Ominous dark clouds have been gathering around West Indies cricket for some time.
They have materialised into the storms of players’ strikes in 1998-99 prior to the inaugural tour of apartheid-free South Africa, in 2005 in Sri Lanka and 2009 at home against Bangladesh. All gradually blew themselves out.
The latest is more serious, carrying the potential to develop into the kind of devastating hurricanes that annually sweep through the region. The damage to the one endeavour that has united the English-speaking mini-states scattered across the Caribbean Sea for 120 years could be irreparable; there are doubts as to whether the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB), the sport’s governing body, has the financial strength to carry on.
The dangers follow the players’ unprecedented abandonment of the tour of India last Friday over their dispute with Wavell Hinds, the former Test opener who is head of their union, the West Indies Players’ Association (WIPA), and, ultimately, the WICB.
It concerned their reduced pay resulting from a new Memorandum of Understanding and Collective Bargaining Agreement, signed by Hinds and the WICB president Dave Cameron on 18 September.
While greats from the past such as Clive Lloyd and Andy Roberts have castigated the players for their action, the repercussions have shaken the WICB to the core.
Pulling out of the tour left the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), the sport’s wealthiest and most powerful administration, “shocked and extremely disappointed”.
“The WICB’s inability to resolve internal issues with its players and allowing the same [issues] to affect an ongoing bilateral series does not reflect well on any of those involved,” the BCCI thundered in an official statement. “The withdrawal gives little thought to the future of the game, the players and the long-standing relations between the BCCI and the WICB.”
The fallout was not long in coming. As the WICB directors met in emergency session in Barbados on Tuesday, they were left to consider the BCCI’s official confirmation hours earlier that it had suspended future bilateral tours with the West Indies. The International Cricket Council’s Future Tours Programme (FTP) lists five such series over the next five years.
The BCCI did not specifically mention earlier speculation that it would seek compensation from the WICB for financial losses from 17 blank playing days (said to be around $60m, or £37m), mainly from television contracts, sponsorship and ticket sales; it did state that it would start legal proceedings.
Fears over the WICB’s survival had been raised a year before the present crisis. In presenting the financial statement for the year ending 30 September 2013, KPMG, the chartered accountants, put net losses for the preceding year at $5,821,413, along with shareholders’ deficiencies of $5,693,323. Together “they raise considerable doubt that the company will be able to continue as a going concern”, KPMG warned.
It pointed out that the WICB’s revenue is “cyclical in nature”, depending on the popularity of the various tours its team undertakes.
Only tours to the Caribbean by India and England are profitable. A tour of South Africa in December and January is next on the West Indies’ list, followed by the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand in February and March, with England scheduled to play three Tests in April and May.
The ICC said it was “concerned” with the present dispute and was “closely monitoring the developments arising” from the abandoned tour. It noted that, “unless the matter is referred to it”, it does not have the power to intervene in such bilateral disputes.
Last year, two FTP scheduled home Tests each against Sri Lanka and Pakistan were scrapped to accommodate India’s participation in a triangular One-Day International series. Profits from the Indian involvement were diminished by an earlier series against Zimbabwe, the last-placed team in the ICC Test and ODI rankings.
New Zealand and Bangladesh, both alongside the West Indies at the bottom end of the rankings, were the visitors this year. Daily attendance at their matches was seldom more than 1,000; there are bound to be heavy losses in KPMG’s next financial statement.
A four-point statement followed Tuesday’s WICB meeting. “Regrets,” “embarrassed”, “unfortunate” and “sorrow” were words within the first two paragraphs reflecting its worries.
In a predictable attempt at damage control, and nothing more, its main point was that it would establish a “Task Force, comprising critical stakeholders” to meet with all parties in the stand-off, including the WIPA and the players, before reporting back. Already politicians are lining up to intervene.
Grenada’s Prime Minister and the island’s former off-spinner, Keith Mitchell, announced he was prepared to act as mediator. This crisis would adversely affect the islands’ economies, he said, since governments had spent “substantial amounts” in constructing stadiums.
Glyne Clarke, a former government minister, advocated to the Barbados House of Assembly that prime ministers become involved at the next conference for the heads of Caricom, the region’s equivalent of the EU.
The recent upheavals have undermined what appeared to be strong bonds between the BCCI and the WICB.
The WICB agreed to two Tests in India last November so that Sachin Tendulkar could end his glorious career before his adoring fans on home soil; when Australia, India and England controversially took over the leadership of the ICC, Cameron strongly supported the move at a meeting of ICC executives.
“This will allow the WICB to increase the number of profitable tours it hosts while reducing the number of unprofitable tours it is obliged to host under the Future Tours Programme,” Cameron said at the time.
Now he and the 87-year-old organisation he heads are fighting for their lives.
Windies on the wane: Tale of decline
Late 1970s-early 1990s
West Indies were one of the strongest Test and one-day teams in the game and inflicted two 5-0 whitewashes on England in the 1980s. The dominance was largely the result of the bowling prowess of Michael Holding, Joel Garner, Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh, plus the batting of Viv Richards.
Transitional 90s-early 2000s
Brian Lara broke into the side as the old guard broached retirement. Despite Lara’s brilliance, the West Indies struggled, including 5-0 losses in Australia and South Africa and 3-0 in Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The players’ failures on the field, coupled with ongoing disputes with the West Indian Cricket Board, resulted in the team falling down the world rankings.
England routed the West Indies 4-0 in 2004 and they lost 3-0 in Australia the next year. The side went five years without a Test series win before beating England 1-0 in 2009. Despite the explosiveness of Chris Gayle, the West Indies sit eighth in the ICC Test rankings.
Joseph CrossReuse content