West Indies seek to put aside internal conflicts to build on triple triumph on men’s, women’s and Under-19 sides
BY ANDREW RAMSAY
That fourth six from as many Carlos Brathwaite blows had scarcely come to rest among a frenzied crowd than the first of the congratulatory missives began landing in email inboxes around the world.
Perhaps in keeping with T20’s pre-eminence among West Indian cricketers, and with a keener eye for hype than history, Damien O’Donohoe – the Irish talent management executive who is also Chief Executive of the Caribbean Premier League T20 competition – breathlessly heralded a “golden era” for West Indies cricket.
Forget the historic ‘blackwash’ of Tony Greig’s England in 1976, the back-to-back wins in the first two ICC World Cups in 1975 and 1979, and even the unprecedented and likely never-to-be-equalled string of 29 consecutive Test series without defeat as the West Indies dominated cricket from 1980 to 1995.
“Today was without doubt the greatest moment in West Indies’ history,” O’Donohoe declared in a rallying cry that also spelled out the world champions’ involvement in the upcoming edition of the CPL that will include a foray into the lucrative USA marketplace.
The dual victories by the West Indian women’s and men’s teams at the World T20 Final in Kolkata that came seven weeks after the West Indies had lifted their first Under-19 World Cup Trophy in Bangladesh has delivered a high-water mark after all-but barren decades.
But as the fluctuating tones of the end-of-day eulogies exhibited, the politics and division that is identified as a key culprit for the West Indies’ decline as a Test cricket entity – they have won 15 of the 84 Tests they’ve played over the past decade – continue to simmer.
And it will be the capacity of the triple-crown to unite the disparate factions for the unified benefit of West Indies’ cricket that will dictate whether this indeed signals the start of a “golden era” or the latest of a few false dawns.
Certainly the immediate aftermath of Brathwaite’s audacious assault and his team’s unbridled celebration jig did little to suggest the relevant rival parties would suddenly start singing from the same ‘Champion’ song sheet.
In contrast to O’Donohoe’s stirring salvo, the formal communique issued on behalf of West Indies Cricket Board President Whycliffe ‘Dave’ Cameron and Chief Executive Michael Muirhead an hour or two earlier was noticeably more circumspect.
“This is a truly ecstatic moment and we are indeed proud of this momentous achievement,” the pair said in releases that highlighted the attention the triple success had brought to cricket in the Caribbean and noted the “grit and determination” of the women’s triumph as well as the “electric and exciting” performances of the men.
But they also took the opportunity to note that the triumphs in the white-ball formats should now translate into improved results in the long-form, where the West Indies men have recorded a Test match winning percentage second only to Bangladesh over the past 10 years.
“The T20 format is a springboard to the other formats and we will use this as an opportunity to continue the development work we have to do to make the overall cricket product better,” they said.
“The men executed their comprehensive plan and we are pleased with the results.
“We salute the entire delegation on the hard work and commitment showed. We congratulate the team and management.”
It was not a magnanimous sentiment echoed by victorious T20 captain Darren Sammy in his heartfelt post-game speech.
Which, in itself, was scarcely surprising given the history of recent enmity between the players and the WICB that led to fears of a player strike in the months before they began their ultimately successful campaign.
While stopping short of a threat to withdraw from the tournament, Sammy wrote to the Board last February to register his squad’s concerns about a perceived reduction of what they had previously received for participating in ICC tournaments and asked that the matter be urgently addressed.
The WICB claimed the figures Sammy had quoted were “totally incorrect” and the West Indies departed as planned, although the animosity it – and previous altercations with the Board including the players’ costly withdrawal from their 2014 tour of India – caused was not overlooked by the skipper in his victory address.
“It (the World T20 win) shows the depth we have in the Caribbean in T20 cricket and hopefully with the right structure and development our cricket will continue to improve in one-day and Test cricket,” Sammy said in a pointed reference to West Indies governance and a Board he claimed had “disrespected” his squad.
“I really want to thank the heads of CARICOM, throughout this tournament they have been supporting the team. We’ve got emails, we’ve got phone calls, Prime Minister (of Grenada Keith) Mitchell – he sent a very inspiring email for the team this morning and I’m yet to hear from our own cricket board. That is very disappointing.”
The reference to CARICOM – the organisation of Caribbean national governments that along with cricket and the University of the West Indies are the only institutions under which the region’s sovereign countries unite under a single banner – carried particular significance.
Late last year, an independent panel established jointly by CARICOM and the WICB – headed by Principal of the University of the West Indies in Barbados Dr Eudine Barriteau and including senior members of the judicial and business communities along with former West Indies vice-captain Deryck Murray – reportedly recommended the Board “should be immediately dissolved”.
A finding that, as was the case with previous independent reviews of the WICB’s governance and structure conducted in 2007 and 2012, has thus far been rejected by the Board.
Which subsequently led to a breakdown in the relationship between the region’s cricket authorities and its political leaders at CARICOM.
The chief protagonists in that battle, as Sammy made abundantly clear, are Jamaica’s Cameron who has served as WICB President for three years and Grenada’s Prime Minister Mitchell who chairs the CARICOM sub-committee on cricket.
The pair clashed in the wake of last February’s unexpected Under-19 World Cup win, with Cameron citing it as vindication of the WICB’s programs and policies while Mitchell contrastingly claimed it was the direct result of work being done by governments of individual nations throughout the Caribbean.
In a second media statement issued hours after Sammy’s post-match comments, the WICB rebuked their captain for making “inappropriate” remarks and indicated they would be seeking further explanation as to the rationale behind them.
“The (WICB) President would like to however apologise for what could be deemed inappropriate, comments made by the West Indies’ male captain, Darren Sammy in a post-match interview and would like to apologise on behalf of the WICB, to the millions of fans who witnessed,” the statement said.
“The President has pledged to enquire the reason and will have the matter addressed.”
While the timing and appropriateness of Sammy’s unequivocally political observations atop a day of unabashed triumph for West Indies cricket can be debated, it laid bare the suspicions and divisions that remain at odds with the carefree, cavalier approach that lifted the junior, women’s and men’s teams to international success in the space of a few weeks.
Which will also mean that when the West Indies next turns out as a single cricket entity, in the upcoming ODI tri-series against Australia and South Africa in the Caribbean in June, a host of the heroes from their World T20 triumph will be absent by choice of one or other party.
Brathwaite is likely to figure and man of the WT20 final Marlon Samuels might well retain his place, but Chris Gayle, Dwayne Bravo, Andre Russell and Sammy himself aren’t expected to be involved.
Even more portentously, that clean sweep arrived at a time when the men’s team had endured years in the international wilderness and the game in Australia became deeply divided due to character clashes and rebel tours driven by player payment disputes.
It might have taken a few more years before the team that Allan Border led to the World Cup title tasted Test and ODI success on a regular basis.
And while only two members of that successful 1988 Under-19 XI went on to play at international level – Stuart Law for Australia and Alan Mullally for England – the consensus that a unified approach was needed to secure cricket’s future had led to the establishment of a national cricket academy the previous year.
A joint venture between the then Australian Cricket Board (now Cricket Australia) and the Federal Government-backed Australian Institute of Sport.
And from that flowed a true golden era of Australian cricket that stretched for a decade, and continues to prosper.
If the West Indies can similarly harness their recent triumphs and pull together for a period of sustained success, there will cricket fans the world over joining the ‘champion’ dance in celebration.