As Carlos Brathwaite sent his fourth consecutive six sailing high into the Kolkata night sky on Sunday, the West Indian team were halfway across the outfield in a pique of ecstasy before the ball had even landed; it was like watching the Golden State bench leap to its feet as Steph Curry sends another three pointer toward the basket – there wasn’t a moment’s doubt. As an Englishman who thought that England had one hand on the trophy going into that final over, it was hard not to feel a pang of joy for the West Indians. Despite the recent cricketing success, this is a cricketing heartland still in a state of suffering.
Long gone are the days when it was just the cricket that mattered. Now commercial dealings, player registrations and contractual negotiations take centre stage. No board has acted more incompetently than the West Indies Cricket Board. Refusals to pay players, refusals to negotiate with players and refusals to comply with the modern demands placed upon players have seen West Indies cricket in the doldrums.
It is hard to feel that this World T20 success will do much to redress the balance.
This title belongs solely to the players and those immediately around them, as Darren Sammy pointed out in one of the most important post-match speeches delivered in the game; certainly in the modern era. The WICB has contributed nothing towards this.
This is a group of players that has honed its skills away from the Caribbean. They have been labelled as mercenaries by their own board in travelling the world jumping from T20 contract to T20 contract. Kolkata was their vindication.
Even head coach, Phil Simmons, was suspended from coaching the side on their tour of Sri Lanka in September last year. He had the temerity to question the WICB’s continued refusal to select Dwayne Bravo and Kieran Pollard for the ODI squad. He was fighting to have his best players available, to make West Indies cricket about, you know, cricket.
Rather than walk away, Simmons stuck to his task. He was able to assemble his best squad for this tournament. He was able to instil a siege mentality and to instil some pride into Caribbean cricket. His influence cannot be understated.
West Indies travelled to India under a cloud. That cloud has not necessarily been lifted. A crack has been papered over but a chasm remains. Cricket is not just about cricket, at least not where the WICB are concerned.
The Test side is on its knees. No Chris Gayle, Lendl Simmons, Dwayne Bravo, Andre Russel, Darren Sammy or Samuel Badree. Instead there are square pegs in round holes, such as middle order batsman Shai Hope being utilised as an opener. His lack of success isn’t entirely of his own making.
There haven’t even been proper arrangements for the passing on of great players. Rather than being feted, Shivnarine Chanderpaul was unceremoniously dumped from the side. No fond farewell for a man who had served the Caribbean for 20 years. Instead, only bitterness.
The apparent nadir, however, came in October 2014 when the side pulled out of a tour of India halfway through, owing to disputes over payments to the players. No one could so much as arrange a competent platform upon which all parties could negotiate, so the players were forced to take drastic action. “The WICB’s inability to resolve internal issues with its players and allowing the same to affect an ongoing bilateral series does not reflect well on any of those involved,” said the BCCI at the time.
“I can see serious repercussions from this,” added Michael Holding. “I think this is a ridiculous decision by the West Indies Cricket Board. They like to hide behind half-truths.” It is clear that the WICB is not a competent authority and is running cricket in the Caribbean into the ground. It has alienated its players, its sponsors and its counterparts.
The BCCI has considered legal action against the WICB for that withdrawal. Cricket is a big business in India and libel action was mooted at north of $60m. That would obliterate the WICB. It remains at the mercy of the BCCI and looks unlikely to be offered a return to India, or a visit from India, anytime soon. Given the TV revenue that India brings, no board can afford not to play them at regular intervals. The full ramifications of that withdrawal are yet to be felt. That is sufficiently gloomy to quash any optimism arising from this World T20 success.
So as the West Indian side piled en masse into jubilant celebration on the Kolkata turf, that pang of joy gave way to a pang of sadness. It had the feel of the end of an era.
Such a talented group of players, across the mens’, womens’ and U19s’ teams highlights that there remains a rich talent pool across the Caribbean; a rich talent pool that is being laid to waste by incompetent administration. It truly is a cricketing story sewn from 21st Century sporting fabrics.
It is nice to think that this success will represent a watershed, that the WICB will change its ways and start making the most of what it has. Fat chance. Cricket, sadly, is no longer just about cricket.
By Miles Reucroft