'Making West Indies Great Again'

Bridgetown, Barbados -- Following is the Feature address by Dr. Ernest Hilaire, Chief Executive Officer of the West Indies Cricket Board, at the Barbados Cricket Association awards ceremony at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre on Thursday night:

Allow me, on behalf of the West Indies Cricket Board congratulate President Joel Garner and the Barbados Cricket Association for hosting this auspicious event and continuing the tradition of honouring those who have made noteworthy achievements in the past year.

Most importantly I bring congratulations to all the awardees and winners. We at the WICB pay keen interest in these occasions as they serve to inform us as to who the potential players of the future are and who are the familiar players who continue to impress and keep the selectors attention cast in their direction.

As we gather here this evening on this island, the very epicentre of West Indies cricket and undisputedly the most celebrated and revered cricketing jurisdiction in the world, we celebrate the achievements of cricketers young and seasoned. On occasions such as these there often comes to the forefront of many of our minds, two central questions: What is the state of West Indies cricket and what can be done about it? These two questions are at the heart of the title for this address – “Making West Indies Cricket Great....Again”

In the past three years I have had a most privileged view in contemplating the answer to these questions. And this evening I wish to share with you some observations from my unique vantage point.

I am fully aware of the contemporary practice of persons picking sound bites out of a complete presentation for the purpose of feeding sensation often in the pursuit of narrow ill-intentioned agendas. The effect is to either frighten the expression of frank views on the realities which we face or to induce an artificial populism in what is said to avoid biting public criticism. I believe whilst constrained by the responsibilities of one’s role there must never be a fear of saying and doing what is right.

Let me commence by quoting the eminent former Prime Minister of Jamaica PJ Patterson, Sir Alister McIntyre and Dr. Ian McDonald who wrote the following in the preface of what is commonly referred to as the Patterson Report: “We cannot continue to destroy our rich legacy and squander our abundant talents. We are the only Test playing team that is comprised of separate independent nations. Cricket must remain a bond and a source of pride to us all.”

The esteemed gentlemen captured, most succinctly, a sentiment which had been expressed in virtually every facet of our Caribbean society. The point had been belaboured from Montego Bay in Jamaica to Moleson Creek in Guyana and every stop in-between.

There is sufficient understanding of what needed to be done but how it needed to be achieved was and remains a matter of greater contention. A cursory glance of the Patterson Report shows that there is a general acceptance of the fundamentals that are required. 

We know the story of West Indies cricket well. After a sustained period of world dominance our cricket slipped and was on the slide. Fans bred on winning had to endure unfamiliar losing streaks.

One 15 year period of having three captains was followed by another 15 year period of eight captains and one of those individuals having been appointed multiple times. Since 2000 the WICB has had five Presidents and six CEOs.

I need not traumatise you and recall the painful statistics and scores. You are familiar with them all. The state of affairs therefore ought to be obvious. There was a trend of unhealthy instability. One would be hard pressed not to conclude that decisions seemed to have been taken more on the basis of responding to public pressure than as part of a defined programme of restructuring and development.

But then came the tipping point in 2009. The entire West Indies team went on strike when they refused to travel to St Vincent to face Bangladesh. Earlier in the year the players covered the sponsor’s logo on their shirts while playing against England in Guyana. The captain is alleged to have said he was not interested in playing Test cricket.

The players boycotted the launch of the ICC ticket launch for the WT20 which was to be held in the West Indies. The Sir Sridath Ramphal attempt at mediation ended without success. WICB and WIPA relations were at its lowest ebb. The WICB lacked the institutional capacity to function effectively in the modern cricketing dispensation.
The acrimony had been heightened, instability remained prominent and the controversies in West Indies cricket continued unabated. A sustained effort to rescue the situation was absent.

In the meantime world cricket was galloping forth, riding high on the commercialised explosion of Twenty20 cricket.

How must West Indies cricket proceed in this new landscape?
The situation was in dire need of vision. How do we check the slide? And how do we begin to reverse the trend? Do we continue to field the eleven best players or do we move towards fielding a West Indies team which is the best eleven?

The fundamental issues, long left to flounder with only intermittent attention needed to be addressed in a concerted and direct manner. There needed to be a holistic emphasis on development. But cricket development can only be achieved if it is buttressed by the necessary support structures.

Very quickly at the ending of 2009, it was identified that there were four main areas which needed to be tackled in order to bring the West Indies cricket to a state where it was moving meaningfully forward.

1. The WICB needed to strengthen its institutional capacity; if you cannot deliver there is no success possible

2. There needed to be a broader pool of players available to play international cricket; if the present challenges of player availability is not immediately performance will worsen and confidence further affected

3. WICB needed to pursue an all-encompassing cricket development programme; the future success must be rested upon the production of a broader base of talented youngsters

4. WICB needed to review its governance structure. There must be a move to making decisions more in favour of the corporate interest than national agendas.

The WICB’s corporate structure and functioning was more suited to deal with how cricket functioned 15 to 20 years ago. In effect the WICB was operating as a shell organization without the necessary capacity to competently manage the affairs of cricket in the West Indies. It was an amateur sports management company in a changed international cricket landscape. Too many decisions were being made arbitrarily and without reference to a vision and plan. Even when there was a plan it was not relentlessly followed or consistently pursued especially with changes in leadership. It was in urgent need of overhaul.

The situation required a team of experienced professionals with a modern thinking and outlook to manage the business of cricket. From the Cricket Operations side to the Commercial, Financial and Event Management sides we could not have advanced unless the WICB installed a system which would allow for these areas to come under proficient management.

There also required systems and procedures for operating for all aspect of cricketing operations and development.

This evening I can report that this we were able to achieve in the most critical areas and we continue to focus on building capacity at the WICB so as to better manage the business of cricket on all fronts. I believe we have showed significant progress in the last two years from talent management to event management to establishing policies and procedures for many of the aspects of managing the business of cricket. These are back room activities which never make its way to the public.

Secondly it became obvious that the West Indies needed to broaden, in a strategic way, the pool of players available to compete internationally. The first steps towards achieving this in the short term were:
i) the realisation of the High Performance Centre
ii) a robust and consistent West Indies A Team Programme
iii) introduction of promising players to international cricket

When one examined the situation with a critical eye, even as early as 2009, one would have come to the realisation that purely on financial terms the WICB could not hope to compete with the Twenty20 leagues around the world. Worse, the IPL was now played in the middle of our international season which had already being agreed through the Future Tours Programme. Whilst we will always want the best players to represent the West Indies, we live in an age where according to a distinguished Prime Minister, “you cannot take nationalism to the supermarket”. Players have a right to aspire to earn more and to be allowed to exploit their talents.

This underscored the need for a broader pool of players as it was natural for the high profile players to be offered lucrative deals to play in these leagues. We have since seen this manifest itself in various forms including players not being minded to take WICB central retainer contracts, something which, for years, was vigorously lobbied for. We have had to take a pragmatic approach in discussing with players the need to balance their aspirations to earn more with representing the West Indies. It is an approach which is not universally accepted but it has avoided more player conflicts and resentment.

The HPC and A Team programme represent the ‘finishing end’ of the development structure. Immediately we established the HPC and revived the A team programme as a first step to broadening the pool. I am sure that you will agree that both have been successes.

We have had to expose more promising young players to the international scene but this time in the context of a carefully designed plan. We looked for a new coach who we believed would have an understanding of West Indies cricket but also possess a resolve and single-mindedness to withstand the rigours of public scrutiny.

We hired Otis Gibson. We asked the Coach to outline the characteristics of a successful player for each format. We asked him to also outline the ingredients of a successful West Indies team. We approved new Selection criteria, new terms of reference for the Selection Panel and targets for team performance for the next five years. The Selection Criteria is critical as it states the four requirements for a player to be selected for a West Indies team. The elements outlined above have guided our actions for the last two years.

Thirdly, whilst broadening the pool, we do recognise that the future has to be secured and the Board must actively support the efforts of clubs, schools and national associations by engaging in development work. The bulwark of development is done at the grassroots level. With the support of sponsors we were able to restructure and more broadly implement the Kiddy Cricket programme which is now active and vibrant in 15 territories across the region. This is where the kids are being introduced to cricket; where their love for the game is being built and nurtured.

The grassroots cricket programme followed and it provides for skills development and as a feeder to the Under 19 cricket thereby effectively completing the development cycle.

This is the unglamorous chapter where the work is being done in the trenches but without a strong youth cricket programme we can only hope to achieve modest results. Our investment in cricket development, just as a company invests in research and development must be sustained and be seen as integral to success. This is an often overlooked point but one which cannot be emphasized enough. We now have a clearly established development pathway for players from 7 years to the international arena. That pathway states what are the necessary attributes and skills which must be achieved at each stage of development.

I mentioned before the issue of the ‘Eleven Best’ versus the ‘Best Eleven’. Reflect on this for a moment. For a decade or so the selectors were guided by a process which had them arriving at the eleven best players to take the field.

With the eleven best players on the park our results went from bad to worse and yet worse still.

There has been a paradigm shift. The emphasis is on selecting, not necessarily the eleven best players but the ‘best eleven’. It is not dissimilar to asking whether we prefer a team of stars or a star team. They are decidedly different.

The best eleven may not include the most attractive players but is rather a combination of players who, as a group, are more likely to bring positive results and show a commitment to sustained development. This may include the most attractive and best individual performers but that is not main consideration. The key consideration is putting together a unit that can perform as a team to win and not for individual showcasing of talent.

Though the victories have not been tumbling in there can be little doubt that West Indies cricket is showing the signs of learning the first characteristic of any successful enterprise – the determination to succeed. We have seen a greater commitment to fight to the very end, we have seen what was once thumping three and four day defeats in Test cricket now turned into epic final day battles.

This new approach is not far off from producing the results we all yearn for. Change does not happen overnight, it is a process, sometimes painful, always with mistakes and mis-steps but once on the right path the results are certain. I implore you to recognize that from the days when our team seemed conditioned to losing we now have a team which is battling to win and believing that it can in fact achieve victories.

The Board is encouraged by the recognition we have received from two high profile coaches – Duncan Fletcher the India coach and Mickey Arthur his Australian counterpart. Both have lauded the work of Ottis Gibson and given due recognition to the development of the team itself.

Fourthly, and inevitably, I must take you from the field of play, to the boardroom. Let me focus briefly on what some describe as the sore issue of governance in West Indies cricket.

The Board of Directors of the WICB recently received a report from its Governance Committee, chaired by Queen’s Counsel Charles Wilkins and inclusive of Barbados’ own Dr. Grenville Phillips and WICB Director Elson Crick.

The report prescribes seventeen (17) recommendations for the restructuring of the governance of West Indies cricket.
The report is now in its second round of discussion at the Territorial Board level and I am certain that many among you would have seen it and shared your views with the BCA.

As CEO I have studied the recommendations and believe them to be conscientious, progressive and necessary.
West Indies cricket has demonstrated its intention to change for better at nearly every level. The signal from the Board of Directors to do likewise by commissioning the report must be followed through with decisive action. I am hopeful that the Board of Directors, at a time in the not too distant future, will adopt the menu of changes and adjustments in order to demonstrate its commitment to advancing the governance of the West Indies cricket in this modern cricketing dispensation.

The report recommends, for example, that directors of the WICB should not represent the Territorial Boards at Annual General Meetings. I take pride in reporting to you that in this regard the BCA has been most forward thinking as it has long adopted that independent members represent it at the WICB AGMs. I am also pleased to report that the BCA is the only Territorial Board which has been represented at the WICB AGM by women members and this, in particular, I view as a most commendable and progressive move for which the BCA deserves resounding congratulations.

However, the restructuring of the Board needs to be completed. It is not enough to require changes to the way business is conducted for the secretariat, for team management, for players, and for territorial boards but not for the Directors. The recommendations from the Wilkins Report are sensible. It should be recognised that Directors do have skills and are capable of making decisions. However, Directors are being conditioned by a culture that has existed for decades and there has to be radical action to break the praxis that exists.

Directors tend to conduct themselves primarily as representatives of territorial boards rather than directors of a corporate entity and therefore there has to be a counterbalance of opinion and action that ensure that the best corporate decisions are made. Not that territorial interest should ever be disregarded and treated as insignificant. Accordingly, it is advisable that the representation of territorial interests be reduced and independent objective decision makers are added to protect the corporate interest.

There is a second ‘sore issue’ which has needlessly bedevilled our game.
Where do Territorial Boards such as the BCA factor? Should the Territorial Boards participate in regional competitions to win or to develop players for the West Indies? Should Territorial Boards establish their own agenda and operate more as sovereign units?

I say to you that the BCA and its sister boards across the region are not just pivotal to the success of West Indies cricket but are central to it. Indeed the Territorial Boards are the lifeline of West Indies cricket.

West Indies cricket cannot succeed without the Territorial Boards providing the players. The age old question of the purpose of the Territorial Boards is perhaps being settled here in Barbados where the soul of West Indies cricket resides.

I note, for example that Barbados shared the Regional 50 Over title two years ago, this year reached the final of the Regional 4 Day Tournament, is the reigning Regional Under-19 50-Over champions and competed in the final of the last edition of the Caribbean T20.

And still I see that the selectors have been consistently selecting players from Barbados at all levels of West Indies cricket. Kraigg Brathwaite, Anthony Alleyne, Kemar Roach, the two Edwards, Fidel and Kirk, Shane Dowrich, Jason Holder, Dwayne Smith to name some. And let it not escape us that Kirk Edwards is the West Indies Test Vice Captain an achievement for which all Barbadians must be proud. Those achievements must be coupled with the substantial investments that the BCA has made in recent times to cricket development in Barbados.

It leads me to believe that the BCA is in the forefront of the re-emergence of West Indies cricket, that it rejects the notion that winning and development cannot co-exist.

But the picture is not only confined to the playing arena.

The WICB and all Territorial Boards must establish a framework of operations. This process has commenced with, for example, the bidding for the rights to host the Caribbean T20, for which the BCA’s bids have prevailed over others. But it must go further to the point where there is a Memorandum of Understanding between the WICB and the Territorial Boards.

Such an MOU must formalize the relationship between the WICB as regional governing body and the various territorial boards. We cannot continue to rely entirely on the looseness of tradition as we seek to professionalise our operations at all levels. It is this faulty thinking and unwise reliance which caused our cricket to plummet to the depths which caused us grief and hurt. We presumed then that we will continue to unearth phenomenal players who simply need to show up to have the opposition defeated.

It was untenable thinking then as it is untenable thinking now.

While we basked in the glory of triumphs teams like England and Australia busied themselves putting systems and programmes in place to realise their own periods of domination.

Australia developed their Centre of Excellence, England invested in Loughborough while we paid no interest in implementing a formal development pathway for our players.

The WICB must take final responsibility for that development pathway and the refinement stages of it but the bulk of the work is at the territorial level. This is where the partnership needs to be strong so that the WICB can work hand-in-hand with the Territorial Boards to execute the requisite programmes for players and officials alike.

There is no short cut to the process. A potent WICB/Territorial Board relationship is a necessary pillar to the revival of West Indies cricket. Without it we will be doing a disservice to development. 

I wish to address a final point before concluding and that is WICB/WIPA relations.

Let me state with absolute clarity that it is my unwavering belief and that of the WICB that a strong WIPA is necessary. I believe in healthy representation of the players’ rights and interest. It may surprise some that I am also of the conviction that even an organization such as WIPMACOL, the player management company which owns the image rights of some players can also be of benefit to cricket in the West Indies.

The difficulty is with the modus operandi which often suggest that WIPA’s role is to challenge and override the WICB. That WICB must be accountable to WIPA.Regardless of what agreements are in place that scenario is simply unworkable.

The WICB is the governing body for cricket in the West Indies. It holds responsibility for the management, promotion and development of cricket in the region. WIPA must be its partner, not adversary. There must be a mutual respect for the roles of each partner without the acrimony which has characterised the relationship for far too long.

If the parties understand and accept their roles and commit to working for the betterment of West Indies cricket and not to depose one or the other then there can be advancement. For as long as we have persons on one side who refuse to disabuse themselves of the belief that it is their duty to unseat the rightful governing body there will be unease.

To conclude and with apologies to the religious minded among us, I urge that we reflect on the advice of Charles Darwin, the English biologist and the father of the evolution theory.

Darwin proposed that “it is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”
I believe that there can be little disagreement amongst us that where change in our cricket is concerned, it is not a choice but a pre-requisite. It is an obligation we owe to those who built this great legacy which we celebrate tonight and to our future generations who we honour tonight and who will continue the work of building it.

The Board has prepared a Strategic Plan to 2016. The process has commenced, distractions and resistance notwithstanding, we must remain focussed and stay the course lest we return to the days where we are accused of destroying this rich legacy and squandering our abundant talents represented in the expectant and eager faces of the many young cricketers among us here this evening.  Making West Indies cricket great again requires resolve and conviction, we must demonstrate such.  Leadership is not populism and when difficult decisions must be made, we must be seen to be doing so.

I end with an appeal to the BCA to play a leading and progressive role in the continuing transformation of West Indies cricket. It is a journey that has started. It must be continued until we restore the glory that it is expected of our cricket. You can do it. I know enough of your membership to know that such a capacity exists and I hope that even from a distance I will see when the destination is reached.

I thank you.

Fri, 05/04/2012 - 16:13