West Indies to face Flintoff after settling dispute

cricket</p><p><B>By Stephen Brenkley in barbados</B>
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The Independent Online

By Stephen Brenkley in barbados

THERE is no dispute, there never has been a dispute and there never will be a dispute. Everything in West Indies cricket is not only hunky-dory but rosier than anything to be seen at the Chelsea Flower Show. Which does not necessarily mean that the team will turn up for the rest of the one-day series or for the tour of England next month.

To listen to Chris Gayle, the team's captain yesterday, it was to hear a voice of reason and common sense. Yet for three days in two hotels officials of the West Indies Cricket Board and the West Indies Players' Association have been deadlocked in talks about pay, contracts and playing responsibilities.

In its way, it has been one of the old-fashioned interminable strike negotiations of the kind which brought British industry to its knees 30 years ago, without the beer and cold fish and chips being brought in. From time to time officials from both sides have emerged and remained tight-lipped.

It has been plain that both sides are disillusioned and that both are using withdrawal of labour as a key bargaining chip. To nobody's surprise, Gayle played it all down. "There has been speculation but the games will go on," he said. "If the games weren't going on I'd be at home now cocking up my legs, but I'm here to play cricket."

It would be fascinating to see Gayle go on strike simply to witness how it is possible to be cool while holding a placard on a picket line. But he insisted, the butter not melting in his mouth, that all was well between the players and their employers, although the former have not been paid in full for the recent tour of New Zealand or for the present series of Tests and one-day internationals against England.

Gayle offered only a hint of the disharmony that everyone knows exists. Asked if there might be potential for direct action by players some time, he said: "I'm very happy the way we stick together. Unity is strength as well. I'm not saying it won't happen, some players might go their separate ways, but for now it's looking good."

One sticking point, which affects Gayle directly, is the Indian Premier League and how long the West Indies players can take part in it before starting the tour of England. If they are expected at the start of the tour, they will seek compensation from the board for curtailing their time at the IPL.

In West Indies cricket anything is possible. Two years ago they sent a weakened team to Sri Lanka after 10 players were overlooked because of a contract dispute. England virtually begged the West Indies to come to play two Test matches this May when Zimbabwe, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka all withdrew for one reason or another. A depleted team would be another grave embarrassment.

Of more immediate concern to England here is the return of Andrew Flintoff to the team and who might be dropped to accommodate him. The captain Andrew Strauss, as usual, was not saying but Dimitri Mascarenhas and Stephen Harmison are joint favourites.

Strauss was much more expansive on his support for Andy Flower as team director. The appointment is expected early next month and Flower has impressed everybody – except the results gods – with the way he has handled the squad on the Caribbean tour while in temporary charge.

"We have worked very well together and from my point of view it would be fantastic to continue what we have started, but it's not my job to decide," Strauss said. There could hardly be a more glowing testimonial from a man whose opinion must count.

West Indies (possible): C H Gayle, L M P Simmons, R R Sarwan, S C Chanderpaul, K A Pollard, D J Bravo, D Ramdin, D J G Sammy, N O Miller, F H Edwards, L S Baker.

England (possible): A J Strauss, R S Bopara, K P Pietersen, O A Shah, P D Collingwood, M J Prior, A Flintoff, S C J Broad, G J Batty, S J Harmison, J M Anderson.

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