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Dire straits: West Indies cricket need top-class management

Coming back to West Indies cricket, at the time of economic depression it would require top-class management and a lot of persuasion from the authorities to keep the players motivated for international cricket.

Darren Bravo, Shimron Hetmyer and Keemo Paul have refused to be part of the West Indies Test squad for the upcoming England tour. There’s nothing more to this than meets the eye. UK has more than 2.8 lakh coronavirus cases and close to 40,000 deaths. The three West Indies players were entitled to their refusals because of concerns about their families. Cricket West Indies (CWI) very rightly has accepted their decision.

Bio-security is an oxymoron. No amount of bio-security can make a venue Covid-free. On the field, social distancing is not possible. And even without saliva droplets on the ball, there are many other ways to contract the virus. In such a situation, every player has the right to choose.

In the future, though, it wouldn’t be a surprise if some West Indies players decide to skip international tours to turn up for franchise-based T20 leagues. A sizable chunk of Caribbean cricketers revel in freelancing. Following the pay-cut, the number might increase. Last week, CWI announced a temporary 50% reduction in salaries and cricket funding across the entire regional cricket system, effective from July. The Covid-forced decision came at a time when CWI already has been reeling under revenue contraction without a broadcast rights deal. With question marks over this year’s Caribbean Premier League (CPL) future, scheduled in August-September, West Indies cricket is staring at uncertainty.

The West Indies cricket board is in dire straits. Its previous broadcast rights deal expired in December last year and a replacement is yet to be found. CWI president Ricky Skerritt recently stated how a decline in revenue has been hurting West Indies cricket, given that its “expenses are fixed” including a payroll that exceeds “$1.5 million per month to cover players, etc.” As for this year’s CPL, the tournament is scheduled to be played from August 19 to September 26. Cancellation of the tournament will wreak havoc on the West Indies cricket finances.

According to reports, the total economic impact of the CPL for the seven countries in the Caribbean that hosted the tournament last year, had been in excess of $127 million.

So there’s every chance that in the near future, we will see a significant upsurge of T20 freelancers from the Caribbean. A recent report in The Indian Express gave the low-down on the reduced salaries of the centrally contracted West Indies cricketers. The top rung, those who play both Test and limited-overs cricket, will now get around $150,000 following the 50% pay-cut. The truncated figures for Grade B and C contractees would be $120,000 and $60,000 respectively. Compare this with what Andre Russell gets from Kolkata Night Riders for playing two months of high-octane cricket in the IPL. KKR pay him Rs 8.5 crore (a little over a million US dollars) for providing the cutting edge to the team. And Russell is not a case in isolation. From Russell to Kieron Pollard, via Hetmyer and Paul, the majority of West Indies cricketers are in great demand in the franchise-based T20 leagues. So, home is where the money is, could well be an option.

It’s not that CWI alone has initiated pay cuts. Cricket Australia (CA) has stood down the majority of its staff with an 80% salary cut until the end of the financial year. New Zealand Cricket (NZC) is reportedly contemplating to lay off 15 % of its staff. Unlike football, though, pay cuts in cricket so far haven’t left the decision-making with the players, coaches and support staff. In the Premier League, Arsenal, for example, did that and saw their highest earner Mesut Ozil, at £350,000-a-week, refuse to take a wage deduction. Ozil copped flak for his refusal to contribute, but the system at Arsenal allowed players’ rights to be protected. Later, Wayne Rooney, writing on the wage-cut issue in his Sunday Times column, had mentioned how situations varied from player-to-player and that things should be put in perspective.

Asked if cricket should take a leaf out of football’s book, senior lawyer and former BCCI legal committee member Abhay Apte said: “That’s the right way. If the agreement doesn’t provide for a specific clause of contingency or force majeure, then it’s left to both the parties and the prudent course of action is to inform the players about the reality that the board is facing, and then mutually accept the cut. Normally, when the situation is bad, both the sides work together.”

In countries where the Federation of International Cricketers’ Associations (FICA) is recognised, the organisation is supposedly to act as an interlocutor between respective boards and players. According to the Indian Cricketers’ Association (ICA) president Ashok Malhotra, however, the role of cricketers’ associations becomes limited in an abnormal situation like this.

“When tough times are coming, then you have to take a pay-cut. All over the world people are taking a pay-cut. If I don’t have money in my bag, how can I pay people the same amount of money? You have to be kind of prepared for the fact. Global economy has crashed. I know it’s very unfortunate, but you have to go with the fact,” Malhotra opined.

Coming back to West Indies cricket, at the time of economic depression it would require top-class management and a lot of persuasion from the authorities to keep the players motivated for international cricket. Skerritt and company might be fighting a losing battle.

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