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NOT so long ago it hardly seemed possible that West Indian cricket could sink any deeper into chaos and calumny. Allan Stanford had been exposed as an impostor and fraud, and all past payers who clung to his coat-tails were revealed as fools. Captain Chris Gayle had shown such little regard for his prestigious position that he had delayed to the last instant his return from his IPL lolly-collecting in South Africa to join his players as they prepared for a Test series in England. His contempt for his responsibilities and for Test cricket was matched only by his selfishness. Money does not talk, it swears.
Inevitably a half-interested West Indian side came a cropper. By all accounts the attitude of the players was abject. Admittedly it was cold, but that hardly offers an excuse. In any case, how dare these pampered young men treat their game, their supporters and their opponents with such disdain? Who raised them? Who told them it was OK to act this way? And with every idle stroke and baleful look they betrayed the legacy of Frank Worrell, CLR James, George Headley and the other, many, great men of West Indian cricket.
No, it did not seem possible that the West Indies could sink any lower. Now and then the optimists among us, whose numbers do not include regular observers close to the action, think the worst has passed, that West Indies have turned the corner, better days lie ahead, there is light at the end of the tunnel, and all the other clichés of hope. And on every occasion the dunderheads in charge and the administration prove us wrong. Well, no more. To hell with West Indian cricket. Break it up, let them play as individual nations. They are not worth the trouble.
Far from sorting out their differences in an adult manner, and in a way calculated to do as little harm as possible to the game at large and in their own backyard, the game they supposedly love, the game that has enriched them, the top West Indian players and management remain at loggerheads. As a result a second- string team has been chosen to represent the region in the Champions Trophy, due to begin in this neck of the woods in a fortnight.
West Indies fielded a bunch of kids in their recent Test series with Bangladesh and defeat was the unsurprising result. Hardly any of the names were familiar. One or two took their chances, but the team was weak. After all, West Indies were not powerful in the first place. Take away Gayle, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Dwayne Bravo, Ramnaresh Sarwan and Fidel Edwards and there is not much left.
Sending a compromised team to the Champion’s Trophy is unacceptable on several accounts. It is an insult to the hosts who have been busy organising the tournament for months. It’s an insult to spectators who’ve booked flights and bought tickets. It’s an insult to the game at large. And it’s definately an insult to the proud tradition of West Indian cricket. Over the years an astonishing number of the game’s greatest players and most impressive men have come from those little islands with their sugar cane fields and Sunday schools. Now greatness is in short supply.
No one in their right mind wastes any time trying to get to grips with the causes of the long-running dispute between the board and players. It has been going on for decades. It is not so long ago that a few of the leading players were holed up in a London hotel, refusing to join their team-mates in South Africa until some petty grievances had been resolved. Now there is some other gripe about goodness knows what. With intelligent leadership the mess could be sorted out in five minutes. Arbitration, conciliation, goodwill, all sorts of devices exist to resolve conflict. Instead the board remains intransigent and the sweaty-palmed players indignant
Of course it all about power on the one hand and money on the other. Relatively speaking, West Indian cricket is run on a shoestring. How could it be otherwise? Industry is thin on the ground. Some of the islands are little more that holiday resorts. But the players can see how much money their counterparts are making and jealousy rears its ugly head. Accordingly they want an ever larger slice of the cake. Aware of its wider responsibilities, the board demurs. After all, it is supposed to be building grounds and nets and academies. Not that the administration can be let off lightly. Their inefficiency is a byword. John Dyson, the recently sacked coach, has some interesting stories to tell on that account.
And so the bickering continues. In the 1970s the West Indians extracted every last dollar they could from tours — they were in demand and could name their price. Nowadays no one really cares about them. Plain as day the time has come to leave Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad and Guyana to their own devices. Let them produce proud national teams. The West Indies have served their purpose. In any case, the dream of confederation died long ago. The players are not worth the bother. The administration is incompetent.
It’s over. Everyone is sick and tired of the West Indians. South Africa ought to withdraw its invitation to take part in the Champion’s Trophy. Let Ireland come instead — at least they want to play. West Indies have been treating cricket badly for years. It’s high time the favour was returned.
* Peter Roebuck is an international cricket correspondent who is based in the KZN midlands.