The situation bore the unmistakeable stamp of customary West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) bungling.
Pedro Collins and Daren Ganga arrived at Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International Airport by British Airways from London early yesterday morning, after their 36-hour journey from the Caribbean, expecting to join the West Indies squad that had flown in the previous evening from Zimbabwe for the forthcoming tour of South Africa.
They found no one on hand to meet them, had no idea where the team was, carried no contact numbers for West Indies or Cricket South Africa (CSA) officials and no instructions to advise them of their next move.
Fortunately, I was at the airport at the time and could offer some help.
As earlier e-mailed efforts to obtain names and numbers for West Indies team hotels and management from the WICB had proved unsurprisingly futile, I telephoned Michael Owen-Smith, the CSA media manager, to inform him of the predicament. He immediately contacted CSA headquarters in Johannesburg from his office in Cape Town and called back to state that no one there had any notice from the WICB of the scheduled arrival of the two players, who replace Ravi Rampaul and Narsingh Deonarine from the Zimbabwe squad.
But CSA immediately put Ghulam Rajah, their long-serving team manager and a Johannesburg resident, onto the case.
As the rest of the West Indies group had flown on the previous evening to East London where they play their first match, against a Makhaya Ntini XI as part of the fast bowler’s benefit year on Friday, Rajah arranged for South African Airways (SAA) to issue business class tickets on the first available connection to East London for Collins and Ganga, two hours after their arrival. It was the culmination of an exhausting trip that started Sunday evening out of Grantley Adams International Airport in Barbados and involved 13 hours’ in transit in London where they transferred from Gatwick to Heathrow.
Although no provision was made by the WICB for an accommodation stopover, Ganga said they had booked themselves into a hotel in London rather than having to remain in the departure lounge at Heathrow.
The confusion echoes several past basic muddles by the WICB secretariat. The latest was the unexplained delays in getting replacement players to England in time for warm-up matches on last summer’s tour. The current issue begs the question why the WICB should send players on a long trip without detailed documentation of their itinerary and, as well, why the players should not ensure they have such information as a matter of course.
During the England tour, Chris Gayle, then as now captain in Ramnaresh Sarwan’s absence, had strong words for the WICB after its disorganisation there. “The board is always talking about players needing to change but we, the players, need changes from the board as well,” he said then. “The WICB says they want the best out of players but we also need the best out of the board.”
He was openly admonished by then WICB president Ken Gordon who demanded an apology. Gayle refused to backtrack and the issue went no further when Gordon was replaced by Julian Hunte who has adopted a far more conciliatory attitude to the players .
Gayle might now make the same point to him.