Was it Really about COVID Fears or the Money?

L Bronson

west indies ap
(AP Photo/Rui Vieira)

Their reason for refusing to tour Bangladesh earlier this year was met with much skepticism.

Not that the 10 cricketers who refused to travel and thus significantly weakened the West Indies teams didn’t have the right to decline the invitations, but their excuse at the time, all factors considered, lacked credibility in the eyes of many onlookers.

Some of them had travelled to England last summer during the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic and its deadly ramifications in that European country.

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Relatively speaking Bangladesh had done a decent job of containing the outbreak and their protocols had met the approval of the Cricket West Indies medical panel.

Yet, those players who opted out cited Covid-19 related concerns, even though Bangladesh’s positivity rates and death rates were much better than what happened during the tour of England.

According to Cricket West Indies Covid-19 policy, any player can opt-out of an overseas tour over fears of safety and the decision will not impact their future selection.

Of the 10 players who opted out, two – Darren Bravo and Shimron Hetmyer – had also declined invitations to tour England. It should be noted that the England tour was the first international cricket series since the pandemic and there were many unknowns, so fear was indeed real for many.

Notwithstanding, there are prevailing views a tour of England by any team is always a significant revenue-earner, while that of Bangladesh is in no way similar.

But a lot happened since last summer’s ice-breaking tour of England and this year’s tour of Bangladesh. The International Cricket Council and all stakeholders were much better acquainted with the protocols deemed necessary for the successful staging of these matches.

Yet most of these 10 players have accepted huge contracts to ply their trade at the cash-rich 14th edition of the Indian Premier League now being staged in India. Their decision has left many to believe it was a case of players simply choosing huge sums of money over representing their country.

This is a situation that has robbed the West Indies of their best players for the past decade, what with these cash-rich Twenty20 leagues popping up all over the globe.

These West Indies players are risking their health at a time when India is staggering under 350,000 new infections and just under 3,000 deaths per day. And the numbers continue to increase daily at an alarming rate.

It has been so bad that several foreign players have left the tournament or have indicated their willingness to do so as they try to make their way back to their respective homes.

None of those players is reported to be West Indians.

The eight-week league has faced criticism for continuing in empty stadiums during this crisis, with a leading newspaper group accusing it of “commercialism gone crass” as it suspended coverage on Sunday.

The Express Publications newspaper group said it had stopped reporting the competition until a “semblance of normalcy is restored”.

“In such a tragic time, we find it incongruous that the festival of cricket is on in India,” the group continued.

One senior journalist Sharda Ugra hit out at the IPL in a column for the Hindustan Times, saying the IPL was “bubble-wrapped into tone-deafness” oblivious to “the suffering outside its gates”.

But the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is anxious to hold the tournament, which generates billions of dollars for the Indian economy after last year’s edition was moved to the United Arab Emirates because of the pandemic risk.

In a letter to players a few days ago, BCCI interim CEO Hemang Amin has assured them of the organizers full support during and after the tournament, which end on May 23.

“The BCCI will do everything to ensure that you each reach your respective destinations seamlessly. Rest assured that the tournament isn’t over for the BCCI till each one of you has reached your home, safe and sound.”

He further added that India needed the IPL now more than ever, as the four hours of cricket provided entertainment, relief and hope for the many stricken by the virus.

It’s full time some of our West Indies players display similar empathy for the people of the Caribbean who have suffered for a very long time by their poor performances on the international scene.