Dr Rudi Webster/File Photo

Commentary by Dr Rudi Webster

Just before the start of the 2012 IPL season, M.S. Dhoni captain of Team India told me, “Playing for your country should be your main motivating force but today you need to have a good income and livelihood.

Only a few players have a professional education or academic qualifications. A good cricketer has seven to ten years to earn the money that will sustain him for life after cricket, so he must balance his love for country with a good income and livelihood. In today’s competitive and rapidly changing world we cannot ignore the importance of money in the life of the cricketer.”

One of the world’s ‘great cricket luminaries’ recently commented on this conflict of values.  He said, “With the advent of increasing and lucrative Twenty20 leagues across the world, there has often emerged a conflict of interest for the region’s most talented players as international engagements often conflict with competitions.

It is hoped that recent reworked legislation by Cricket West Indies, aimed at ameliorating the situation will soon bear fruit.” He believes that part of the change must also come from the Windies players themselves.” I fully support those comments.

The luminary then elaborated further, calling for an end to individual players choosing self over the interests of representing the region. He stressed, “We are the only team that does not put our best eleven to represent the nation because the citizen sees himself as superior to the society, that his personal cause is superior to the country.” Since we see things not as they are but as we are, the selfishness that we see in others is often a projection of the selfishness within ourselves.

This accusation of selfishness is not a new thing.  Frank Worrell, one of the world’s best and most respected players, must have had similar accusations thrown at him in 1948 when he missed the tour of India as a member of John Goddard’s West Indies team because of his professional commitments to his Lancashire league club, the Radcliffe Cricket Club. He was such an important member of the team that the selectors had to choose two players to replace him.

According to journalist Ernest Eytle, the year 1948 was a good one to enter league cricket because there was plenty of money around the cotton towns of the North. As a result, the leagues enjoyed a boom, and cricketers shared in this affluence according to their performances.

Attendances were high and the spectators wanted to get their money’s worth from the game. What’s more they were prepared to dig deep and contribute to the players’ collections whenever they scored fifty or took five wickets. Frank Worrell enjoyed a bumper first season and besides his five hundred pounds salary he was able to collect considerable sums on performance. Just like the shortened version of the game today, teams were only allowed to bat for two and a half hours.

Brendon McCullum, New Zealand’s most successful captain and one of its best players, must have had a similar experience to Frank Worrell when at the peak of his career he chose the IPL and other T20 competitions around the world ahead of playing for his country.

The luminary continued, “Can you imagine in Australia, in England, in India, the selectors picking a team of their eleven best players and four or five of them say: I am not available because I have other matches to play. Because those are societies that take the citizenship seriously, the nation takes its identity seriously and the citizen represents the nation.” These strong words, targeted to the West Indies players, are a bit unfair. Shouldn’t the administrators of West Indies cricket be held accountable to the same or higher standards and values?

In the late seventies 50 of the world’s best cricketers from Pakistan, South Africa, England and West Indies literally turned their backs on their selectors and made the tough choice of playing in Kerry Packer’s lucrative World Series of cricket. Half of these players were Australians. Therefore, Australian selectors had to settle for second or third string Australian teams.

The luminary did not stop there. He added, “You cannot have young men who walk out of the team and cherry-pick when they are going to play and when they are not going to play.” The game has changed considerably in the last few years and is still evolving. Of the three formats, Test cricket seems to be the least popular. One wonders if it can survive in its present form. How much longer will sponsors support a form of the game that is experiencing declining interest, poor attendances and waning television viewership? Some of them are already refocusing on the shorter versions of the game, particularly the T20 format because they see those formats as the future of cricket.

Today’s players have agents and lawyers to promote and protect their interests and the players are now in a position to select their preferred format. Some will choose to play in all three formats, others in the Test and ODI, and a third group in just the T20 format. This specialization is already taking place. Some of the best players earn more in a few months of T20 cricket than they do playing six or seven years for their country.

As soon as our young cricketers mature into world-class players, IPL and other T20 leagues will target them, and they will have to make a choice. If the administrators’ rigid attitudes persist most of them will follow in the footsteps of their predecessors.

Over the years, the West Indies cricket Board, now Cricket West Indies have had many intelligent and verbally fluent people administering the game. And yet in the last thirty years West Indies cricket has been trapped in an ever-increasing decline.

As Edward deBono once said, a highly intelligent and clever person can construct a rational and well-argued case for virtually any point of view. The more coherent this support for a particular point of view the less the person sees any need to explore the situation. Such a person may then become trapped into a particular view simply because he can support it. He prefers cleverness to wisdom – the capacity to see and understand things from many different points of view – because cleverness is more demonstrable.

West Indies cricket needs less cleverness and more wisdom. If we become wise it is not so difficult to become clever as well. But if we start out by being clever we may have little chance of ever becoming wise because we can so easily get caught in the intelligence trap.

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