In the English-speaking Caribbean, no regional institution inspires more joy, sorrow, anger, debate, and introspection than the West Indies cricket team. We thrill to their victories, commit their most heroic moments to memory, defend our favourite players with almost theological passion. And when things aren’t going so well, we scrutinise the team and its managers and support staff, the Board of Selectors, and the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB), with the ruthlessness of forensic scientists.
Sooner or later, the debate always returns to this basic question: who really runs West Indies cricket? Where are the crucial decisions being taken — on the field, in the boardroom, or within a secretive coterie of “old boys”? Where should we direct our praise or our censure? Caribbean Beat asked three outspoken experts each to come up with a list of the ten people who they believe exert the greatest influence on the region’s favourite sport and its future, and we’ve combined their responses to select a team, as it were, comprising the real powers-that-be in Windies cricket.
Tony Cozier is the undisputed dean of Caribbean cricket journalism. The veteran Barbadian journalist has been covering the game since the 1960s, and has co-written biographies with Caribbean greats like Sir Garry Sobers, Clive Lloyd, and Michael Holding.
Vaneisa Baksh is that rarity in the cricket world: a woman authority on the game. Perhaps best known for her ongoing campaign to force Trinidad’s Queen’s Park Cricket Club to change their rules on women members, Baksh is also a member of the Cricket World Cup 2007 board of directors, and has written on cricket for numerous publications, including Wisden.
New York-based Guyanese independent journalist Ryan Naraine is the man behind the three-year-old caribbeancricket.com, “The Independent Voice of West Indies Cricket”, a lively, up-to-the-minute website which comments frankly and authoritatively on the ups and downs of the Caribbean cricket scene.
West Indies captain
Brian Lara’s appearance on the lists of all three experts comes as no surprise. “As the only truly great West Indies player at present,” says Cozier, “and captain to boot, he carries enormous responsibility as the most identifiable standard bearer of a sport threatened by competition from several other attractive alternatives. In his second tenure as captain, there are unmistakable signs that he finally appreciates his responsibilities, not least in moulding a group of young players under him into a team that can restore waning pride.”
Baksh adds this insider tidbit: “Word is that he has a freer hand with team selections and more weight in general decisions than the administrators have previously allowed. With his willingness to take a chance on new blood, he is reshaping the WI team.”
Naraine expresses the view that Lara’s “role going forward will be less focused on his abilities with the bat than as a leader in the rebuilding plan. Lara has evolved from a flamboyant and sometimes petulant superstar into a mature, father-figure type who cares deeply about his players and their commitment to development. He is in a very tough, can’t-win position but, like [Sir Vivian] Richards, he has the credibility and broad shoulders to deal with it.”
It’s difficult, in fact, to recall a time when Brian Lara was not the man of the moment. Since April 1994, when he scored 375 runs in the fourth Test against England in Antigua, breaking Sir Garry Sobers’s 36-year-old record for the greatest number of runs scored in a single innings in Test cricket, he’s carried the future of West Indies cricket on his shoulders. (Less than two months later he scored 501 for Warwickshire, his English county team, the highest score in a single innings in the history of first-class cricket.)
The burden has only become heavier with time. Having entered the senior team just as West Indies cricket was beginning its long descent from the heights of greatness, he spent his early days witnessing the departure of the old guard. By the time Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose (the last remaining members of the West Indies’ legendary pace bowling attack) departed, Lara found himself the sole repository of the people’s hopes of victory. When the batting line-up collapsed, when the bowling was being flayed to all corners of the pitch, Lara was the man expected to come up with a swift century and save the day.
Meanwhile, there were the pressures of the enormous fame that was so suddenly thrust upon him: the public commentary on his actions, the media attention to the minutiae of his life. In the years following his record performances, Lara did everything to live up to his moniker, “the prince of Port of Spain”. He lived large, partied hard, and too often seemed not to be taking the game seriously enough. Reports of spoiled-brat behaviour and on-field misconduct proliferated. He threatened to resign in 1995, with the infamous proclamation, “cricket is ruining my life”. By the end of 1997, Brian Lara’s Test average had fallen to 34.26. “Inconsistent” became the adjective most commonly used to describe him.
The same could be said of his first stint as captain. He was handed the leadership of the West Indies for the first time just before the 1998 home series against England, and his debut was typically auspicious — the team beat England 3-1. re followed the nightmarish tour of South Africa at the end of that year, where, following a standoff between the players and the WICB over contractual issues, the West Indies lost all five Tests.
Reappointed as captain for the 1999 home series against Australia, he was given a two-match probation. In the first Test the team collapsed to a record low, getting all out for 51. But he followed that performance by leading the team to two remarkable victories, spearheaded largely by himself, scoring 212 at Kingston and an even more astonishing 153 not out at Bridgetown.
After the team’s failure to make the grade in that summer’s World Cup, followed by a drubbing by New Zealand on their next international tour, Lara resigned the captaincy in early 2000. He withdrew from the game entirely before the end of that year, citing physical injuries and personal burnout.
One of the issues Lara was asked to consider during his sabbatical was his legacy. His astonishing batting record will, of course, ensure that he is remembered as one of the all-time greats (though his 375 was eclipsed by Australian Matthew Hayden in October 2003). But how did he wish to be remembered as a person? A leader? A West Indian?
It was a renascent Lara who returned to the game for the 2001–02 series in Sri Lanka, finding his breathtaking form once more with 221 and 130 in one Test, and posting a total of 688 runs — 42 per cent of the West Indies’ output. That 221 has been cited as one of his all-time best. Later in 2002, he reclaimed the captaincy, expressing a renewed commitment to the game and to the young players he has been called upon to lead.
At the time of writing, the West Indies superstar — who has 9,157 Test runs and 24 Test centuries under his belt, and holds the record for the fastest batsman to reach 9,000 runs — has just presided over another staggering West Indies defeat: a 3-0 loss in the Test series against South Africa, followed by a routing (54 all out) in the first of the One Day Internationals. This, while having just returned to the top of the PricewaterhouseCoopers rankings, and also achieved the unenviable milestone of the highest aggregate in lost Tests.
As the gulf between himself and his teammates gapes wider than ever, Brian Lara, at 35, has everything to play for: the West Indian nation, the future of West Indies cricket, perhaps even that world record that once looked like it was his to keep.
On being described as a “selfish” player:
“I have always played cricket one way, and that’s for the West Indies. I have always been a team player. The majority of my runs have been scored in team situations.”
On coming to terms with himself and his sport:
“Three or four years ago I realised that it’s sport I’m playing . . . And I can’t put a great meaning to it, to the point that I’m depressed or despondent because of it. I’ve got a life to live — and it comes back to the fact that the most important people or the most important thing is your family . . . I got a lot calmer with myself, I sort of realised that you can’t be as hard on yourself as I was.”
On the perils of celebrity:
“Everybody always wants a part of you. You become public property . . . I am from Trinidad, a very laid-back island, and you know that you want to get away, and do what you are accustomed to doing with your friends, and you find yourself unable to do that sometimes.”
On the pleasures of celebrity:
“It is a great feeling. It is something that you have to earn. It is not anything that just comes like that. You have got to be able to impress these people over the years, and it is nice to know that the sort of reception that I get going out to bat, good or bad scores, the reception is still great.”
On his immediate goals:
“To get our team back to the top, I think, is something that is going to be remembered, if Brian Lara in this present West Indies team could bring us some sort of semblance to our past success in the late 70s and 80s, and this is my main focus.”
On having his record Test score beaten by Matthew Hayden:
“People are going to get a clear picture of who Brian Lara really is now. I think that my career has gone beyond individual goals and aspirations — it is now a very fully-oriented team situation, where I’ve got to go out there and lead the West Indies team to greater things in the future . . . Numbers and individual records really don’t stand upfront in my thinking, more the letters. I’d prefer to say that the letters ‘W’, ‘I’, West Indies cricket, these sort of things, are uppermost in my mind.”
CEO and managing director, ICC Cricket World Cup West Indies 2007
“South Africa took the World Cup to a different level, and it remains one of our biggest challenges to do the same or even better in the region. But the downside, the things we have to mitigate against, are also very, very substantially damaging . . . Multi-million-dollar lawsuits could be the order of the day if some country lets down the rest of the region by having a poor pitch, causing an abandoned match . . . Let’s keep our squabbles internal, but just remember that we are families. The international press is waiting to tear apart every service in the Caribbean between now and 2007.”
— Chris Dehring, speaking in December 2003 about plans for the 2007 World Cup
Cozier calls Chris Dehring’s position “the highest profile post in West Indies cricket at present.” Formerly the WICB’s marketing executive, Dehring currently helms the company responsible for managing the West Indies’ hosting of cricket’s premier one-day tournament, set to take place in three years’ time. As Naraine points out, the dapper business magnate, founding partner of Jamaican investment bank Dehring Bunting & Golding Ltd, “was a principal architect of the West Indies’ bid to host [the] tournament, and was the presenter of the WICB’s proposal to the ICC in 1998. Since then, he has been the face/voice/everything regarding the big tournament.”
Dehring also represented the WICB in the commercial rights negotiations with Global Cricket Corporation which resulted in the largest rights deal in cricket history — US$550 million for the ICC tournaments, including the Cricket World Cup in 2007
Baksh is confident that Dehring is up to the task of managing what she admits is a “mammoth event”, pointing out that while “rallying the region to the project ahead is a Herculean task, Dehring seems to have a few tricks up his sleeves.”
During his tenure at the WICB, Dehring did oversee a dramatic growth in the Board’s commercial returns, even as the fortunes of the team itself were on the wane. But co-ordinating the efforts of 14 Caribbean governments, cricket administrations, and other involved parties may be another matter altogether, as Naraine suggests. “Dehring’s World Cup wagon is hitched to Caricom, a group that has historically proven to be an unreliable business partner,” he says. “Can he work magic and stick to his promise of producing the best World Cup ever?”
And Cozier raises the thorny subject of Dehring’s connection with the Jamaica-based SportsMax sports channel, which “confirms his closeness with [former WICB President Pat] Rousseau . . . and has raised conflict of interest queries.”
Chairman, Senior Selection Panel
Cozier begins his endorsement of Sir Viv with a statement not many will dispute: “There have been few more imposing personalities in the game than the Master Blaster.” Richards’s astonishing playing career spanned 17 years, during which time he made his mark as much with his bat as with his swagger, initially as part of Clive Lloyd’s team, and then as captain. He stayed out of the game for the decade after his retirement, but has recently returned as chairman of the selectors, which Cozier points out is “as influential a post in West Indies cricket as board president or team captain”.
Naraine agrees that “the most important person in the rebuilding phase of our cricket is the chairman of the selectors, and Richards has the credibility and strength of character to make things happen.” He adds that Richards “has made some eyebrow-raising choices — some hits, some misses — but they all have a singular emphasis: developing youth players. Richards’s policy is the most refreshing thing to happen to the West Indies.”
Baksh finds it “hard to imagine this dominant spirit sitting mutely by while others set the pace. As chairman of the selectors, Viv, one of the top batsmen of the last century, has the clout, the experience, and the temperament to alter the course of history.”
Under Richards’s chairmanship, the selection panel has seemed eager to give young, relatively untried players a chance to prove themselves at Test level. Here are three players whose selection raised eyebrows, but who have repaid the selectors’ confidence.
Who: Omari Banks, Anguillan, 20 years old at time of selection
History: Started his first class career in the 2000–1 season vs Trinidad and Tobago. First Anguillan to be called up to the senior West Indies team
Selected for: Australia’s tour of the West Indies, 2003. Test debut: West Indies vs Australia at Barbados, 3rd Test
How he fared: Batting at number 8 in only his second Test match, scored an unbeaten 47 vs Australia in the 4th Test in Antigua, helping establish a world-record fourth-innings run chase of 418
Who: Fidel Edwards, Barbadian, 21 years old at time of selection
History: Part of the Barbados squad which won both the Carib Beer Cup and International Challenge titles in the 2003 regional first-class season, but was not selected for a single match
Selected for: Sri Lanka’s tour of the West Indies, 2003. Test debut: West Indies vs Sri Lanka at Jamaica, 2nd Test
How he fared: Took five wickets for 36, the best figures ever for a debutant, in what Wisden described as a “fairytale start” to his Test career
Who: Dwayne Smith, Barbadian, 20 years old at time of selection
History: Played two seasons in the English leagues, and a handful of first class games for Barbados
Selected for: West Indies’ tour of Zimbabwe and South Africa, 2003–4. Test debut: West Indies vs South Africa, 3rd Test
How he fared: Scored 105 not out on his Test debut, January 6, 2004 (only ten other West Indies batsmen have scored centuries on their Test debuts)
President, West Indies Cricket Board
Elected last year to the WICB presidency, the 67-year-old Griffith, a former Barbados and Jamaica all-rounder, served for many years as a key negotiator for the WICB in financial deliberations and chairman of its marketing committee. Naraine points out that “upon election to the WICB presidency, Griffith made it clear his priorities included the identification of alternative sources of revenue to help the cash-strapped board. Since then, he has launched a war on waste at the WICB, cutting back on expenses and looking for funding opportunities in new areas. The future of West Indies cricket depends on his success in filling the WICB’s coffers.”
Cozier qualifies his endorsement of Griffith somewhat, saying that, “only in office since September , it is too early to judge his approach or impact. He is unlikely to be as hands-on, or as controversial, as his two predecessors, Pat Rousseau and Wes Hall, but that might not be a bad thing.”
Former WICB President
When he took over the leadership of the WICB from Captain Peter Short in 1996, Pat Rousseau ushered in the modern era in West Indies cricket — the era of major business deals and serious attention to the bottom line. According to Baksh, Rousseau “maintains backroom influence by dint of his several business interests.” Cozier elaborates: “Although forced out of the WICB presidency by a virtual vote of no confidence in 2001,” he says, “the straight-talking Jamaican attorney still pulls vital strings. He is the man behind the new network, SportsMax, that has instantly shown its intentions to control cricket on Caribbean television by purchasing rights for the West Indies tour of Zimbabwe and South Africa.”
Chief Cricket Development Officer, WICB
Cozier includes Seepersaud on his list even though he takes issue with the chief cricket development officer’s modus operandi. Seepersaud has been responsible for the introduction of biomechanics and other modern methods into coaching, and according to Cozier has made comments which have succeeded in “alienating some former players in the process.” Seepersaud has written, for example, that “For many years, former players undertook cricket coaching when their playing days were over. They were successful in their careers, but they all had their own opinions on how the game should be played. As the demands of the game grew, and as we saw the evolution of coaching as a profession, the cricket message needed to be more accountable. No longer was relating the experiences of a long career sufficient to develop players.” “These are sentiments,” says Cozier, “from someone with no experience at even first-class level, unlikely to encourage the further contribution of great players from the past.”
Naraine begs to differ, pointing out that most player turnover has been the result of injuries. “Dr Seepersaud,” says Naraine, “has taken a proactive approach, introducing modern training and injury-prevention techniques to the Caribbean. His emphasis on bio-mechanics as a crucial element in cricket preparation throughout the region is one of the most necessary things. [His] development programme which, for the first time, has employed coaches in every country or island, is one of the few bright spots in West Indies cricket.”
Pro Vice-Chancellor, Cave Hill campus, University of the West Indies
According to Cozier, the “energetic, ambitious, cricket-playing” Beckles “immediately set about strengthening links between the UWI and West Indies cricket on assuming his post last year. He persuaded the WICB to bring a UWI team into the Red Stripe Bowl, even though there is no structured UWI tournament, converted the field at Cave Hill into a well-appointed first-class venue” — the 3Ws Oval — “that hosted the Australians last season, and created a Centre of Excellence as an alternative to the Shell Academy at St George’s University. The campus has set up a Sports Agronomy Research Unit, and is advertising for a research fellow with at least a PhD degree to carry out research on improving sports grass surfaces in Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean.”
Beckles, as Baksh points, is also the author of several well-regarded analytical texts on West Indies cricket, “which have reshaped the approach to modern cricket. His emphasis on the nexus between cricket and education propelled the moves towards regional cricket academies. He set up the Centre for Cricket Research at the campus in Barbados, with a Walk of Fame” to honour great players of the past.
Source of independent journalism
The website spearheaded by our panellist Ryan Naraine figured in the line-ups of two of our experts: Cozier’s — and Naraine’s! (Though, to be fair, it was number 10 on the latter’s list, and he was modest enough to add the word “seriously” in parentheses next to the heading). According to Cozier, the site’s “often quoted ‘reliable source’ supplies constant leaks on the business — and blunders — of the WICB, which necessarily pays close attention, as it does to the views of the site’s no-nonsense contributors.” Naraine, who should know, says that “the advent of this website has suddenly given a voice to West Indies cricket fans scattered around the world. For the first time, fans have found a place to cheer, rally, commiserate, and share their passion. More importantly, the website (entirely a voluntary effort) has succeeded in peeking under the hood of cricket administration in the region — publishing feature stories, analyses, and investigations that would never make daylight in the mainstream Caribbean media.”
CEO, West Indies Players Association
Cozier: “The Trinidadian former Test leg-spinner was elected president of the West Indies Players Association in 2002, in what was a virtual coup by the younger members of the team. A previously moribund organisation run for the benefit of the elite few has become more representative of all players and more militant in its dealings with the WICB. It flexed its muscles by calling a strike that delayed the 2004 semi-finals of the Carib Beer Series, and has put the WICB on notice that it now has to deal with a serious players union.”
West Indies Vice Captain
Naraine: “The 23-year-old batting stylist has been identified as the heir apparent to Brian Lara, and he has shown glimpses of raising his game to the next level. He is another key spoke in the ‘rebuilding wheel’, who will wield a lot of influence as he matures as a person, and as a cricketer. His handling of controversial issues in Guyana by nipping them in the bud should be a guide to all young cricketers.”
CEO, West Indies Cricket Board
Cozier: “Promoted from marketing head to chief executive officer after the dismissal of Gregory Shillingford just over a year ago, the former Shell Oil employee has the daunting, and immediate, task of gaining the confidence of the so-called stakeholders — board members, players, sponsors, the public — and establishing the credibility of the most roundly criticised organisation in the English-speaking Caribbean.”
President, Barbados Cricket Association
Baksh: “Alleyne is perceived to be the man being groomed for the next presidency of the West Indies Cricket Board, on which he sits as a director. By virtue of being at the helm of Barbados cricket, one of the cornerstones of regional cricket, he can easily be described as a man who speaks softly but carries a big bat.”
CEO and former President, Trinidad & Tobago Cricket Board of Control
Baksh: “Although Lequay is no longer president of the TTCBC, he is the CEO, with a long history of clout in the regional game. As the patriarchal figure in T&T cricket for decades, his influence remains powerful despite his changed office.”
Head, Shell Cricket Academy
Baksh: “The Barbadian sports psychologist heads the Shell Cricket Academy set up at St George’s University in Grenada. Although his leadership has been challenged, Webster has managed to thrust the Academy into a substantial position in West Indies cricket with various development programmes.”
Chairman, WICB Medical Panel
Naraine: “Mansingh’s medical panel is another important element of the new injury management and prevention scheme. He has been working tirelessly (and quietly) behind the scenes to implement modern policies in dealing with injuries that continue to plague cricketers throughout the Caribbean.”
President, International Cricket Council
Baksh: “As the president of the ICC, the governing body for international cricket, Mani sets the parameters for much of what is done within West Indies cricket. The ICC Cricket World Cup 2007 is perhaps more his baby than that of even the countries hosting the event.”
World Cup 2007 Venue Development Manager
Naraine: “Lockerbie is Dehring’s right-hand man, and his work in overseeing the development of the stadia and support infrastructure necessary for the region to host the World Cup 2007 will be crucial to its success. Lockerbie’s Venue Assessment Team will also be in charge of assessing the bids from countries in the region vying to host events and matches, and is considered the most crucial part of the preparations.”
ICC Regional Development Manager for the Americas
Naraine: “The WICB president’s search for alternative revenue sources will inevitably guide him north to the US and Canada. With the ICC spending heavily to develop cricket in North America, Vieira’s role as development manager takes on added importance. The WICB — and West Indies cricket — are positioned to benefit the most from the spread of the game on foreign soil, and Vieira’s success is considered crucial
Baksh: “This generation of Caribbean prime ministers has quite a few things in common. They are all graduates of the University of the West Indies, and they love cricket. Several of them — Lester Bird, Keith Mitchell, Owen Arthur, Kenny Anthony, and Ralph Gonsalves — have played at some level. During their tenure, cricket has often found its way onto the agenda of the annual heads of government summits, and they are never shy to offer their comments on the state of play.”