have made it clear that only those who play Tests will be eligible for central contracts. It’s unlike India where a cricketer automatically becomes eligible for a Group D contract as soon as he plays a match in any format. That basically means that outside the ICC events, the likes of Samuel Badree only get paid on a match-to-match basis when they don the maroon.
Now, a West Indies player earns $1200 per international T20 match outside of the World T20. The two-time champions played only five of these in four years between their two world title wins in 2012 and 2016. So that’s $6000 in four years for the likes of Badree in that period. There are two ways to look at it. One, you can fathom why so many West Indian T20 specialists roam the globe lighting up franchise tournaments . You can’t blame or grudge the opulent pay-packets that come the way of Chris Gayle & Co. Moreover, it’s not their prerogative to safeguard Test cricket. That’s the administrators’ job.
Players no saints
Here comes the counter-argument. If the players themselves are opting out of Tests, then are they right in begrudging the refusal to get central contracts, which the WICB seemingly wants to preserve for those spending summers fighting for a Test slot? In some ways, all Sammy & Co are asking for is freedom and enjoyment in representing their region. But they are no saints either. It was they who orchestrated the 2014 tour pull-out from India. It was their personal dispute with the board, but by antagonising the BCCI, they had risked the potential extinction of West Indies cricket. And often the superstars of the team have played hard-ball with the board to get their way, especially when it comes to their reluctance to play in the regional tournaments and sticking with representing franchises around the world. Their critics say that it’s the individual interest which governs the players.
The players don’t agree that it’s about money. Instead, they feel it’s about trust, or lack of it, that they share not only with the WICB president Dave Cameron but also the West Indies Players Association (WIPA) head Wavell Hinds, who was painted as the biggest villain responsible for Dwayne Bravo’s team revolting and calling off the Indian tour. Bravo hasn’t played an ODI for West Indies ever since. He was captain for that tour. But not only was he replaced by Jason Holder for the 2015 World Cup, he and Kieron Pollard didn’t even find a place in the team.
Lack of trust
And like in any workplace, lack of trust breeds insecurity, and you can’t blame this lot of West Indians to be wary of how far they can believe what their board tells them, and also the duration of their future as West Indian cricketers. Already, you wonder when we will see Sammy wearing the West Indian jersey again. It’s also the reason why they have rallied behind coach Phil Simmons, who himself felt the wrath of the board after he was suspended for two months owing to a comment he had made publicly about team selection.
It’s like Fire in Babylon all over again, only that Babylon has emerged from within on this occasion. It’s subtly poignant that Chris Gayle opted for a wrist-band which carried the ites (red), gold and green. Even his bat rubbers wore the same Rastafarian colours, which represented the fight of the former generations of West Indian cricketers in their fight against ‘Babylon’.
That they are then referred in some circles as mercenaries black-mailing the board, has never sat well with Sammy & Co. And like he’s said many times during the tournament, the only way the team could shut their detractors up in his opinion was winning the cup. In many ways, Sammy’s team have consciously let this ‘us against them’ feeling breed and grow within the team. But like coach Simmons told this paper, ‘It can’t be all fine,” despite the silverware returning home to the Caribbean.
It has to be said that governing cricket in the West Indies isn’t quite a piece of cake. Cricket is the only facet of life where the various islands of the Caribbean come together. They salute different flags, speak in varying accents, sing different national anthems, deal with different currencies, but cheer together whenever they see the West Indies crest being represented. Not surprisingly, the people of the Caribbean are likely to side with Sammy & Co for providing them with a reason to believe again. In fact, thousands of fans led by a Trinidadian even signed a petition to dissolve the WICB, which was also a suggestion that came from the Caricom committee that was set in place to find a solution. But to simply pick out the WICB as the rotten apple and to dispose of it might be an immature call.
For now, even as the Caribbean is rallying hard around the latest set of West Indian champions, the fire in their homegrown Babylon continues to rage on with no end in sight. Not unless both parties decide that this is the moment to press the restart button.