This triple crown could be just the spark needed to revolutionise cricket in the West Indies. The sport would be richer for it, says Ajachi Chakrabarti.
Darren Julius Garvey Sammy is a religious man. He was born in a family of devout Christians, and might have become a pastor if the whole cricket thing didn’t work out. That it worked out at all—let alone so well—for a kid who grew up on a banana plantation in Saint Lucia, a former French colony with a population of a little more than two full Eden Gardens that neither has its own first-class cricket team nor had seen any of its citizens play for the West Indies, leave alone captaining the side, before him, for a player whose batting and bowling averages seem to be the wrong way around, is the sort of miracle devout people are always so keen to attribute to God.
from Samuel, Biblical judge and prophet, literally “the name of God”
No wonder, then, that he began his chat with Nasser Hussain after having guided his team to the unprecedented feat of winning two World Twenty20 championships by thanking the almighty, “because without him nothing is possible. We have a pastor in the team in Andre Fletcher; he keeps on praying. We are a praying team.” He did the same thing as he started his post-match press conference. When a Caribbean journalist jokingly suggested that he should have been declared man of the series, not for the eight runs he scored and the one wicket he took in the entire tournament or even for his stellar captaincy, but for winning six tosses in a row that allowed his team to chase in every match, he was sure to namecheck God for being on their side, as if the old man (or woman) has nothing better to do than determine which way a coin lands on a certain field in a certain city at a certain time.
Now, such devotion is a trait we in India normally associate with recent Pakistani captains; in fact, we often mock them for it. To our ostensibly secular, cosmopolitan ears, it is another example of the backwardness of “those” people—why must they bring religion into cricket? Never mind that we’ve regarded India-Pakistan games as just short of holy war, complained about such matches being scheduled on Fridays, and attributed their assembly line of fast bowlers to eating beef since long before Inzy started mentioning Bismillah in every interview.
To our ostensibly secular, cosmopolitan ears, it is another example of the backwardness of “those” people—why must they bring religion into cricket? Never mind that we’ve regarded India-Pakistan games as just short of holy war, complained about such matches being scheduled on Fridays, and attributed their assembly line of fast bowlers to eating beef since long before Inzy started mentioning Bismillah in every interview.
The religiosity of the team—they huddle and pray before every practice session, leave alone every match—is religion at its finest, at its most powerful, working as a force that unites rather than divide, inspiring its adherents to overcome mighty odds by redirecting their focus from extraneous pressures to the task at hand. It is also testament to the increased religiosity of Caribbean societies in this era of globalisation, one in which the hopes and values of the nationalism project appear more and more suspect. As the historian Sir Hilary Beckles puts it,
Retreating nation-states can no longer speak with conviction to issues of national identity, patriotic pride and social freedom because they have been reduced to a degree of public prostration to North Atlantic financial agencies that allow them sovereignty only with respect to law and order. There is no political movement that roots its concepts in the idealism of the historic struggle for structural social equality with material justice. In fact, these ideals have been politically defeated by the ideological success of the neoliberal right. As a consequence, the region’s “labor parties” have become anti-labor, and workers everywhere are running for shelter and leadership within the walls of a revivalist evangelical Christianity that now commands the communities’ largest social gatherings.
from Marcus Garvey, Jamaican political leader, publisher, journalist, entrepreneur, and orator
“Cricket is in the blood of Caribbean people as it provides a transparent lens to critically assess the socioeconomic and political evolution of the region. Introduced by the British as part of its leisure and recreational activities, it soon became part of its ‘civilizing’ strategy of the Africans and other groups to enter Caribbean society. In return, the Africans incorporated cricket within its cultural construct that produced a creolized product to symbolically avenge the wrongs of colonialism. The cricket ball and bat became symbolic social whips used to exact a sense of retribution for the animosities meted out during slavery and later on in indentureship.”
—Anand RampersadThe history of the West Indies cricket team has from the beginning been coupled with the history of the Caribbean, as anyone who has read CLR James’s Beyond a Boundary, the greatest cricket book ever written, would tell you. It is the story of the game as colonial imposition, being gradually adopted by the colonised, adopted so well that they would go on to defeat the colonisers, not once but consistently for over a decade. The success came only after the game ceased to be the preserve of the privileged, after the glass ceiling of the captaincy was breached by a black man—first George Headley for a Test and 12 years later Frank Worrell on a fulltime basis, both after media campaigns led in part by James—after the team reinvented how the game of their imperial masters was played.
Clive Lloyd, the talismanic captain of the dominant Windies team of the 1970s and early ’80s, says in Fire in Babylon, the 2010 documentary about his team, that he was guided by an amended version of Marcus Garvey’s slogan: “One People, One Nation, One Destiny”. Garvey, who followed cricket throughout his life and graced many a game in his capacity as Provisional President of Africa, would have approved. After all, he began his 1925 editorial in Negro World, titled ‘African Fundamentalism’, with:
The time has come for the Negro to forget and cast behind him his hero worship and adoration of other races, and to start out immediately to create and emulate heroes of his own. We must canonize our own saints, create our own martyrs, and elevate to positions of fame and honor black men and women who have made their distinct contributions to our racial history. Sojourner Truth is worthy of the place of sainthood alongside of Joan of Arc: Crispus Attucks and George William Gordon are entitled to the halo of martyrdom with no less glory than that of the martyrs of any other race. Toussaint L’Ouverture’s brilliancy as a soldier and statesman outshone that of a Cromwell, Napoleon and Washington; hence, he is entitled to the highest place as a hero among men.
If he were writing a few years later, he might well have added that Headley, aka “the black Bradman”, was every bit as unstoppable as the genuine article. (“His devoted admirers responded by calling Bradman the white Headley—a pardonable exaggeration,” read Headley’s obituary in Wisden.)
As it grew more representative, becoming the world’s first multiracial sporting outfit, the West Indies cricket team became an addition to that pantheon. Their passionate fans, whether at the Kensington or Kennington Oval, were deeply invested in their fortunes; to a people forcibly displaced from its roots and for generations been denied personhood, leave alone great personalities, such phenomenal success of people from its ranks in a sport created by and for its oppressors is deeply personal.
He might as well have added that Headley, aka “the black Bradman”, was every bit as unstoppable as the genuine article, or that Learie Constantine was as astute a student of the game as WG Grace.
In Marlon James’s A Brief History of Seven Killings, the late Sir Arthur Jennings says of Bob Marley, “That’s what happens when you personify hopes and dreams in one person. He becomes nothing more than a literary device.” The current generation of Windies cricketers has had to suffer the indignity of being reduced to playing out the third act of a Greek tragedy—the heroes of the masses suffering loss after humiliating loss as greed and envy trumps notions of national or archipelagal or racial pride.
from Julius Caesar, Roman statesman and general
or perhaps Julius Caesar, Surrey and England professional cricketer (1849–67)
“A people who have seen all their leaders from William Bramble in tiny Montserrate to Norman Manley in larger Jamaica opt for some sort of socialism, and then by 1998 all their successors had by osmosis opted for neo-liberalism without the people being aware of this sea change, this absolute betrayal had bothered, bewildered and belittled the people of the Caribbean while governing meant swaying and ducking, rather than hooking all the bouncers hurled at the government and people by the First World; who saw their leaders destroy their best hope, a Caribbean nation, and then rewarded the Destroyers with longevity in office; who saw these leaders make deals with the racist Ku Klux Klan; saw their leaders connive to send arms to racist South Africa or the narco-terrorists in the Medellin cartel; saw their leaders plunder Bauxite and the wealth of Guyana, reducing it to a shambles; saw their leaders when ‘money was no object’ and unemployment was still high, propose to spend hundreds of millions on air-conditioned horse stables; or joined with America to harass their own Grenada Revolution which overthrew the Gairy–Mongoose-gang democracy; who connived with America and Britain to have Cheddi Jagan freely and fairly elected removed from power, and then approved the CIA provoking race riots in Guyana; and then the IMF structurally adjusted the entire West Indies into the margins, definitely lost the will to struggle, to be committed to any goal or any new arrangement of society.
How then do we expect our cricket team to struggle when we ourselves have lost the will to struggle, and seek only to collaborate or to succumb.”
—Tim HectorIn December 1932, the most acrimonious Test series in cricket history got underway at the Sydney Cricket Ground, as Douglas Jardine’s MCC team beat Australia by 10 wickets. Sixteen of the 20 Australian wickets to fall in the match were taken by Harold Larwood and Bill Voce, as the home team struggled to find an adequate response to their fast leg theory, which would come to be known as Bodyline. Missing from the Aussie line-up was the man the Bodyline tactics were created to contain.
Although the stated reason for the absence of Don Bradman in the first Test was that he was unwell, trouble had been brewing between the Australian cricket board and its biggest star for years before the series began. It began in the spring of 1931, when the Don was seriously contemplating an offer to play professional cricket in England; the move would have ended his Australia career, but for a carpenter’s son in a Great Depression economy, £1,000 a year was not to be sneered at. He was convinced to stay after a consortium of three Sydney businesses offered him a writing, broadcast and endorsement contract. Before the 1932–33 England series, however, the Australian Board of Control ruled that he couldn’t continue his column, since only “professional” journalists were allowed to do so under the Board’s rules. Asked to choose between honouring his media contract and his obligation to his national team, Bradman chose to keep his column. He only agreed to play once RC Packer, editorial chief of Associated Newspapers and grandfather of one Kerry Packer, released him from that contract. Although he faced much flak from the Australian cricketing establishment for his dithering—helped no doubt by the fact that he wasn’t particularly popular with his peers; his teammate Bill O’Reilly would often say that the Bradman Appreciation Society held its meetings in a telephone kiosk—he remained an iconic figure in the minds of the cricketing public, who could empathise with his dilemma.
In Marlon James’s A Brief History of Seven Killings, the late Sir Arthur Jennings says of Bob Marley, “That’s what happens when you personify hopes and dreams in one person. He becomes nothing more than a literary device.” The current generation of Windies cricketers has had to suffer the indignity of being reduced to playing out the third act of a Greek tragedy.
Learie Constantine, later Baron Constantine, did sign an English professional contract in 1928 when he joined Nelson, a club in the Lancashire League, for £500 a year plus expenses. In fact, snaring such a contract was his primary objective as he embarked on the tour, in which he scored three centuries and 10 fifties to go with six five-wicket hauls in 28 first-class matches; James would write that by deciding to turn professional and thus eschew participating in domestic cricket for Trinidad and limit his commitments to the West Indies team, Constantine “had revolted against the revolting contrast between his first-class status as a cricketer and his third-class status as a man.” He would spend nine seasons at Nelson, in which the team won seven league titles and finished second twice, and he became probably the highest paid sportsperson in Britain. He also inspired an exodus of West Indies cricketers to professional cricket in England, for reasons Jeffrey Hill explained in his essay ‘Cricket and the Imperial Connection’:
For cricketers from the West Indies the attractions of league cricket were stronger still. Professional openings in the Caribbean were severely limited for black players, who suffered also the odious discriminations of the colour bar. West Indies cricket was rigidly stratified on both colour and class lines in all the islands, but especially in Barbados. It was impossible for black people (and some whites) to join the elite clubs…Employment opportunities were circumscribed too, especially for men who wanted time off to play cricket. Learie Constantine, for example, was favoured by the patronage of HBG Austin, the captain of the West Indies team at the time, in terms of his cricket career. But he was unable to secure similar patronage in his search for regular employment. It was not until an oil company manager—ironically a South African—offered him a job that Constantine was able to get time off to play.
FROM THE very beginning, cricket has had to reckon with the schism between amateur and professional players. The aforementioned professional cricketer Julius Caesar was a carpenter and joiner by trade from Godalming, Surrey. He first attracted press attention for his cricket skills as a 16-year-old. By 19, he was playing for Surrey, earning four to five pounds a game, depending on the result. He was soon selected for the All-England Eleven, touring the country to play against the county teams. In 1859–60, he was part of the first ever English side to tour overseas, to North America, which netted him around £90. Four years later, he made some £250 on a tour to Australia and New Zealand. Two benefit games were held to raise funds for his retirement in 1867. He found employment as cricket coach and groundsman at Charterhouse school. He died in 1878, aged 47, impoverished and laid low by dropsy, possibly by throwing himself under a train.
Much of what is known as the “spirit of the game” is a legacy of amateurism, the notion that the game is just a pastime and that there are more important things than success. Unfortunately, those ideals only work for those who have a secure alternate source of income or belong to the landed gentry; to those for whom success in the sport translates to social mobility, the idea that they must abide not just with the codified laws of the game but also with some unwritten honour code intended to maintain cricket’s bourgeois ethos can seem an alien concept.
Key to this ethos is the principle that cricket at its highest level is a contest between nations, and that a cricketer’s first priority must be to play for his or her national team. However, history is witness to the fact that the best cricketers go where their talent is valued the most—if it was the Lancashire League in the 1930s, it was Packer’s World Series Cricket in the 1970s, and the IPL in the 2010s. Like most other sports, cricket has had to make concessions to professionalism in order to expand its scope beyond those who could afford to play the game for the game’s sake.
Much of what is known as the “spirit of the game” is a legacy of amateurism, the notion that the game is just a pastime and that there are more important things than success. Unfortunately, those ideals only work for those who have a secure alternate source of income or belong to the landed gentry.
The honour and privilege of playing for one’s national team is undercut somewhat by the fact that it is not the country but a private organisation, free to make its own rules and resistant to any form of public oversight, that runs said national teams. And that these private organisations are in turn governed by another insular private organisation, which does not necessarily place the interests of the sport much higher than the interests of its stakeholders. The internecine conflict between the West Indies Cricket Board and its players over the last decade has its roots in these conflicts of interest.
It’s a cliché often spouted that a strong West Indies side is essential for the game to be in sound health. The successes of the West Indies (and Pakistan) in the 1970s and ’80s allowed this elitist sport a veneer of egalitarianism, but little was done to bridge the resource gap between the game’s haves and have-nots. Also, as Beckles wrote in his essay on ‘Globalisation and the Leadership Crisis in West Indies Cricket’, “the Board did not leverage the enormous influence of West Indies cricket during its halcyon years in order to provide for the financial security of its superstars, and to develop professional support systems for the preparation of younger players.” (Not for nothing did so many West Indian stars sacrifice national ambitions to join Packer’s circus, or some of the reserves and retired players commit the cardinal sin of what Michael Holding called selling their African ancestral birthright for a mess of pottage by playing in apartheid South Africa.) This, Beckles wrote, contributed to a change in the mindset of the West Indies cricketers, especially Brian Lara:
The perfect picture society framed didn’t hang comfortably on the walls of his mind. Indeed the image he was asked to wear as hero of the crowd felt to him a prison for his commerce and consciousness, threatening poverty and riddled with paradoxes. He was not prepared to dwell in the castles of the ancien regime. If the future was troubled, the past was not without its problems. Behind him was a stream of financially compromised, and socially abandoned super heroes. The majority of his cricket mentors, from Sobers to Richards, were never compensated with hard currency at a level commensurate with the degree of hero-worship they attracted. Cast aside, cash-challenged stars looked in envy at the glitter of gold that symbolized the new commercial order. Lara was determined not to join the trail of broken and abandoned heroes. He was global, not local. This was the armour that protected him from the insular power of political leader; it was also the source of his salvation in an age of harsh community criticism.
That harsh criticism became a fixture in the 1990s and 2000s, as the players’ increased demands for more equitable wages and better conditions coincided with a decline in performance, as other, more professional, sides began to dominate world cricket. The nadir was reached in 1998, when despite Nelson Mandela waiting to receive the first West Indies team to tour post-apartheid South Africa, Lara led a players’ strike demanding higher tour fees as well as training and meal allowances and assurances of their security. The impasse took days to resolve, despite a personal plea from Mandela, and the eventual resolution was to re-examine the issues in the future. The team went on to lose all five Tests and all six ODIs, with Lara admitting to disunity among the ranks.
THE JUSTIFICATION given by the WICB for why they couldn’t meet the players’ demands was that the board was running out of money. In 2005, in a media statement providing context for the latest contract dispute, WICB President Teddy Griffith revealed that the last time the board’s finances had been in the black was in 1999, and that its cumulative deficit by that September would be $14 million.
There are systemic reasons why the WICB is perennially out of money. As Clive Lloyd explained last year, moving from island to island means everyone has to fly instead of drive. Also, “when we play our cricket it is high season and hotel rates are very exorbitant. We’re not as wealthy as the other countries. We did well in the ’70s and ’80s because we were coming as champions and if you’re coming as champions you can demand something. So now if you’re not champions you don’t get things thrown at you, and unfortunately we need things thrown our way so we’re able to compete with the bigger countries.”
Also, the board has struggled as international cricket has dried up, with teams reducing the number of Tests they play on tours of the Caribbean. Although they have played more home Tests, in the 16 years of this century, the Windies have hosted three five-Test and four four-Test series. In the last 16 years of the last century, a period with 30 percent fewer Tests overall, they hosted one six-Test, five five-Test and five four-Test series. Now, with the big three cricketing nations carving up the international revenue pie afresh and junking the Future Tours Programme, which guaranteed tours by every country over a fixed time period, they are likely to go down further.
There are systemic reasons why the WICB is perennially out of money. As Clive Lloyd explained last year, moving from island to island means everyone has to fly instead of drive. Also, “when we play our cricket it is high season and hotel rates are very exorbitant.”
The WICB’s response to its financial crisis was to change sponsors. In 2003, while renegotiating its deal with Cable & Wireless, it invoked its right to negotiate with third parties, and the next year, came to better terms with Digicel and invited Cable & Wireless to match those terms. The company declined to exercise its rights, but instead signed six senior cricketers to personal contracts similar to their existing deal with Lara. Clause Five of the new contract offered to the players forbade them from signing deals with competitors, and a trade dispute ensued over the following years. As Tony Cozier described it, “Two foreign telecommunications companies, bitter rivals, each with more capital than many small Caribbean nations, have fought over ownership of the West Indies team and the best West Indian players with a fury once associated with Mike Tyson. If they could have, each would have bitten off the other’s ear.”
All this was in keeping with the times. Cricket writer Vaneisa Baksh wrote in 2005 that
The past few years have seen more industrial-relations/remuneration-package disputes between boards and players (via their associations) than ever before. In the last three years Australia, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and South Africa have all had turns at the bargaining tables, and they have all played hard-ball to garner maximum benefits from the now-popular status of the cricketer as sporting superstar. Individual rights to endorsement contracts, sponsorship shares, intellectual property, ownership of image … all of these have become prime assets of the modern cricketer. The claim to be a stakeholder is more closely affiliated to net profits than to love for the game.
The turn of the century had seen the growing power of cricketers’ associations. After his retirement from the game in 2002, Dinanath Ramnarine reinvigorated the West Indies Players’ Association, which had previously been headed by the captain and run largely by active players, into a professional body with dedicated staff, and interjected on the behalf of the senior cricketers in the dispute. The WICB reacted the way capitalists have long treated trade unions, by seeking out ways to undermine it. After the players refused to sign contracts before the tour to Sri Lanka, the board responded by dropping them and hiring scab labour from the reserves. Throughout the dispute, the WIPA alleged they were denied a copy of the Digicel contract, and the WICB kept refusing appeals to settle the whole thing through arbitration. The entire proceedings were marred by a lack of transparency or mutual trust, necessary preconditions to any form of agreement.
As Tony Cozier described it, “Two foreign telecommunications companies, bitter rivals, each with more capital than many small Caribbean nations, have fought over ownership of the West Indies team and the best West Indian players with a fury once associated with Mike Tyson. If they could have, each would have bitten off the other’s ear.”
In December 2005, an agreement mediated by the ICC and the Federation of International Cricketers’ Associations was announced, but a few months later the WIPA was again up in arms, alleging that the WICB was reneging on past agreements. “What [has] frustrated the whole process in dealing with the WICB is every time we negotiate with them and you reach an agreement across the table, the next meeting everything changes,” Ramnarine told the Trinidad & Tobago Express. Finally, after thousands of hours of negotiations—now mediated by a panel of ex-cricketers led by Lloyd and assuming greater urgency with the 2007 World Cup looming over the horizon—a more definitive agreement was announced on 26 April 2006, just before a home series against Zimbabwe; Lara was to return as captain, and the players would soon sign retainers with the board, a key demand of the 1998 strike and already a feature in all the other Test teams.
But then the board reneged on the number of contracts, did not offer one to Dwayne Bravo because he had a deal with a competitor of Digicel, and tried to bypass the WIPA by offering deals to individual cricketers. (Keith Mitchell, prime minister of Grenada, summed up the feelings of the Caribbean cricket fan: “Not again. Not now…my hope is that common sense will prevail all around.”) The various conflicts were finally allowed to go to arbitration, with the WIPA winning every one of the disputes. However, possibly expecting public opinion would be on their side after the Windies’ inglorious exit from the World Cup, the board grew more confrontational, threatening to drop any player who wouldn’t sign a contract for a tour of England. The tour wasn’t part of the FTP, and under the terms of the 2006 agreement its contract would have to be separately negotiated, but the board suddenly withdrew for the negotiations. The tour was saved after the issue was referred to arbitration. Again, the panel ruled in favour of the players.
This pattern would play out before every subsequent series. In the absence of a formal retainer, the players had to rely on contracts for individual tours; inevitably, these negotiations would lead to brinksmanship and the threat of a boycott. Eventually, the disputes would go to arbitration, which invariably ruled in favour of the players. In 2009, after five series without a settled contract and five years of protracted negotiations, and emboldened by a brave new world of lucrative opportunities in domestic T20 leagues all over the world, the senior players issued a formal boycott, and again the WICB began fielding second-string sides, leading to defeat by Bangladesh, among others.
from Darragh or Dáire, meaning “oak tree”
“This has been going on since my time as a player, but I thought we had gone past that. The generation before didn’t have choices, so the board could always hold a wage above them and dictate whatever they wanted. It’s the first time we’ve had a players’ association that’s effective. In the past, we had some associations that were a waste of space. [This time] the players weren’t going to walk away, and the board knew that. Now you have a group of players earning more from playing cricket outside the Caribbean than for the West Indies and they aren’t putting up with this crap. They have choices and they are prepared to exercise those choices.”
On 8 October 2014, West Indies faced off against India at Kochi in the first one-day international of what was to be a full tour, with three Tests, five ODIs and one T20. Guided by a Marlon Samuels century, the Windies amassed 321 for 6 in their 50 overs. An excellent all-round bowling performance then engineered a collapse, as India folded for 197 in 41 overs. “That was the perfect way to reply, beating the defending champions on their home soil in such a convincing manner,” said Viv Richards.
Richards was gushing at good sense having prevailed, after yet another contract dispute had threatened to derail the tour. This dispute, however, was different from the previous ones. After over a decade of acrimony, the WICB and WIPA were suddenly on the same side, agreeing to a new collective bargaining agreement. Instead of the bulk of contracts going to international players, the new agreement would offer retainers to 105 players every year—15 at the international level, and 15 at each of the six domestic teams. This was made possible by drastically cutting payments to players at the highest level; match fees were reduced by about 75 percent, a sponsorship fee of $35,000 per day of cricket (divided among the squad) was withdrawn, as was a participation fee for appearing in ICC tournaments.
More egregious was that this agreement had been concluded in secret, without taking the players into confidence. The players had been informed about the proposed structure in February, and had agreed to forego some of their income to benefit domestic players. However, they insisted that salaries should remain constant, that some of the monies lost be made up through other channels, and that they be consulted before finalising a deal. No further correspondence took place between the players and their association. As Michael Holding raged in his column for Wisden India,
The problem with West Indies is that the WICB always pushes things to the brink and waits till the last moment. That’s why so many tours begin with players having not yet signed tour contracts. This MoU was signed in September. Why didn’t the players know exactly what was in the MoU until they got to India at the end of the month? Why weren’t all the players e-mailed the MoU? I’m sure the WIPA and the WICB have e-mails and contacts of all the players. But no. They wait until they get to India, and then try to manipulate the players. They had all the leadup time before the first ODI to try and iron something out but no, no compromise.
The players had been informed about the proposed structure in February, and had agreed to forego some of their income to benefit domestic players. However, they insisted that salaries should remain constant, that some of the monies lost be made up through other channels, and that they be consulted before finalising a deal. No further correspondence took place between the players and their association.
The players found out they would lose 60 to 70 percent of their overall pay only after they reached India for the tour. And that the body meant to represent them had been co-opted by the board. Such a loss of pay and bargaining power were justifiable grounds for a strike, and it is to the players’ credit that they went ahead with the first ODI. Insinuating collusion between WICB President Dave Cameron and WIPA President Wavell Hinds, both of whom belong to the Kensington Cricket Club, captain Dwayne Bravo asked the latter to step down and for the WICB to deal directly with the players, but both demands were denied. The WICB, which had long followed a policy of what Garth Wattley called a “mixture of conciliation, intransigence, and more often of late, arrogance” towards the WIPA, had in the end categorically refused to deal with Ramnarine until the latter resigned in 2012, and had in the past tried to bypass the union any way it could, had suddenly come around to the merits of collective bargaining. They offered to mediate between the players and the union, but only under the terms of the new agreement. The players were left with no option but to indicate their withdrawal from the tour during the fourth ODI; the board immediately announced a pullout.
The BCCI, which has for years resisted any semblance of collective bargaining on the part of Indian players—not that there have been too many efforts by Indian players to start a union—was quick to condemn the pullout and threaten to sue for damages worth some $42 million, a sum that would have bankrupted the WICB. (No such action was mulled by the PCB a year later, after India unilaterally pulled out of a series against Pakistan in the UAE.) The impending lawsuit, which was eventually dropped, allowed the board to paint the cricketers as the villains of the piece, mercenaries whose greed had brought cricket in the Caribbean to its knees. A provisional settlement was reached in the so-called Hyatt Accord, a meeting on 7 November at the Port-of-Spain Hyatt in which the WICB and WIPA agreed to renegotiate the new agreement with the players on board and refer the matter to arbitration if necessary, and that those who revolted in India would not be victimised in selection matters. The fact that matters could be settled within five hours demonstrated how disingenuous the board had been by not hashing things out earlier.
THIS JANUARY, the West Indies lined up against Australia for the New Year Test at the SCG. Six of the 11 players had been part of the revolt in India; nine of the 11—barring Carlos Brathwaite and Joel Warrican—were among the 12 who had signed central retainer contracts. The team earned match fees of $5,000 each, less than half of the $11,200 earned by the Aussies, who make $15,700 for every away Test. Their annual retainer amounts ranged from $100,000 to $140,000; the lowest tier of Australian contracts has a retainer of $185,000, while the senior players make $1.1 million a year. Two days were washed out due to rain, helping the Windies avoid a whitewash. (They had also been suffered a 10-wicket loss to a Cricket Australia XI that had six players making their first-class debut.) They last won a Test series against a team other than Bangladesh or Zimbabwe in 2012, when they beat New Zealand. They last won an away series outside the two minnows in 1995, again against the Kiwis. They have won 14 and lost 82 of the 135 Tests they have played against the top eight in this millennium.
The team earned match fees of $5,000 each, less than half of the $11,250 earned by the Aussies. Their annual retainer amounts ranged from $100,000 to $140,000; the lowest tier of Australian contracts has a retainer of $185,000, while the senior players make $1.1 million a year.
By contrast, the squad that went into the World T20 as the second-ranked team had only four contracted players—Jason Holder, Marlon Samuels, Denesh Ramdin and Jerome Taylor—all of whom had played the Sydney Test. The rest had either been denied contracts, such as Sammy, Andre Russell, Suleiman Benn, Kieron Pollard and Bravo, or had refused to sign one—Chris Gayle. The team had played only eight T20 internationals since the previous edition of the tournament, less than any other side, but the squad members had played an average of 42.4 T20 matches in that period, the highest for any team.
That last line goes a long way to explain the tensions between this team and the board that led to Sammy’s outburst after the final, tensions that had been building over the last five years. The proliferation of domestic T20 leagues around the world has long been cited as the reason for the decline in the West Indies Test team’s fortunes; when I interviewed him after the launch of his book The Great Tamasha, James Astill said the IPL had “cannibalised the West Indian cricket team”. What is missed in such critiques is that the decline had been terminal long before Lalit Modi’s carnival came to town, a consequence both of dropping interest in the sport with the growing Americanisation of Caribbean societies as well as a lack of investment by the board in domestic cricket. In 2000, Tim Hector wrote about the dire situation in his essay ‘Dear Mr President’:
Let me be empirical here. Watching the current rounds of our Busta Competition, I saw most of the teams still at the old, out-dated level. The water breaks were bottled water breaks. No player was being supplied with a nutritious drink to restore lost energy. As energy and oxygen levels sank, concentration lapsed or collapsed.
Standards haven’t particularly improved in the competition, which is now called the Regional Four Day Competition and is part of the Professional Cricket League. While conditions might not be as bad as in Hector’s essay, and the new agreement means players are paid much better than before, the cricket is not yet up to scratch and attendances are paltry. Writing about the 2015–16 edition, Colin Benjamin claimed that only two players in the Guyana side that won the league for the second year in a row—Leon Johnson and Devender Bishoo—looked “ready for West Indies duty”. When comparing this side with the one that finished second in 2000–01, “the strongest Guyana team seen this millennium”, he wrote,
you begin to wonder if Guyana have really improved as a result of the PCL, or is it that their rivals have declined? Evidence suggests the latter. Jamaica won six of the seven regional titles from 2007 to 2014, achieving success with minimal input from their most high-profile players—Chris Gayle, Samuels, Andre Russell and Jerome Taylor—because they were the best at exploiting the mediocrity of their opponents in the four-day game, rather than being a great team in their own right. Unfortunately Guyana look to be following a similar trend.
The team had played only eight T20 internationals since the previous edition of the tournament, less than any other side, but the squad members had played an average of 42.4 T20 matches in that period, the highest for any team.
Meanwhile, the constant battle raging between the board and the players, and the board’s propensity to drop dissenting players, convinced the current generation of West Indian cricketers that it was better to seek their fortunes in greener pastures. Whether it was the IPL or Big Bash, or even T20 leagues in Zimbabwe and Bangladesh, they would earn much higher wages for lesser effort—making in six weeks significantly more than contracted players would in a year. Although they would be termed mercenaries and carpetbaggers, it was better than fighting 12 rounds before every tour to secure their daily bread.
DARREN SAMMY was central to the West Indies’ hopes for a revival in this period, being named captain of the depleted side in 2010 after his two predecessors Gayle and Bravo refused to sign central contracts. He wasn’t even a regular in the Test side at the time, and both his batting and bowling came in for much scrutiny throughout his career; his appeal to the board was that he was detached from the political wrangling of the time.
His contribution to the team, apart from his splendid slip fielding—he took a great catch to end Sachin Tendulkar’s last innings—was his commitment to his job and calming influence over his young, inexperienced side; his present-day nemesis Cameron would call him “energetic and resolute”. Under his captaincy, the longest tenure since Lara, his team fought hard, even though it was far outmatched by the top sides. “It is doubtful whether the recent record would have been any better whoever the captain was,” wrote Cozier. “Sammy simply led teams that were a match only for New Zealand, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh.” Richards credited him with bringing new-found confidence and doing his bit to provide a winning environment. When that effort began to flag in meek surrenders to India and New Zealand in 2013–14, however, his time was up. He retired from Tests soon after being replaced as captain.
Whether it was the IPL or Big Bash, or even T20 leagues in Zimbabwe and Bangladesh, they would earn much higher wages for lesser effort—making in six weeks significantly more than contracted players would in a year. Although they would be termed mercenaries and carpetbaggers, it was better than fighting 12 rounds before every tour to secure their daily bread.
Sammy’s signature achievement during that tenure was winning the World T20 in 2012, a triumph that owed as much to doggedness and never saying die than the flair and swagger of the T20 mavericks in the side. The presence of the stars in a rare full-strength West Indies team made them one of the favourites, but they had to repeatedly rally from adversity on the strength of their character and commitment. After years of the fans feeling shortchanged by the team, many were inspired by Sammy’s exhortations to “Bleed Maroon” and talk of a renaissance, never far away whenever the team starts winning consistently, resurfaced. Jarrod Kimber wrote of the team:
Every single player on this team has a role. This is not a team of flashy show-offs who do solo missions. It is a talented team with a captain who trusts and manages his players the best way he can. In the final, they did not panic when they couldn’t score, they simply waited for their time. They did not panic when they couldn’t break through, they simply worked very hard. That is a team, and this team has a leader.
That triumph was more instrumental than any one player’s IPL heroics in popularising the format in the Caribbean. A year later, the Caribbean Premier League was launched to full houses and robust ratings and sponsor interest for competitive cricket of a high standard. That the CPL has never managed to turn a profit, and that Antigua (and possibly Barbados next year) have withdrawn from the league because of the high costs involved, speaks more to the administration of the game rather than the game itself.
BEFORE THE contract fiasco broke out during the 2014 India tour, West Indies cricket looked like it had turned the corner. Bravo had returned to the side and replaced Sammy as ODI captain in 2013. Gayle and he even signed central contracts for the first time in three years, and WICB CEO Michael Muirhead indicated that the board was in talks to develop a formal procedure for contracted players to participate in T20 leagues. Newly elected WICB President Cameron was talking about wholesale rather than piecemeal changes to player remuneration. The acrimony seemed finally to be coming to an end.
That the CPL has never managed to turn a profit, and that Antigua (and possibly Barbados next year) have withdrawn from the league because of the high costs involved, speaks more to the administration of the game rather than the game itself.
It was, as subsequent events showed, a false dawn. For all the talk at the Hyatt of players not being victimised, Bravo was stripped of his captaincy before the next tour of South Africa; in fact, along with Sammy and Pollard, he wasn’t even picked in the squad, despite being selected in the 2014 ICC ODI Team of the Year. “Bravo can make that team, but his ‘stats’ aren’t good enough to make the West Indies side?” wrote Holding. “That being the case, I think the ICC should just hand the World Cup trophy to West Indies instead of playing the tournament, as they have one hell of a team.” Indeed, the Windies went into the 2015 World Cup without Bravo or Pollard. Sammy did play, but like Bravo, he was denied a central contract this January. Denesh Ramdin, meanwhile, was stripped of the Test captaincy; Trinidad and Tobago Cricket Board President Azim Bassarath claimed this too was retribution for the India tour.
By the time 2016 came around, cricket itself had changed, with the Big Three nations staging their coup at the ICC using tactics out of the WICB’s 2014 playbook. Like the WIPA, the FICA was co-opted by engineering the appointment of Laxman Sivaramakrishnan. (Kimber and Sam Collins’s film Death of a Gentleman alleges that captains were coerced not to vote for the popular incumbent Tim May after the BCCI threatened not to tour countries that did.) Funds were reallocated away from poorer Test nations by claiming it was a fairer distribution of wealth. The whole thing was negotiated in secret, and presented to the stakeholders as a fait accompli.
It was this change that precipitated the latest dispute. Asked to sign contracts for their participation in the World T20, Sammy noticed that they would be paid some 80 percent less than in previous ICC tournaments. His information was that the ICC would pay the WICB $8 million for its participation, 25 percent of which would be distributed among the players. However, the contracts offered them match fees of $6,900, which meant that even if the team went the distance, their cumulative earnings would be $414,000 plus prize money, a fifth of the $2 million they were due.
In any case, he pointed out, the deal had been negotiated with the WIPA, and Sammy should take it up with the union, never mind that 14 of the 15 squad members (barring the pastor Andre Fletcher) were not part of the WIPA any more.
Muirhead would have none of it. The $8 million figure was rubbish, he contended, as under the new dispensation payments from the ICC would be paid over eight years instead of after every tournament, and the 25 percent would go into an overall players’ fund, not just to the members of the team. (Cameron had claimed after voting for the new arrangement that WICB revenues would double as a result; an analysis by Wisden shows that the board stands to lose $43 million over the period 2015–23.) In any case, he pointed out, the deal had been negotiated with the WIPA, and Sammy should take it up with the union, never mind that 14 of the 15 squad members (barring the pastor Andre Fletcher) were not part of the WIPA any more. He also noted that the prize money for the event had increased significantly, and the players would keep 80 percent of the $1.6 million if they won. The board expected the players to sign the contracts by 14 February, failing which it would send a second-string side.
After a terse exchange of emails—how could the WICB not know how much they would receive from the ICC, Sammy asked—the captain relented. Sammy wrote to Muirhead:
I want to state on behalf of the players that we want to play and will represent the West Indies to the best of our abilities. The embarrassment and fiasco of the Indian Tour which was called off by the Board must not be allowed to happen. However, it is the arrogance and high-handedness of the Board which cause these problems. You cannot continue [to] force players to be represented by a body that they are not members of and do not want to represent them. You cannot continue to be unfair and unreasonable. Issues like this will continue to plague West Indies cricket unless you have an MOU and arrangements for non-WIPA players are fair and just. We are aware that, win or lose, this may well be the last tournament for most of us as reprisals will set in but we will speak out for what is fair. We are players and we know that unless radical changes take place, players will always have the grievance of which we complain.
The players signed the contracts on time and the cricketing world breathed easy. The contretemps, however, signaled a final break between the board and the team; Sammy alleged in his statement after the final that they had received no institutional or moral support before or during the tournament. They’d had to get their own uniforms made, and despite staying in the same hotel, Cameron had had nothing to say to the players.
ALL THE acrimony, all the insults, only served to strengthen the team. Throughout the tournament, the West Indies played like champions. For all that is made of it being a format for the youth, T20 places a premium on experience, and the veterans in the West Indies team brought every ounce they possessed to bear. They knew when to attack and whom to target. They had the right players for the conditions, almost all of whom contributed when required. They had a fixed gameplan and stuck to it. They played with flair and passion, but also with a measure of calm and self-belief. They were unbowed, unbent, unbroken.
Their triumph was the triumph of heart over hurt, of collectivism over individualism. It was the triumph of cricketers over cricket administrators, of cricket’s have-nots over the giants of the game. It was a triumph over the naysayers, over the namecallers, over the neoliberal consensus on labour relations. It was a crowning triumph for a generation that refused to accept anything lower than its true worth, for a band of brothers brought together by adversity. It was a triumph over the double standards of a sport that lionises Bradman while demonising Gayle, despite them operating by the same principles. It was a triumph over those who believe the gentleman’s game should only be played by gentlemen. It was a triumph over the notion that cricketers must be seen and not heard.
Much remains to be done before Caribbean cricket can even dream of a resurgence. Three separate reports, and a growing chorus of former players, have now called for a dissolution of the WICB and an overhaul of the way the game is administered. (Perhaps the way forward is for the island nations to form their own teams.) There is a massive trust deficit that must be bridged, and players must be allowed a seat on the table on which their futures are being decided. Even if the board were to be reformed, there would still remain a grossly unequal and unfair power structure designed to perpetuate the resource gap between the Big Three and the Small 99, a sport that seeks to shrink instead of expand. But the West Indies’ triple crown is the sort of achievement that can spark a revolution, provided the various stakeholders work together with one purpose: to make the West Indies great again. Cricket would be richer for it.