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Monday, January 24, 2022

Strengthening Ties With The U.S. Is A Key Issue In Cricket West Indies’ Presidential Race

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Cricket West Indies (CWI) president Ricky Skerritt is in a fight as he battles Anand Sanasie in the governing body’s election later this month, with predictable issues of accountability and governance core of the campaign’s heated politicking, but strengthening ties with a potentially lucrative American cricket scene has surprisingly emerged as a hot button issue.  

With Caribbean cricket prone to bitter in-fighting between the rival countries, leading to accusations of petty boardroom shenanigans, the battle grounds between the candidates has predictably centered around transparency.

The West Indies were once cricket’s greatest show – their run in the ‘80s was an even more successful and spectacular version than the Showtime Lakers – but eventually spiraled in part through bickering and fracturing leading to player revolts and a debt-ridden governing body.

Skerritt, whose two-year term is about to end, told me “no one person” could galvanize West Indies cricket.

“It truly takes a village,” he said in a recent interview over email. “We all need to work closely together in the empowerment of our cricketers in order to produce successful cricket teams.

“We have calmed the heavy waves that were crashing into our ship, so to speak, but we still have to power the vessel forwards while keeping it on course.”

Perhaps a surprising focus of the campaigning has been CWI’s future plans with American cricket, which has long allured cricket administrators tantalized by the world’s biggest sports market.

This quirky Commonwealth bat and ball sport seemingly has a very bright future there with a professional T20 league on the horizon and major stadia being developed.

These grandiose visions appear, right now, clouded by a lawsuit from two USA Cricket board members against five other board members and chief executive Iain Higgins reviving bad memories of yesteryear when American cricket was deemed a punchline.  

Still, the power brokers in the Caribbean understand the importance of their well-heeled neighbors, which could help provide a streamline and much-needed financial stability in continually cash-stricken CWI.

Central to this, the governing bodies are hoping to co-host a T20 World Cup in 2026 or 2030 – an event that is hoped to ignite mainstream fandom in the U.S. something akin to soccer’s explosion after the 1994 FIFA World Cup.

“We have begun discussions with USA Cricket about co-hosting ICC events in the future,” Skerritt told me. “Hosting ICC events is important for us but is not critical to our strategic plan.”

Forging closer ties with USA Cricket, with relations powered in recent times with the U.S. joining the CWI’s Super50 tournament in 2019, is of importance to Skerritt who believed the partnership could expand.

“USA Cricket is still a relatively new construct that needs some more time to settle. But we already have good friendships and inter-organizational communications brewing,” he said.

“The next big step might be to implement some mutually beneficial girls cricket development projects together.

“Hosting some of our international cricket in the Florida is likely to continue from time to time. I expect that any growth of professional cricket in the USA should benefit all of the Americas.”

Sanasie said pursuing expansion into the lucrative North American market was a “critical plank” for CWI.

“The U.S. market is poised for transformative and explosive take-off and, as the leading cricket governing body in this hemisphere, CWI can both partner with and offer support and guidance to USA Cricket for our mutual benefit,” he said in a press release.

There is also much wider intrigue over the election’s result. Skerritt is becoming more influential on the ICC board, as testament to running in the recent deputy chair election where he narrowly lost to incumbent Imran Khwaja 9-8, as I first reported last month.

Skerritt was a surprise candidate with the assumption being that India president Sourav Ganguly would take on Khwaja, who late last year lost the chair election to Greg Barclay, but the ex-India captain’s recent health problems seemingly ruled him out of contesting.

The 64-year-old, according to sources, was backed by the mighty ‘big three’ of cricket India, England and Australia who had been so influential in getting Barclay over the line. But Singaporean Khwaja prevailed to underline a clear split in the board, which could resemble a “hung parliament” according to one insider.

“The ICC Board is divided, but I wouldn’t describe it as being broken,” Skerritt said. “ICC technicians should work more closely and strategically with its board members to ensure that there is a healthy and sustainable balance between hosting ICC events, operating future-tours cricket, and meeting the needs of cricket development.”

Skerritt denied he was the preferred candidate of the ‘big three’. “I didn’t set out to ‘run’ and never seriously campaigned for the position of deputy chair,” he said.

“I am independent in my outlook, and in cricket matters I have never been controlled by anyone. I am for what is best for world cricket. In the interest of competition, I allowed my name to be put forward as a candidate at the request of two fellow ICC directors.”

Even though much cynicism in the Caribbean exists, with many believing the instability and toxicity will not abate, Skerritt preferred to picture a rosy future for West Indies cricket.

“I expect that CWI would have long achieved financial sustainability long before (2030), and harmony and strategic alignment will be prevailing among all stakeholders,” he said.

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