Chiefs with no background in game lead West Indies up another dead end

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The Independent Online

Yesterday's fiasco here presented the latest, most dramatic explanation for the sudden decline of West Indies cricket, from its unprecedented excellence of the 1980s to the mediocrity of the past two decades.

It was yet another example of the mismanagement that has undermined a game that once elevated a small, impoverished and otherwise insignificant part of the world from third- to first-world status.

Its timing has been most inopportune, coming immediately after the West Indies' most significant victory in years. In less than a week, a shadow has been cast over the euphoria of Sabina Park. It should not have come to this.

There had been repeated problems with the outfield at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium since it was one of the expensive new grounds constructed for the 2007 World Cup.

It was sited, against repeated advice from locals, in a basin near a well-known water course. As everywhere else, an elaborate draining system was installed yet, as forecast, water from overnight rain collected on parts of the outfield and disrupted two matches.

It meant remedial work had to be done on the offending areas. Without any trial, a Test against Australia was again assigned to the ground last season. Once more, parts of the outfield became a bog and almost a full day's play was lost in a drawn match, in spite of hot, sunny weather.

The warning signals were not heeded by the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB). It assigned the England Test on the word of the Antigua authorities that all would be right on the day. It apparently didn't think it necessary to monitor just what was planned. It knew it involved tons and tons of sand, a commodity readily available from Antigua's famed 365 beaches, one for every day of the year. What it did not bother to check was whether the beach for the leap year would be located on the outfield, as it would have with a proper trial.

Those who turned up at the ground a few days ago immediately recognised that these were not suitable conditions for Test cricket.

Several were willing to wager sizeable sums that it would be abandoned but they could get no takers from those wary, if not quite as confident.

It was the same in Kingston in 1998 when Tony Howard, the Barbados team manager now, coincidentally, a WICB operative, reported after a preceding inter-island match that the pitch at Sabina Park was too dangerous for Test cricket. It took only 10.1 overs to justify his concern.

Such laxity can be traced, almost directly, to the fact that West Indies cricket is now in the hands of those with little background in the game.

It is no coincidence that during the days of dominance, there were only three WICB presidents – Jeffrey Stollmeyer, Allan Rae and Clyde Walcott, all outstanding Test players in their time. Steve Camacho, another former Test player, served as chief executive for 18 years.

In the past 15 years, Wes Hall has been the only Test player among five presidents. There have been six chief executives since Camacho. None was known even as a reputable club cricketer.

What happened yesterday is not an isolated incident. Four days ago, the West Indies Players Association complained about the state of practice facilities for regional matches in Trinidad, venue for the fourth Test.

In the past six months, the WICB has sparked the ire of its main sponsor, the Irish telecommunications company, Digicel, by selling its exclusive rights to the Antigua-based Texan billionaire, Allen Stanford, for his much-hyped Super Series.

Digicel's head, Denis O'Brien, publicly called for WICB chief executive Donald Peters, formerly a college professor, and president, Julian Hunte, an insurance executive, to resign. At the same time, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Carib Brewery ended their sponsorships of the main regional tournaments.

To everyone but Peters, it was money the WICB could ill afford to lose. "I have read that we are broke, and that sponsors are leaving us, but it really is that we are leaving them," he told the media.

He may also not quite appreciate the gravity of the present situation.