Thursday, April 18, 2024

COZIER ON CRICKET:  MOU returns to haunt


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IT was a prophecy formed by three turbulent years at the heart of West Indies cricket.

After leaving his post as chief executive officer of the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) in 2012 for an overseas diplomatic posting with the St Lucia government, Ernest Hilaire identified the memorandum of understanding/collective bargaining agreement (MOU/CBA) as a potential source of continuing conflict between the board and the West Indies Players Association (WIPA).

Speaking as the former top WICB administrator, his view was that the way the document is written “causes too many conflicts in terms of the ambiguity of the language, in terms of the lack of clarity of some of the provisions”.

It was signed in October 2005; as long as it remained in its current state, he said, “it will always be an issue”.

He went further. He believed that the change of leadership of the West Indies Players Association (WIPA), from his relentless adversary Dinanath Ramnarine to Wavell Hinds, would make a difference.

“The styles are dramatically different,” he said. “I don’t know that the change of face necessarily changes the agenda (but) I hope we will have a more reasoned and structured approach to our relationship.”

If so inclined, he can sit back in his plush St Lucia High Commision’s office in London and boast: “I told you so.”

Ramnarine retired from his post after ten years at virtually the same time as Hilaire left his.

The present upheaval now pits the major players against Hinds and his WIPA executive for signing a new MOU/CBA with the WICB without their full approval.

In short, the WIPA under Ramnarine was satisfied with the original agreement, the WICB was not and wanted it renegotiated, as Hinds and the new executive have now done.

Last week’s letter from One-Day International (ODI) captain Dwayne Bravo with the West Indies team at the start of their tour of India let Hinds know, in no certain terms, that the players there had lost faith in him as a consequence. He raised the possibility that strike action would be an option if the new MOU/CBA wasn’t scrapped.

“We believe we are being hoodwinked and are being treated like little schoolboys, yet we are being asked to perform and play as professionals,” he wrote.

Bravo went so far as to hint at collusion between Hinds and WICB president Dave Cameron, a fellow Jamaican, both leading members of Kensington Club in Kingston.

His latest letter on Friday was to Cameron seeking his “urgent intervention” in helping to remedy what he termed “the emerging impasse” between his players and the WICB over contractural terms for the India tour.

They had proceeded with the match, according to Bravo as “an act of good faith and in the spirit of camaraderie that epitomises regional cricket…with the expectation that we would resolve the critical matter of all our contractual terms”.

After pleading that his players were “under tremendous stress and the team morale is at an all-time low”, West Indies went out in Kochi to put in a virtually flawless performance. The victory by 124 runs over the World Cup holders on their home patch was as crushing as any in recent years.

Following developments from neighbouring Sri Lanka, where he is with the touring “A” team, Sir Viv Richards echoed the general feeling in the Caribbean.

“The first thought that came to mind was well here we go again,” the legendary ‘Master Blaster’ and former captain told ESPNcricinfo.

“I am proud of them (the team) . . . If, for some reason, things didn’t work out the way they would have liked with WIPA’s president Wavell Hinds, they have gone about it in the best way possible. With all this stuff going on, I think it was just marvellous. That was the perfect way to reply.”

A clatter of late wickets brought them back to earth in the second match in Delhi yesterday. It was another reminder, as if one was needed, that regular success depends on consistency, whatever the format.

Like everyone else, Richards is fearful that the present impasse could be added to the list of earlier strikes, all needless and damaging.

There have been just too many; 1998 prior to the historic inaugural tour of apartheid-free South Africa, 2005 and 2009 that decimated teams to Sri Lanka, against Bangladesh in the Caribbean and the Champions Trophy in South Africa. Others have been averted at the last gasp.

Each has undermined West Indies cricket that, once the envy of the world, now continues to languish in the nether regions of the International Cricket Council (ICC) rankings.

That this is the first time they pit prominent players against their chosen representatives, especially with the confrontational terminology used, is cause for the greatest concern. The WICB unusually finds itself caught in the middle.

Another players’ boycott on the eve of tough back-to-back tours of India and South Africa followed by the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, and just over a month before the start of the expanded domestic first-class season, would be the most detrimental of all.

The worst case scenario doesn’t bear thinking about.

As it is, interest in the game that was once the pride and joy of these separate, scattered mini-states has increasingly waned. It required the intervention of political leaders to shake the warring parties back to their senses and end earlier strikes.

The reams of confusing charges and counter-charges in the correspondence between Bravo and Hinds do not indicate a swift burying of the hatchet by the former teammates.

Bravo has demanded Hinds’ resignation; Hinds has replied that he and his executive would leave “only according to the will of the majority of our membership” as provided for in the WIPA’s rules.

The presence in India of new chairman of selectors Clive Lloyd is pertinent; both sides are likely to listen carefully to one of the game’s most universally respected figures.

The crux of the matter is money – as it is with all contemporary professional sport.

Bravo charges that there have been “massive cuts” in players’ fees through the new MOU/CBA; he describes it as unacceptable and quotes one of the players as calling it “ridiculously insane”.

His proposes that the old MOU/CBA be maintained “until we are able to properly negotiate a fair and reasonable agreement in the best interest of West Indies cricket”.

Predictably, Hinds denies that there have been “massive cuts”. One of his retorts is that the reallocation of the previous US$35 000 per day that was shared between those engaged in Tests and limited-overs internationals was to help to fund retainer contracts for an additional 90 members of WIPA.

Hinds is reportedly flying to India this week to meet face to face with the aggrieved players. It is an absolutely crucial mission. 

•Tony Cozier is the most experienced cricket writer and commentator in the Caribbean.  




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