A West Indian team is the final of a World Cup, even as another West Indian team is threatening to pull out of another World Cup. The two events have a correlation even if they are unfolding in two different theaters, at altogether different levels. If the West Indian Under-19 team has done so well at the ongoing Youth World Cup here, it’s partly due the very system that the seniors, led by Darren Sammy, want to change. It’s an old pay dispute. Remember, the drama at Dharamshala during the 2015 Windies tour and their subsequent pull out. It’s interesting to see the issue in a different light and get a fresh perspective.
Under the new system, the WICB has rejigged its domestic cricket system as well as its player contract structure. Earlier, the WICB used pay only 15 or so to their international cricketers. Since last year, they have decided to have 90 domestic cricketers in the poll of contracted players. These locals play for six regional teams — Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, Leeward Islands, Trinidad and Tobago, and Windward Islands — in the new franchise-based Professional Cricket League, which consists of the traditional four-day competition and the fifty-over tournament. While international cricketers have seen a drop in their salaries — and you can argue if it’s fair — the redistribution of funds has helped many others, who would previously get a pittance in the form of match fee, earn a monthly salary.
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“A lot of the money is actually going to a broader pool of players. Which is going to benefit West Indies cricket and players in the longer run, and not necessarily a smaller pool of players,” says a member of the West Indian contingent.
“Earlier you had to play for the West Indies, or playing in one of the leagues to earn a living, but a guy can now stay at home. He doesn’t have to go to England — and it’s becoming more and more difficult to go to England now — and be a professional. So essentially we have a more professional league now.”
Alzarri Joseph, who with his 147 kph thunderbolts has put a visceral fear in the hearts of batsmen in this competition, is part of that larger pool. Joseph plays for Leewards Islands Hurricanes and is paid on a monthly basis. Shimron Hetmyer, captain of the Under-19 team, is another player who plays in the PCL, for Guyana Jaguars.
“Before a guy might have played, maybe, six first class matches and have gotten a couple of dollars for each match. Now he has a monthly salary and has some kind of stability,” says the source.
“At 18-19, Joseph and Hetmyer are being paid to train, to practise and to play, which had not happened before. There is also a hope that a number of these Under-19 players will now filter into those teams and will earn something and make a living out of cricket.”
Joseph is a tall, loose limbed boy. You take him out of the cricket ground and put him on the basketball court, he can pass off as a hoopster. You put him on a running track, or a football field, and he won’t look out of place. And these are some of the real threats that cricket in the Caribbean has been facing. Young kids are gravitating towards these sports. There are those who are still interested in cricket, playing it in the streets of Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago, but the playing field is not as much as it used to be.
Therefore, to give Alzarri Joseph, Shimron Hetmyer, Chemar Holder, Keemo Paul, Shamar Springer, et al, an opportunity to support themselves — and maybe their family too — at this age is a must for cricket. To its advantage, it’s the only sport in the Caribbean that can do so for a budding player.
“Were Alzarri not earning, he might or mightn’t have continued with cricket for a long time. Some other sport, probably basketball or something, would have weaned him away. A scout would have come from the US, looked and him and went back with him. Now at age 18, he is actually earning a living, playing cricket. And that even before has made it to the top,” the source says. There have been other initiatives, too, to keep youngsters interested in cricket, such as attaching the Under-19 players with the T20 Caribbean Premier League, thereby proving them an opportunity to strut their stuff in the league.
The explosive opener Gidron Pope and Hetmyer, for example, were with Saint Lucia Zouks and Guyana Amazon Warriors respectively last year as developmental players. At the Zouks, Pope’s captain was Darren Sammy, who is leading the senior team’s rebellion against the distribution of funds. You wonder what the youngster would be making of Sammy & Co.’s boycott threat.