West Indies cricket's Gordian Knot
Why Cricket West Indies are fighting a slow losing battle in the global cricket T20 league landscape
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Ahead of the upcoming West Indies limited overs series against Bangladesh, the Trinidad and Tobago Newsday ran a notable article titled “Haynes questions Lewis commitment to West Indies”.
The story was quoting West Indies' lead selector Desmond Haynes explaining why Evin Lewis, arguably West Indies most important white ball batsman after Shai Hope continues to be absent from the team since November 2021.
Haynes said: “I spoke to Evin probably a couple weeks ago, when it was reported to me that Evin was asked to do a fitness test in India with his IPL franchise (Lucknow Super Giants), and because of an injury it was suggested that he would do a 2K run”
“When I reached out to him…I asked him (about) all the things that I have heard regarding the injury. He said, 'Yes.' I said, 'You were asked to do a 2K?' He said, 'Yes.' I said, "Did you do it?' he said, 'No.' I said, 'Did you not try to make arrangements to redo the test?' He said, 'No.'
“The vibes I got from him that he was not interested in doing it anyway. It is nothing I can do. I would really like a time…where we could just get an opportunity to pick all of these guys, but sometimes I am not too sure if these guys want to play.”
Machel Hewitt, Caribbean Cricket Podcast, puts the crucial question to Dr Haynes.
This led to a coded but poignant response by Lewis on his Facebook page:
Regardless of where any public potential back and forth between Lewis, Haynes and any CWI official may go, there is a bigger focus at play.
The other player that has been caught in the CWI fitness cross hairs as often as Lewis is Shimron Hetmyer, who also hasn’t played for West Indies since November 2021.
This word “commitment” for any keen follower of West Indies cricket in last decade plus can be traced back to the early days of IPL circa 2009 when the “Mount Rushmore” of WIndies T20 legends in Chris Gayle, Dwayne Bravo, Kieron Pollard, Sunil Narine and Andre Russell in particular made early sojourns on the IPL and global T20 league circuit.
However the recent fitness dramas with Lewis and Hetmyer, plus Sunil Narine which was aptly highlighted in this Wisden India article last October, after his superb IPL, highlights one thing
“Sunil Narine, one of the biggest T20 stars ever, failed to make it to the T20 World Cup due to fitness standards. Looking at his rampaging form, Aadya Sharma wonders if West Indies should have bent their principles to find him a spot.
There is a new dynamic regarding the “commitment” talking point in 2022 that potentially CWI officials, Caribbean media, fans and past players may not have fully considered.
In 2010 led by the “Big 3” Gayle/Bravo/Pollard, players had great reason to escape from West Indies cricket for opportunities on the T20 league circuit. The organization was run by tyrannical administrators namely; Julian Hunte, Ernest Hilare, Richard Pybus, Michael Muirhead, Richard Pybus.
However the modern players since 2019 have been dealing with the total opposite. An administration led by President Ricky Skerritt, Vice President Dr. Kishore Shallow, CEO Johnny Grave and Director of Cricket Jimmy Adams have been very logical about the realities of international cricket in the age of T20 leagues & been very accommodating to players. So players' reasons for not wanting to play stopped being CWI leadership related long ago - it’s simply global dynamics now.
It is much easier for a cricketer from a non big three (3) nation in 2022 to forge a career on the domestic T20 circuit & ignore West Indies totally, especially those who have gotten IPL live changing money.
Unless players want to play for West Indies on their own free will - there is no incentive to commit and there is nothing CWI can do to make them commit, unless ICC changes the rules globally regarding international duty & T20 leagues.
This fitness issue which has followed high profile duo Hetmyer/Lewis around like a bad smell is the best example of this dystopian reality. Firstly let’s be clear that the CWI fitness policy is completely needed and sensible.
In a ESPN Cricinfo article from March 2021 titled: “Kohli says 'no space for compromise' when it comes to fitness levels - https://www.espncricinfo.com/story/india-vs-england-1st-t20i-virat-kohli-says-no-space-for-compromise-when-it-comes-to-fitness-levels-1254541 - Virat Kohli, the former successful Indian captain was speaking on the importance of fitness to him/India and the article writer mentioned the CWI position on fitness as a reference:
“It is worth noting that Kohli's stress on fitness is not an isolated view in cricket. Recently, the West Indies selectors did not consider four players who had failed to reach the minimum fitness standards for the white-ball segment of their ongoing Sri Lanka series: Shimron Hetmyer, Roston Chase, Sheldon Cottrell and Oshane Thomas. This is the second time Hetmyer has failed the fitness test in a year, having missed the ODI series in Sri Lanka last February.”
However this is where the different realities of big and non big (3) nations are exposed.
For West Indies players they are not required by their IPL franchise to do a fitness test required to play. So obviously Hetmyer and Lewis are fit - they just don’t want to do West Indies specific fitness tests and CWI have no way and incentive to make them do it via force or coercion.
India has that incentive to make players who star in IPL who want to play for their coveted national team, do fitness tests in a cricket world where the BCCI pays players well alongside their IPL millions and prevents their players from playing in other T20 leagues.
IPL and most T20 leagues pay more than West Indies retainers and match fees. So can CWI, WIndies fans and media honesty blame these guys for not wanting to go through that fitness drama just to play for the West Indies ?
On the flip side even if someone says Nicholas Pooran who has similar IPL/domestic league options like Hetmyer/Lewis has chosen to “commit” and do the fitness tests in order to play for West Indies, the reality is that he didn’t financially have to. That personal choice doesn’t change the fact that there is no CWI incentive or global cricket rules that made Pooran do it.
Everything is pointing to the majority of future Caribbean players going the route Lewis, Hetmyer and Narine have chosen.
And it’s not just a West Indies problem. Recently South African test captain Deal Elgar said players were placed in an “unavoidable situation” - https://www.espncricinfo.com/story/sa-vs-ban-2022-dean-elgar-south-africa-ipl-players-were-put-in-an-unavoidable-situation-1307889 - when the likes of Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi, Marco Jansen, Anrich Nortje, Aiden Markram, Rassie van der Dussen chose IPL millions over home tests versus Bangladesh after he previously made the curious pronouncement that those players face a “litmus test of loyalty” - https://www.espncricinfo.com/story/ipl-2022-south-africa-players-face-litmus-test-of-loyalty-1303588
The issue now is not for CWI, CSA or any non big three team to question players “commitment” or “loyalty”. But rather asks big picture questions to the ICC and global administrators regarding the structural inequalities of world cricket in the age of growing domestic leagues.
Can the ICC lead member boards as a strong governing body like FIFA and have a coherent international schedule that does not have national duty clashing with T20, T10, The Hundred, The 6ixty ?
Can the ICC realistically limit the growth of these leagues ?
Football players could easily skip international duty if FIFA didn’t have set rules to clubs on releasing players for international matches, while having a logical setup where internationals don’t clash with domestic leagues. Unlike cricket players, professional footballers don’t have the ridiculous issue of having to “choose” between national and club duty.
Can the ICC realistically set global fitness standards in negotiation with domestic leagues ?
Can ICC influence BCCI to allow their players to play in other T20 leagues ?
Can the ICC make a new global standard for players getting NOCs without running into legal issues regarding “restraint of trade” with FICA, respective players associations and players agents ?
Cricketers are not administrators. In any sport where players are an injury away from their career being ended they will always go for the money within the rules of the sport that administrators set up.
This leaves West Indies cricket in a Gordian Knot in 2022 and beyond. Cricket has gaping holes in its structure & rules, therefore players, especially from the Caribbean, will understandably and rightfully keep exploiting these holes moving forward unless new world cricket rules force them to do otherwise.
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Very profound article. However, players need to learn what it means to play for WI and must be held responsible for commitment.