As a series of disputes which has robbed the West Indies of their best players nears its end, John Stern looks to the future, and finds it more positive than has largely been the case in recent times.
Nowhere has provided more fertile ground for students of cricketing industrial disputes in recent times than the Caribbean. But there has been some encouraging news in recent weeks that should, at least, mean the ODI series, and one-off T20, at the end of the English summer features something approaching a full-strength West Indies side (whether the same will be said of England is another matter). They will need one because only the top eight-ranked teams as of September 30 qualify directly for the 2019 World Cup, and the Windies currently lie in ninth, one place behind Sri Lanka.
There have been various personal disputes, including an unseemly spat between Darren Bravo and Cricket West Indies (CWI) president Dave Cameron. Bravo is only now set to return having been suspended since being sent home from Zimbabwe last November.
But the major dispute was the CWI policy of only picking players who were playing in the Caribbean regional domestic competitions, as opposed to the various global tournaments. Jimmy Adams, CWI’s director of cricket, described the policy as “unsustainable” and the players’ association (WIPA) has proposed an amnesty. It is expected the policy will be relaxed in October when a new round of central contracts is introduced.
As an aside, it’s worth noting that a similar policy exists in English rugby union whereby top players, such as Steffon Armitage who plays for French club Pau, are not considered for England selection. This is market forces at work. There’s enough money – and one assumes the carrot of international recognition – in English rugby to keep players here, which is not the case in West Indies cricket. However, the arrival of Johnny Grave at the start of the year as the new CWI chief executive looks to have had a calming and positive effect already.
Grave cut his teeth in the marketing department at The Oval before spending a number of years as commercial director of the Professional Cricketers’ Association where he will have learned a thing or two about player-board relations.
The fact remains that the most experienced member of West Indies’ Test squad to tour England, Kraigg Brathwaite, has played fewer matches (37) than Jonny Bairstow (40 before the Oval Test), and the whole squad has fewer Tests caps (237) than Alastair Cook and Jimmy Anderson combined (264).
On that basis, it feels like the three-Test series might not be a hugely edifying prospect but it would be lovely to think that Roston Chase can show England supporters the talent that has brought him three centuries in 10 Tests and the returning fast bowler Kemar Roach can remind us of his ferocious skills.
The respect and reverence for West Indies remains and the global resonance of the great teams of the past is still a remarkable thing. During the Women’s World Cup semi-final between Australia and India at Derby, as the camera lingered on an off-duty Michael Holding, commentator Mel Jones, whose father is from the Caribbean, reminisced about seeing him bowl at the MCG. “We’re cheering for you but we’re not cheering for you,” she said, echoing the sentiments of cricket lovers of a certain generation the world over.
That is some burden to carry for the current wearers of the maroon cap but, as they’ve shown at under 19 level and in last year’s World T20, there’s plenty to be excited about. If only the talent can be harnessed and nurtured, they could be a force to be reckoned with once again.