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“Strangely enough Baldrick, it was Pope Gregory IX, inviting me for drinks aboard his steam-yacht ‘The Saucy Sue’, currently wintering in Montego Bay with the England cricket team and the Balinese goddess of plenty.”
As Blackadder’s quip suggests, jokes about cricket assignments in the West Indies were shorthand for an easy time (at least until the hosts produced a battery line of fearsome fast bowlers who liked knocking touring batsmen’s heads off). And England seem to be having a relatively enjoyable stint out there at the moment – 2-0 up in the 50-over series with one game, on Thursday, to play.
An English administrator (and former team-mate of mine!) knows his new role will be challenging, however. Johnny Grave is the new chief executive of the West Indies Cricket Board. I know him well as the efficient and friendly press officer of Surrey CCC in the early 2000s; he was also a handy allrounder for my wandering team. He has left the Professional Cricketers’ Association in England, where he has been commercial director for nine years, and has moved to his new office in Jamaica as you read this.
As he sits in his chair, looking over to Deepwater Harbour, thinking of damp, chilly England, the sun streaming in through the window, he will be tempted to think: “Where did it all go right?” In reality, he has one of the toughest jobs in world cricket. Everyone wants to see West Indies back playing winning, thrilling cricket, like the 1980s, but the problems are legion. The islands are a long way apart, with different governments and mentalities. Allen Stanford’s riches addressed that; his T20 gave the region unity, but only then did we find out his wealth had fallen off the back of a lorry. The appetite for Test cricket has also waned.
The disputes between the players and adminstrators have been vicious, back to Brian Lara’s day, and even the late 1970s (though the WICB were not alone in falling out with Kerry Packer). A host of big names are absent from this series. It would be great to see Chris Gayle (although he is 37 now), Dwayne and Darren Bravo, Darren Sammy, Kieron Pollard and Sunil Narine feature again. Andre Russell is banned for a year, of course, but is another missing.
Since winning the first two World Cups in 1975 and 79 and being runners-up in 1983, West Indies have not reached the final. They have not even made the Champions Trophy itself in England this summer. A crying shame, as they won it here in 2004. They are reigning World T20 champions, of course, after beating England in a scintillating final in India last year, but Sammy’s tenure as captain ended abruptly. He hit out at the WICB’s handling of the team uniforms for the tournament; an alleged lack of support from president Dave Cameron prior to the final; and team pay.
Dwayne Bravo also joined in, calling the WICB the “most unprofessional” board in the world. The coach, Phil Simmons, soon followed; he reportedly had his differences with the director of cricket, Richard Pybus. Fractious is not the word.
West Indies also won the World T20 in 2012 in Sri Lanka. They have players who have a natural flair for this format, and many have subsequently chosen to concentrate on domestic T20 leagues, rather than play for the national side, especially in Tests.
Working for the PCA for so long, Grave has the skills to get people talking to each other again. That is what cricket in the Caribbean needs. It is why the WICB have given him the task of placing “an increased focus on player relations and improved performances on and off the field”. He will also oversee the WICB’s $40m budget, and make them more commercially savvy, finding more partners alongside the stalwart, Digicel.
Solutions are not always obvious. Some of the players obviously feel they are not paid enough, while legends like Gordon Greenidge think they are paid too much. In an interview with The Cricketer, he said of the current crop: “They are getting paid well, given what they are asking for, but years ago, we had to band together, we had to play to get paid. We did not have retainer contracts. We really had to want the job.”
West Indies have parallels with Liverpool FC – dozens of fantastic players, who achieved incredible things in the 1980s, unimpressed with their successors.
In Jimmy Adams, West Indies’ new director of cricket, Grave will have a patient and industrious ally who did a fine job at Kent, even if he could not quite take them into the promised land (Division One of the Championship); and Stuart Law who was a bullish and talented cricketer and who could be the right coach.
As well as being the T20 world champions, West Indies are also Under-19 World Cup holders, and women’s world champions (both 50-over); the potential is still there; the children of the Caribbean have not all been lost to the temptations of American sports, as has been widely stated.
We are all rooting for you – Johnny be good!