Caribbean cricket chaos could get nasty

July 8, 2009

scoreboardThe news that the West Indies squad for Thursday’s first test against Bangladesh have withdrawn their services, effectively announcing a boycott of the series, has thrown cricket in the once-proud Caribbean into further chaos and things could turn very nasty in the coming days.

The dispute regards contractual issues, payments that the West Indies Players Association (WIPA) insist are long overdue, and other matters of compensation. The WIPA say that their players have appeared in the last four series without any form of contract. The West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) position, to summarise very briefly, is that the WIPA’s demands have been unreasonable. If you are interested in the details (and there are lots of them) then both sides have put their cases online:

West Indies Players Association statement
West Indies Cricket Board response

On Tuesday, I spoke briefly to WICB president Julian Hunte who said that, as far as he was concerned, the first test against Bangladesh on Thursday in St. Vincent will go ahead. There are possible sanctions if the match is not played and the WICB will need to get 11 players on the field to avoid them.

Finding those 11 and getting them to St. Vincent in time will not however be an easy task. Hunte declined to confirm whether or not the WICB is seeking an alternative squad (which the WIPA will likely consider a ‘strikebreaking’ team) merely saying that “We need players to hold a Test match”. If players not originally selected are indeed being approached to play they face a tricky choice — turn down a chance to represent the regional team or risk upsetting the striking players.

It has to be said however, that there has yet to be any statement from the players themselves that indicate they would oppose an alternative team. They simply haven’t said a word about anything in this leaving all communication to former player and WIPA president Dinanath Ramnarine. They may find a weakened West Indies team without their key players is a sufficient protest.

In the middle of all this, one has to feel sorry for 19-year-old Trinidad batsman Adrian Barath, one of the most promising players in the region, who is due to make his Test debut on Thursday. Barath was not been involved in the previous series currently under dispute and wouldn’t have been part of the player meetings at the weekend which decided on the boycott strategy yet he may find himself in a tricky situation with senior players if he opts to play.

It remains to be seen whether an alternative side (and captain) is named and takes the field on Thursday but while much is in doubt, one thing is certain: West Indies cricket fans, who have finally seen some small signs of progress in the past year after a miserable decade of decline, are going to feel very let down again by the current conflict.

Whether they blame the WICB’s management or the WIPA’s leadership for the boycott remains to be seen – cricketers no longer enjoy hero status in the Caribbean but the game’s administrators are loved even less.

It feels like a lose-lose situation for everyone at the moment and is another acutely embarrassing situation, following not long after the abandoned test against England in Antigua in February. Yet as the hastily re-arranged Test on that island showed, West Indies cricket is also capable of finding unlikely improvised solutions at the last minute.

Watch this space.

PHOTO: Australia’s Andrew Symonds takes pictures of his team from the scoreboard during their first one-day cricket international against West Indies in Kingstown, St. Vincent June 24, 2008. REUTERS/Andy Clark

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