Ricky Skerritt has urged the territorial boards in the Caribbean not to risk what he sees as the “delicate vulnerability” of the recovery of West Indies cricket in the presidential election at the end of this month.
Skerritt, the current Cricket West Indies (CWI) president, is seeking a second term as president as he approaches the end of his initial two-year term. And while he accepts the last couple of years have presented some significant challenges, he insists his regime has “helped CWI onto the right tracks”.
In particular, Skerritt claims that, when he ended Dave Cameron’s six-year term as president, he inherited an organisation filled with “chaos and confusion” and burdened by such debt that he says it “could not meet most of our obligations”.
But with West Indies currently placed 10th in the ICC’s T20I rankings – one place below Afghanistan – as well as ninth in ODIs and eighth in Test cricket, and the board having had to make 50% pay cuts to all staff, including players, to help them get through the pandemic, Skerritt’s rivals have plenty of material with which to work.
The other candidate for CWI president is Anand Sanasie, secretary of the Guyana Cricket Board. Cameron has endorsed Sanasie’s campaign, though Sanasie himself has said he has no plans to offer Cameron an official role if he is elected. The election takes place on March 28. Skerritt won 8-4 in 2019.
“We were facing serious cashflow problems from the very beginning,” Skerritt told ESPNcricinfo. “So, I regret that there were many people who we couldn’t pay when the time was there to pay. There were many trade payables that we had to renege on and fortunately the goodwill with our creditors has been so good that we haven’t had any untoward repercussions.
“There was a chaos and confusion within CWI which had to be rectified fairly quickly. Some individuals had, for whatever motive, abused the system and not paid attention to certain basic protocols. There was also a tendency from the board to overreach into executive management. We needed to move on from constant battling and petty personnel fighting.
“But it’s not pleasant when you take over an organisation that can’t pay its bills. Players had not been paid their basic salaries and, in several cases, their match fees for months.
“The debt to players was my biggest concern when I first became president. When you have to decide whether to pay the hotel, or the transport company, or the airlines that they have to try to fly on, it’s a very delicate decision. But now players are our priority, it’s as simple as that.
“The biggest problem we were facing is that all of our future cash was spoken for before we even got it. We were living on borrowed future income. So, we had close to $20 million in institutional debt. And we were borrowing to pay back lenders. It was all footwork and mirrors. And that’s understandable on short-term strategies when there are difficult times for cash flow. But it had become endemic.
“So, we’ve cut our debt down by at least a third now after less than two years. And, with some difficulty, we have improved our ability to meet our obligations. We just could not meet most of our obligations.
“We were borrowing money to pay wages. We did that for the first year that I was in office. Right up until the early summer last year we were literally having to borrow to just pay players and staff.
“We are confident that we have helped cricket West Indies onto the right tracks. And we need to stay on track. We have to be very careful because of the delicate vulnerability of what we have achieved for just a short while, that it can go off track very easily.”
As well as hoping to bring high-profile ICC events back to the Caribbean – possibly in partnership with USA Cricket and Canada Cricket – Skerritt is standing on a platform promoting governance reform.
That would mean a restructuring of the CWI board on the lines of the Wehby report whereby the overall number of board members would be halved and the influence of the territorial boards would be diluted. Instead, the emphasis would be upon independent members with specific expertise. Given it is those same territorial board members voting in the presidential election, there is scope for resistance.
“There are those people using the Wehby report to scare people in the territorial board system and to give them the impression that somehow the Wehby report represents an attack on West Indies cricket,” Skerritt said. “It’s actually a substantial review of some of the things we do and how we can do them better.
“Will people on the territorial boards be prepared to vote themselves out of a role? That’s the million-dollar question. How many of us will be big enough to see that West Indies cricket is bigger than us individually? It’s the most difficult thing.”
A key element in the election might be how West Indies’ tour of England, conducted during the first peak of the pandemic in the UK, is perceived around the territorial boards. Calvin Hope, the vice-president of the Barbados Cricket Board, who is running as Sanasie’s deputy, has previously chastised Skerritt and co. for failing to negotiate a fee for agreeing to the tour.
“We had an opportunity to negotiate with England and we went on that tour for not one red cent,” Hope told a radio show in the region. “We refused to negotiate and to pressure and to use our leverage with England. England was saved £350 million and all West Indies got was a pat on the back.”
Skerritt, however, believes such a “distasteful action” would have amounted to an attempt to “extort money” for the trip. He also believes the long-term approach conducted by CWI will have been shown to pay a dividend when the ECB announce they are to extend their Caribbean tour in early 2022 from two Tests to three. There will also be a separate T20I tour starting in late January.
“Those folks wanted me to somehow hold a gun to the head of ECB and extort money from them,” he told ESPNcricinfo. “There was this perception that if we didn’t go to England, the ECB would go bankrupt and therefore they were prepared to pay any kind of money to make us come.
“It was ridiculously untrue. There were other teams lined up to go to England. And I could bet you that none of them were attempting the distasteful action of seeking to extort money for the trip. It just doesn’t happen in ICC systems.
“The criticism came from people who were upset that we tried to re-introduce cricket because, for them, no cricket was going to be used as a failure of ours.
“CWI and the ECB have had good relations for decades. So we’ve been able to continue talking with ECB about the tour that is due next year and how we could even strengthen that tour which gives a huge financial benefit to CWI. We’re very grateful that they have been very open to that discussion. It’s going to mean hundreds of thousands of dollars in terms of broadcast revenue that will be generated.”
It was noticeable that Sanasie’s nomination for president came from the Barbados Cricket Broad, whose chair, Conde Riley, called for the sacking of Phil Simmons, West Indies’ head coach, on the eve of the series against England. That has led to suggestions that, should Skerritt be defeated, Simmons could be among those to go shortly afterwards.
“When there were people calling for his removal, it was not only shocking, it was very distasteful,” Skerritt said. “And very worrying. Because it reminds us how vulnerable West Indies cricket is to those critics who only see their own shadows ahead of them.
“It is a very sad reality that across the Caribbean not everybody really, genuinely loves West Indies cricket through thick and thin. Some of the people have given many hours of support for West Indies cricket but, when it comes to certain matters of politics, you almost can’t recognise them.
“I sincerely hope and pray that the good things we have started will have some level of sustainability. But unfortunately, the culture still needs a lot of work.”
ESPNcricinfo has also invited Anand Sanasie to be interviewed.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo
ESPN Sports Media Ltd.