Calypso Crisis

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Missing in action The ongoing pay dispute between the West Indies Players Association and the cricket board resulted in the cancellation of the tour
Missing in action The ongoing pay dispute between the West Indies Players Association and the cricket board resulted in the cancellation of the tour. Photo: Shailesh Bhatnagar

Cricket-playing countries are desperate to either visit India or to host them. A series with India means big bucks for other cricketing nations. As for the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), they extend their burgeoning wealth each time the Indian team takes field. Television rights and a host of other sponsors keep filling the BCCI coffers, and the visitors or hosts, as the case may be, also get to generate plenty of dollars.

In such a scenario, what the West Indian players did this week was unthinkable as they abandoned their tour of India midway. The players and the West Indian Cricket Board (WICB) virtually live hand-to-mouth. Their existence hinges on the largesse of boards like the BCCI.

It was a strange situation. With West Indian cricket touching the nadir due to paucity of talent, invites from other boards to the team also thinned. Over the past few years, many West Indian players have been perceived as mercenaries, preferring to play in lucrative T20 leagues abroad rather than for the national team — Opener Chris Gayle’s running battle with the WICB is a perfect example. It was difficult to take sides in such a battle.

For some time now, the West Indian Players Association (WIPA) led by former Test player Wavell Hinds has been in talks with the WICB over pay disputes. In its wisdom, the WIPA decided to widen the pool of contracted players, and to address the prevailing financial crunch, they subjected the existing players to drastic pay cuts. The latter ultimately triggered off a battle between the team led by Dwayne Bravo and the WIPA.

The players’ decision to pull out meant there was no alternative for the WICB and the series was called off.

The WICB knows the consequences of angering the BCCI. The WICB has always been supported by the BCCI, which shared a great relationship with WICB chief Dave Cameron, but the pullout spoiled everything.

The board directors insisted that the WICB “did all that they could have done” in ensuring the tour would continue. They felt that the WIPA was the rightful place for Bravo and his men to engage in negotiations instead of seeking the intervention of the WICB, only because the board would not bypass the players’ representative.

One of the directors, while saying they pulled all stops to save the series, also tacitly backed the WIPA, which has been at loggerheads with members of the current team. “We feel that the WIPA, the legitimate representative of players in the Caribbean, did what they felt was right,” a director was quoted as saying by cricinfo.com. “They thought despite a lot of West Indians playing all over the world (in various T20 leagues), the standard of West Indies cricket has not improved. It continued to linger at the bottom of world cricket. Hence the WIPA, in association with the WICB, decided to have 90 contracted players across to improve West Indies cricket. That is where the money, the players say they are losing, is going. It is not going into the pockets of the WICB bosses.”

The BCCI may be furious at the loss of revenue and face, but they also know that the same WICB and the players had agreed to come to India at the eleventh hour for a two-Test series, which was a farewell for Sachin Tendulkar. The series ended up being a money-spinner for the BCCI and the WICB also benefited from it.

acc ording to sources, the BCCI may claim damages to the tune of Rs 400 crore for the pullout. At its working committee meeting on 21 October, the BCCI decided to suspend all bilateral tours to the West Indies. That would be a body blow to the WICB as the Indians were scheduled to play five series against the West Indies in the next eight years (the Caribbean to host four of them). There could also be legal proceedings against the WICB.

In this tour, the West Indies were scheduled to play five ODIs, a T20 and three Tests, but they played only three ODIs (the Visakhapatnam ODI was called off due to Typhoon Hudhud).

Even though the BCCI has managed to organise a five-match ODI series against Sri Lanka — with a promise of a return trip next year — the Indian board has only made up for five match days, leaving them with a deficit of 17 match days due to the loss of three Test, one ODI and one T20 matches on account of the pullout. Calculating on the basis of what they get as TV rights from Star Sports, the loss, according to the BCCI, is $65 million.

“We have decided to suspend all bilateral tours with the West Indies and will initiate legal proceedings against them,” said BCCI secretary Sanjay Patel.

Let’s face it, cricket is a sport played in a limited number of countries. India, only the sixth to become a Test-playing nation, is now the most powerful one.

From 1877, when England and Australia played the first Test, to 1928, they only had South Africa, who joined the fold in 1889, for company. The West Indies (1928), New Zealand (1930) and India (1932) joined the club in quick succession, and only in 1952 — five years after their formation — did Pakistan become the seventh Test-playing country. Then it took another 30 years for Sri Lanka (1982) to join the elite club. In 1992, it was Zimbabwe’s turn, followed by Bangladesh in 2000.

Even now, there are only 10 Testplaying nations — surely a poor advertisement for the growth of a sport that is almost 150 years old. Sure, there are a few ODI and T20 playing nations, but the ‘big four’ as they stand today — India, Australia, England and South Africa — have done little to make it a global sport. Sri Lanka are still a draw, but nothing in comparison to the big four.

The big draws are India, Australia, England and South Africa. The Pakistanis have their political problems; the New Zealand cricket structure is weak and the sport is losing popularity in that country, while Zimbabwe has had its share of political and financial problems and the West Indians, once a major cricketing force, are finding it tough to grapple with problems on and off the field.

letters@tehelka.com

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