One man fighting the box of frogs

What’s the difference between the West Indies Cricket Board and a box of frogs? The box of frogs make more sense.

Ho ho ho. But on a serious note, for this is a seriously crazy cricket board, there is one man desperately fighting WICB’s inadequacies on behalf of the players: Dinanath Ramnarine, president of the West Indies Players Association (WIPA). And it is a fierce, ugly battle indeed.

Making sense of all this is somewhat of a challenge – I’ve been trying for about a year, and am only halfway there – but fortunately Vaneisa Baksh has done her best in an excellent piece Cricinfo commissioned. Do give it a read.

Ramnarine does not trust the WICB, and if one were to check the record of their dealings for the past five years or so of his tenure, it is clear why. He has had little reason to, and given his prior relationship with the board and its functionaries (remember, he retired at 28, having played in 12 Tests and taken 45 wickets with some pretty good legspin) there is nothing really to suggest there will be any improvement without fundamental changes.

But despite talk by the WICB’s outgoing president, Ken Gordon, that the recently appointed Governance Committee was the most important ever established, the board is not in a hurry to institute the changes the committee has recommended – not when one of those was that the board should give way to a more representative body.

The latest slew of exchanges between the board and WIPA revealed the nature of the tension between them. Ramnarine has charged the board with reneging on terms of their MOU, particularly with regard to including WIPA in negotiations affecting players. Gordon has accused Ramnarine of basically cussing off everyone and calling them liars.

Interesting, fragile times.

Caribbean ‘near breaking point’

For all his lording of the crease and general God-like status, Sir Viv Richards is a king of the sound-bite. But get him onto a subject he really knows and cares about and you listen.

Sadly, such is West Indies’ plight these days, only the media listen to him when really it should be the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) who ought to take notice of what he says.

“I learned a lot [from Close] and there are things the boss or individual in charge has to say. If guys in the workplace are not up to scratch, it is your job to say they are not up to scratch and suggest things they can do to improve.

“But it is coming near breaking point. The West Indies must think seriously – what is most important? Is it the people with their personal political agendas or the majority of the people who are the supporters of West Indies cricket?”

West Indies’ woes during this tour haven’t courted as much criticism as in previous years, perhaps further emphasising their struggle. Such is their plight, commentators are more concerned than they are angry; concerned that this side, one of the weakest West Indian touring parties, is beneath the required standard to compete at Test level.

There is one man who, Richards believes, shows the courage and passion – not to mention skill – required to compete: Dwayne Bravo.

“When you look and see the way Bravo enjoys his cricket, he could have been part of the 1970s and 1980s,” Richards said. “I hope he realises the job he is faced with in the future in helping us enjoy the game. West Indies cricket is all about enjoying and having fun and at the end being very successful doing it.”

The situation really is this bad. Neither the board or the players’ association (WIPA) can agree on any tour which takes place and, even if they do eventually strike a deal, it usually ends in somebody’s resignation. Furthermore, the board fail to recognise or admit their own enormous failures. It is one big buck-passing sham and, very soon, there may not even be a West Indies team. It’s that serious.

Not even Sir Viv can save them now. A win tomorrow, though still unlikely, would be the most tremendous fillip imaginable for them and I can’t help but wish (guiltily so) Shivnarine Chanderpaul is there to guide them home.

‘As useless as a Jamaican pathologist’

Not my words but those of Jeremy Clarkson. I get all sorts of news stories emailed to me by Google, and pick up a lot from Newsnow, so I was confused that a piece in the Motoring section of The Times was flagged as cricket. And then I saw the pull-quote. Trust Clarkson to be (one of) the first to make a cheap jibe. He’s good for a laugh is Jezza.

West Indies transport woes strike at last

The great fear about the 2007 World Cup, brought to you by the ICC and a list of Corporate Partnersâ„¢ as long as your arm, was that the transport infrastructure might not be able to cope. In the wake of constant fumbling by the ICC, these fears have been overshadowed, and there have not been any great cock=ups.

Until now.

It was better to be a piece of luggage than a player – Australia’s luggage was sent on a 40-minute direct flight from Grenada to St Lucia while players were five hours in transit after having to go through Barbados.

South Africa’s luggage beat the team to St Lucia by two hours, after the travel-weary Proteas arrived last night three hours behind schedule.

At one stage in Grenada, the Australian, New Zealand and Sri Lankan players disembarked the flight after waiting for 30 minutes in their seats before being summoned back on board as it left 95 minutes late.

The pilot of the charter flight apologised on the tarmac and the players were starting to wonder whether the pilot may have lost his bearings when he signed off with “goodnight”.

It was noon.

Room was so tight on the flight from Barbados to Grenada that some players, including Matthew Hayden, struggled to find room to put their feet.

The Sri Lankans and New Zealanders were more disadvantaged because they are playing tonight (AEST), whereas Australia does not play South Africa until tomorrow night.

One Sri Lankan player quipped: “The way we are going our first look at the ground will be on match morning – from about 6000 feet.”


Brian Lara retires from international cricket

Tis the season of resignations but I’m slightly surprised that he’s not staying on for the Tests this summer. I suppose there’s only so much one man can burden; his shoulders must be aching after a decade digging West Indies out of a mess (often digging in vain). What a complete and utter privilege it’s been, though, watching his career. Yes, it’s been bitter-sweet as an England fan in particular – the 375 will live with me forever; the 400 less so. But few sporting figures in a spectator’s lifetime directly influence their enjoyment of the game. They are rare, and Lara was unique; West Indies were a one-man team with depressing regularity.

Has any player been so burdened by the weight of expectation? Richard Hadlee was one, Sachin Tendulkar another (but he has had a number of other players, not least Rahul Dravid, bat around him). Mike Atherton in the nineties. But Lara, despite his flaws (notably with captaincy), remained near the top right to the end. There were breathless highs and inexplicable lows. He often got out to a Gower-like flash yet he was capable not only of breaking world records but his own world records. Steve Waugh (or was it Mark Taylor?) maintained that the only way to keep the runs from flowing was not to sledge him. Lara loved a fight, a good old-fashioned playground scrap. Deny him a battle, verbal or otherwise, and he was half the man. A bloody legend, that’s what he was.

I did a gallery of his career about a year ago which is in the process of being tweaked, but have a look anyway if you like. Your favourite, most memorable Lara moments please…

England pay price for West Indies’ decline

I don’t necessarily agree with that headline, but I am interested by the observation which Mihir Bose makes at the BBC:

England have been humiliated in the tournament and what is more the English team has no Afro-Caribbean cricketers, as they did in the 1980s. Their place in the main has been taken by Asian cricketers. There are complex reasons for this but interestingly one is the decline of West Indian cricket. This is certainly the view of David Morgan, chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board.

He told me: “When immigration was peaking in the 60s and early 70s, we had 20 or 25 Afro-Caribbean cricketers playing in our county championship. It was also at a time when West Indian cricket was right at the top of the tree. But since then there has been a decline in the fortunes of the West Indian cricket team.”

Bose goes on to say, in a roundabout way, that England are paying the price for West Indies’ decline. Is this strictly accurate? Isn’t he underestimating the Afro-Caribbean population of Britain, the vast majority of whom would count themselves as British, regardless of where their grandparents hailed from? Or do people whose families once came from a different cricketing country look to the land of their forefathers as their primary inspiration?

Either way, the ever decreasing number of Afro-Caribbean players in the UK is certainly a shame when you look back at those who have represented England and what they offered. Gladstone Small, Norman Cowans and Devon Malcolm all had varying degrees of success (and pace) but I don’t believe that a sudden surge of Caribbean flair (a misleading statement in the current climate, anyway) into the Championship would benefit the national side in the short term.

It’s a fascinating concept: a player whose family originate from another country who wishes to emulate his heroes playing for England. While West Indians have been lacking from English cricket, the rapid rise in dominance of the subcontinental teams has seen a vast surge in Asians playing county cricket and for England.

Some interesting thoughts from Bose though, whether you agree with them or not. Of particular note is the realisation that, on Saturday, England and West Indies face off in an utterly meaningless encounter. The hosts, who dominated the first two World Cups in England 30 years ago, against England who have never looked like winning it. Ever.

The trip of a lifetime

Hi. I’m Ian Valentine. Tomorrow I leave for the West Indies with 11 others to sail round the Caribbean. We’ll be six Aussies, five Poms and a token Kiwi. I’m a Brit, 30 years old, a journalist, and one of those village cricketers whose talk is better than his walk.

To read the media, there would be no point in us going at all. The tournament is in tatters, they say. Too long, too expensive, too badly organised. The hosts haven’t turned up; the minnows have dragged the standard down; and the Super Eights have been a distraction before the semis. Worst World Cup…..ever.

But it is not over. Indeed, the best may be yet to come. Over the next fortnight, I’ll report back with as much reaction, gossip and observation as possible from the area. It can’t be as bad as folk are saying! There should be some good photos too. It won’t just be me harping on, as there will be plenty of international input from the other members of the boat party, who are also cricket nuts. Sadly, most of them are frankly delighted with the way their team is playing.

I must warn you now that I tend to get predictions wrong. For example, I backed Ed Joyce and Chris Gayle as top run getters in the tournament. However, I am still genuinely convinced that England will turn things around and lift the Cup. We always beat South Africa when it matters (Strauss ton); Fred will beat the Windies with bat and ball; Vaughan will score his maiden ODI hundred against the Aussies in the semis; and then KP will boss the final. You heard it here first! Bye for now.

Travelling in style with the ICC

What does the hard-working ICC official travel in from game to game? A brand spanking new BMW of course. Here’s one of nineteen, imported specially for the World Cup (spotted on Flickr).

I suppose they’ve struck a sponsorship deal with them or something. Not a bad way to travel around the islands if you’re into luxurious German vehicles, dripping with leder. Incidentally the photographer has a few other photos worth looking at. It’s always much more interesting seeing photos from the fans themselves, inside the grounds. It gives a more human perspective to what’s actually going on, and they’re not bound by the laws of commercial interest, worrying what their photo editors will want etc.

Calypso cacophony will out

Happy Easter all, if that’s your bag – and what an Easter it has been so far, with Bangladesh tripping up South Africa and the very welcome news that the World Cup’s Local Organising Committee (loc) have retracted their ruling to ban trumpets and drums from the grounds.

Here’s what everyone’s favourite ICC Cricket World Cup 2007 Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, Chris Dehring, humbly admitted (that is his full title by the way):

“The world has already seen the spectacle of fans from all over the world
dancing and savouring the unique environment in which this event is
being held and CWC is just seeking to enhance that even further for
the remaining matches,” Dehring added. “It’s amazing the things that
people can creatively make music from and we want to encourage that.”

How gracious of them to u-turn so spectacularly, with just three weeks to go. From what little coverage I followed of Bangladesh’s match against South Africa, the turnaround does seem to have had an effect on attracting the locals, instruments and all. But it’s too little, too late. And as for their moral u-turn – after all, these drums and trumpets were, until yesterday, dangerous and anti-social instruments of death – it’s another example of the hypocrisy and ignorance which has tainted this tournament.

Photo courtesy of Ryan

The sterile, lifeless World Cup

Or, rather, the lifeless Antigua Recreation Ground. A passionate, albeit depressing piece from Mike Selvey:

It has gone now. Rather than plough strong investment into upgrading the ARG sympathetically, to preserve cricket’s integrity here, Chinese money, grabbed eagerly, has produced the new stadium out of town. Of its kind it is a fine facility and a fitting monument to the greatest batsman of the modern era. But what of the other heroes? It has a north end and a south end, as bland as that. Where is the character? Where is the recognition of Antigua’s cricket heritage immortalised in calypso: Richie Richardson (“Who is dat man flashin’ blade in de han’?”), Ambrose (“He mek de batsman shiver when he run up to deliver”) and Andy Roberts? The stands named after Richardson and Roberts still look down on the field set up for net practice.

This still should be their epitaph. Instead Antigua has a white elephant that will see, if it is lucky, one Test match a year and little else. There is talk of enticing baseball teams down from the States. That is the legacy that the World Cup could leave on the island. Baseball. I shut my eyes once more, feel the vibes and want to weep.