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A House Divided Cannot Stand

April 29, 2005


The first Test at Bourda was a breath of fresh air for West Indian fans as the home team, absent Lara, Sarwan and Gayle, nevertheless completely dominated South Africa through five days. With the anticipated return of Lara, Sarwan and Gayle, it was expected, that things would get better but, alas, it was the same old, same old – disappointing losses in both the second and third Test matches. To try to explain away the fine performance by West Indies in the first test, solely, on the notion that Bourda is a batting paradise, or that South Africa was short on practice, is to discount a splendid all round team effort. Truth be told, it has been quite some time since the West Indies team displayed such an admirable sense of professionalism and esprit de corps. Equally unfounded is the explanation, that, somehow, Brian Lara is bad luck to the team. With 10,000-plus test runs, the team can surely use more of such bad luck. Closer to the truth is the belief by many that the West Indies team is a house divided, and that the recent sponsorship row only exacerbated a divisiveness that was evident for many years. A divisiveness borne of rampant player misconduct was allowed to fester, unfettered, by a feeble, irresponsible, and incompetent WICB. It is the failure of the Board to act both decisively and fairly that is primarily responsible for the current state of affairs.


For many years, some of the region’s most senior and respected players have bemoaned the lack of player discipline, and its debilitating effect on the team. As far back as 1992 Malcolm Marshall, following his premature retirement, commented: “everything seems to be going down the drain. There is no respect, no manners.” And after the 1993-94 tour to New Zealand then coach Rohan Kanhai reported to the WICBC that certain players had no respect for him, and that they used abusive and very foul language in public to him. Unfortunately, the only action taken by the Board was to replace Kanhai with Andy Roberts as coach for the home series against Australia. And immediately following that series, Andy Roberts too publicly complained that there were some players with “attitude problems”.

Next came the tour to England. On that tour, Brian Lara was accused of a breach of contract for absenting himself from the team, and for not making himself available for the duration of the tour. It was also on that tour that the infamous team meeting was held following the Old Trafford Test. Manager Wes Hall, in his official report, informed us that the meeting was held to discuss the unacceptable and irresponsible conduct of some of the players. At the meeting, Ian Bishop spoke out on the atrocious conduct of Benjamin, and Lara blamed captain, Ritchie Richardson, for many of the problems on the team. Richardson responded that he had always enjoyed a good relationship with Lara, and wasvery surprised to find out that he [Lara] harboured such feelings.  Richardson added that if a majority of the players felt as Lara did, then he would gladly resign the captaincy. He made it clear, however, that he was not prepared “to bow to egotistical people with agendas and ambitions”. To this, Lara stood up and said, “I retire”, and walked out of the meeting. Hall recounts that he stayed behind at the hotel, after the team departed for their next game, to plead with Lara to rejoin the team. On the team’s return to the Caribbean, Lara was fined for his breach of contract, and he promptly quitted the team again two days prior to the tour to Australia. Lack of decisive action by the Board led to a continuation of such behavior. Carl Hooper twice quitted the team, once prior to the World Cup in 1996, and again in 1998.  


Perhaps, the WICB failed to act because it lacked the moral authority to do so. How can the Board censor the players when it was also guilty of repeatedly failing to act in good faith, or making good on promises made to the players? Such disingenuousness of the WICB is one reason for the standoff between the players and the Board while the team was on its way to South Africa for the inaugural tour. At a stopover in England, a number of players led by Lara and Hooper declined to continue to South Africa. It was such an embarrassment for the new administration in South Africa that Nelson Mandela offered to fly to England to mediate.Without trying to justify the players’ actions, one can certainly understand what may have provoked them to take matters into their own hands.

The most damaging fallout, and, perhaps, the one from which the team is still reeling, came while on tour to Pakistan in 1997. Prior to the tour, it was widely rumoured that the Board had overruled the selectors’ wish to appoint Lara captain. Subsequently, when the team assembled in Trinidad for a five-day coaching seminar, Lara excused himself citing a prior golf engagement. Ambrose, Hooper, and Walsh also failed to attend but gave no reason. Into the tour, talk emerged of dissension in the ranks with the team split into two camps, one supporting new skipper Courtney Walsh, and the other, Brian Lara. It was enough of a concern that manager, Clive Lloyd, was forced to issue a statement saying: “I don't believe we are divided but when a side like West Indies starts losing after all the years we have been on top, difficulties are bound to arise." West Indies ended the tour without winning a single game, and Clive Lloyd again alluded to the Board’s failure to act when he said: “The rumours - they are no more than that - have excited uncertainty within the ranks, which isn't good for any side. They should have been scotched at source back at home." Lloyd also lamented Lara’s loss of form (129 runs in six innings). “Lara's highest score was 37. What we needed from a world-class player like him on some of the best pitches I have seen was a couple of big knocks," Lloyd said.  Asked about the possibility of a new captain, Lloyd responded, “There is talk that we sent Jimmy Adams with the A team to South Africa to groom him for the captaincy. But I don't know because I'm not a selector”. Again, subtly alluding to the manner in which decisions are made in the Caribbean.


Today, many believe the team is still reeling from this legacy of disharmony and discord, and blame should be placed squarely at the feet of the WICB. Perhaps, on the opening day of the fourth Test, the entire Board, past and present, should have been made to parade into the arena, like they did in Roman times - to be insulted, ridiculed, humiliated, and disgraced by the fans. If fans have their way, these individuals may never be allowed to show their faces at any cricket forum or playing field again.


This article appeared on CC on April 29, 2005.