Your Cross To Bear

Date Published: 
Sham Samaroo

The WICB named Shivnarine Chanderpaul to lead the West Indies in the test series against South Africa starting at GCC Bourda on Thursday. The news was greeted with celebration in his native Guyana as Chanderpaul became the sixth Guyanese to captain the regional team following in the footsteps of Kanhai, Lloyd, Kallicharran, Hooper and Fernandes.The latter captained the West Indies in the late 50s while the country was still British Guiana.

To lead one’s team is both an honor and a privilege, but it may be one the Guyanese star could well do without. Chanderpaul’s appointment comes at a time of great turmoil in West Indies cricket. Under the contentious and ill-fated captaincy of Brian Lara, West Indies cricket has plummeted to its lowest point ever in its 75 year history, both on and off the field.

While the Trinidadian star distinguished himself with several individual accomplishments, including a record 400 not out, he also presided over whitewashes at the hands of South Africa, Australia, England, and New Zealand. During this period, it became fashionable for West Indies to surrender meekly for sub-50 scores.

Lara’s supporters argue that cricket is a team sport and to blame one man for the team’s performance is simply unfair. But others contend that Lara failed in his duty as leader to inspire and motivate his teammates. Results aside, they point to the deplorable level of team discipline under Lara’s leadership and example. Reports coming back from South Africa last year, and recently from Australia, described several players, including the captain, as arguably the worst ambassadors of West Indies cricket.

As if all that were not enough, Chanderpaul’s appointment comes at a time when Lara and 6 other leading players are embroiled in a sponsorship row with the WICB. No wonder many liken his fortune, or misfortune if you will, to that of the late Dr Cheddi Jagan who became Guyana’s president after years of injustice, corruption, and economic ruin. One thing for sure, Chanderpaul will have his work cut out for him.

To add to his woes, Brian Lara declined an invitation to join the team, while 6 other players, including Sarwan and Gayle, remain ineligible. After reviewing the contracts of the six players, the Board’s lawyers ruled that the individual endorsements, signed with Cable and Wireless, conflict with the official team sponsor. What could the WICB do but to declare them ineligible?

Everyone agrees that, over the years, the WICB did a very poor job, but that is not the issue at hand. There are two sides to every dispute, and to blame the WICB, solely, for this impasse is simply ridiculous. How is it the WICB’s fault when the Board made it known that it was close to finalizing a deal with a new team sponsor, and, specifically, asked the players to hold off on any personal endorsements until the deal was complete?

At the time only Brian Lara had a pre-existing contract. Following the WICB’s announcement, six other players went ahead and signed contracts with Cable and Wireless and, in so doing, played a pivotal part in precipitating this crisis. Was it a case of the players simply choosing to ignore the WICB, just as they have ignored and disrespected coaches, managers, and administrators over the years?

Or, was this a calculated move by Cable and Wireless? The perception is that Cable and Wireless is engaging in ambush marketing, aided and abetted by a group of greedy players. Cable and Wireless had just lost out on their sponsorship of the West Indies team – a sponsorship they held for almost 20 years. But, if they chose to, Cable and Wireless still had one trump card to play. They hold a personal endorsement contract with the team’s captain and biggest star, Brian Lara.

How much of a role, if any, did Lara play in encouraging the players to disregard the WICB and sign with his sponsor? Furthermore, is Lara’s decision not to play motivated by a feeling of obligation to the other players because they were enticed to sign with his sponsor Cable and Wireless? If so what of his obligation to the rest of his teammates – the other 13 players?

In the same way that necessity is the mother of invention, sometimes the best decisions are forged by circumstances. Whatever comes next, it is inconceivable that Chanderpaul, or anyone else, could do any worst. No player is bigger than the team, and calls for a boycott by some fans is, simply, unfair to Chanderpaul and the other players. We have to believe that the parties to this dispute will come to an agreement sooner rather than later.

Hopefully too, the arrogance, poor discipline, and lack of respect shown by many of the players – something that Kanhai, Roberts, Hall, Marshall, Garner and Harper have all spoken out against over the years – will also be buried in this avalanche. West Indies cricket will survive this crisis, and the team ought to be supported whether or not the gang of seven plays. Carry on “Tiger” – once again, you stand firm when all else around seems to be falling apart.