Wage rage!

Dwayne Bravo (right) and Darren Sammy. Are they discussing cricket or something else?-S. SUBRAMANIUM Dwayne Bravo (right) and Darren Sammy. Are they discussing cricket or something else?

The West Indian cricket team pulled out of its tour of India after the Dharamshala ODI because of a wage dispute with its home board. The incident showed the players, many of whom figure in different IPL teams, in extremely poor light. They put on line the future of India-West Indies cricket exchanges and brought disrepute to the game with their ill-advised action, writes Vijay Lokapally.

It was about payment. Not cricket. The West Indies Cricket Board (WICB), the West Indies Players Association (WIPA) and the cricketers, the key actors, inflicted an irreparable scar on the image of the game. Their utter disregard for the emotions and passions that the cricket fans bring to the field meant that money mattered and nothing else. It was a fight that had its roots in the poor payment structure that the players believe is unfair.

The acrimony between the WIPA and the WICB came into the open when the players revolted and threatened a strike. Skipper Dwayne Bravo was the leader for the players. He firmly believed that the WIPA President Wavell Hinds had let the players down and gone back on his word. The players sensed a conspiracy to undermine their fight even as cricket became a victim of the politics that has afflicted West Indies cricket for a long time.

Bravo had made his intentions clear in a letter addressed to Hinds even before the series against India began. “The players are of the view that as a matter of principle, we should not accept these conditions whereby we are being asked to play a series against India without any certainty of what are our obligations and what we will be playing for.

As you would appreciate Mr. Hinds, this is how we as professional cricketers earn our livelihood and provide for our families, our careers are short and uncertain, furthermore it is a highly competitive and stressful environment as one bad performance can see you out of the team forever, a player can suffer an injury at any time which could not only be career threatening, but in many cases affect their lives even after their playing days are over,” wrote Bravo.

West Indies cricket was in turmoil when the team landed in India. There were murmurs of a pullout even in Kochi, the venue of the first ODI. That the team was convinced to go ahead with the match raised hopes of some exciting cricket since the West Indies has the reputation of being unpredictable and it had the capacity to shock the Indians. And it did so in Kochi with a convincing victory.

The wage anomalies needed to be redressed with haste since the team had a long season that was to culminate in the World Cup in Australia. Given its strength, the West Indies was being talked of as a dark horse for the mega event. But everything took a back seat as Bravo and Hinds traded letters that only hurt the chances of a compromise.

Even as Hinds claimed Bravo and his teammates had supported the pay cut to fund retainer contracts for WIPA members, the latter rejected the statement, denying any such discussion. Bravo insisted he had never supported any pay cut.

Bravo also pointed out grave errors in the deal that was being projected by Hinds, highlighting the following points:

1. Our Test/ODI/T20 fees have been decreased by 75%.

2. No compensation for the use of our rights. That has been decreased by 100%.

3. Our ICC fees have been decreased by close to 100%.

Given the above scenario, there was little the players could do but strike. But the method of protest left the Indian cricket fans annoyed. Bravo fired the final salvo when he wrote, “It is without question that we want to see West Indies cricket rise again and we are very committed to that process, but the way it is being done is most unfortunate and unacceptable. We believe we are being hoodwinked and are being treated like little school boys, yet we are being asked perform and play against professionals.”

The strife reached a point of no-return at Dharamshala when the West Indian players refused to play the ODI. The Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association (HPCA) President, Anurag Thakur, handled the situation tactfully even if it meant giving a veiled threat to the team. The West Indians relented, played the match under protest, and even before the contest was over it became public knowledge that the remaining part of the tour — an ODI, a T20 and three Tests — had been called off.

The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) was shocked and humiliated and threatened legal action. Sri Lanka was roped in to play five ODIs as some compensation to the Indian fans and the official broadcaster and the sponsors connected with the game. But the pullout by the West Indies created an unprecedented crisis, making a mockery of the BCCI-WICB relations.

The pullout showed the West Indians, many of whom figure in different IPL teams, in extremely poor light. They put on line the future of India-West Indies cricket exchanges and brought disrepute to the game with their ill-advised action. Self-interest was much evident and the players left India after leaving a bad taste in the mouth, creating a situation where the BCCI was left mulling cancelling all cricketing exchanges with the West Indian Board in the near future. The India episode was hardly creditworthy for a bunch aiming to revive the lost glory of West Indies cricket. “I am apologising on behalf of West Indies cricket. Such a situation should not have arrived.” This comment by former West Indies captain Clive Lloyd said it all.

It remains to be seen what sanctions the International Cricket Council (ICC) will impose on the West Indies, but a five-year isolation of the West Indies is on the BCCI cards. This would hurt West Indies cricket the most.