The Controversial Retainer Contracts Fallout

On May 5, 2021, Caribbean sports media outlets and cricket lovers were greeted with the news that Cricket West Indies had issued 18 retainer contracts to the men’s team for the 2021-2022 season. The contracts would run from July 1, 2021 to June 30, 2022.

The contracts were awarded based on performances during the period of April 1, 2020 to April 1, 2021. We were informed that the 4 first-time awardees were Nkrumah Bonner, Joshua Da Silva, Akeal Hosein, and Kyle Mayers. Jason Holder was rewarded for his fantastic effort as a top international all-rounder and was the sole recipient of a contract for all three formats.

On the other hand, 11 players lost their international retainer contracts, including 3 Guyanese players in Shimron Hetmyer, Keemo Paul, and Romario Shepherd. In this article, we will examine the subsequent fallout of the decision, we will make comparisons with other countries, and finally, we will conclude by providing suggestions.

Retainer contracts are designed to remunerate the top international players for their consistent performances and provide them with the financial security needed as professionals.

Cricket West Indies has sought to build the competitive fervor for these contracts by reducing the amount allotted from last season to this season from 22 to 18.

CWI Director of Cricket Jimmy Adams alluded to this when he stated “I know that the eleven players who have lost their international retainers will be striving and fighting hard to get back into the teams and earn their central contracts back next year.

These players, along with our T20 specialists, will ensure that we have genuine competition for places that will push everyone to attain higher standards of performance.” I agree with Adams’ and the overall view to drop the number of contracts. In any industry, people will get complacent when their income is not affected by their performance. Hence, a ‘fire is lit’ in the stomach when there are limited spots to the prestigious contracts.

The Guyana Cricket Board was displeased that Cricket West Indies did not retain Hetmeyer and the other two young players previously mentioned. The Board wrote a letter to Cricket West Indies requesting a copy of the criteria used to award international retainer contracts and a report from the selection panel as to why these players were not awarded international retainers.

However, Roger Harper on the Mason and Guest show highlighted the fact that the GCB’s president and vice president were in attendance when the matter was being considered. However, the GCB responded with a sharp rebuke stating that they did the “proper and decent thing by first, writing to CWI requesting the criteria.” They were in part disappointed by Harper’s public response and stated that the two directors who attended were new to the position. They also felt as if the decision was made even before the meeting took place, and so their objection would be pointless.

I agree with the GCB that there needs to be transparency with the players and each local Board on the criteria for receiving these international retainer contracts. Mr. Harper should have provided them a written response on the matter rather than make a public statement at first.

Harper was not totally at fault because even though the directors were new to the position they could have gotten the clarification in the meeting instead of addressing it after the fact. Also, a question the GCB didn’t answer is, what are the merits that these players have achieved in the past year to be retained? For instance, in the case of Hetmyer, is he qualified? Hetmyer’s last T20I appearance came against New Zealand down under late last year. 

Moreover, his last ODI appearance came in January 2020, and his last test match came in November 2019. Hetmyer is blessed with talent, but he has been questioned for being halfhearted in his effort and twice failed a physical. If the player fails to make the team fail physically and display a lack of professionalism, should he be retained? The answer is no, and it is the very basis of why there are retainer contracts to reward excellence.

Retainer contracts should also be considered in the context of the leading competitors in cricket. In April 2021, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) announced that they were issuing 28 international retainer contracts to their top players. On the other hand, Cricket Australia in the same month announced that they had issued 17 retainer contracts which were 3 less than the previous season.

There were questions in the mind of some why a quality bat in Manish Pandey was not included in India. In response to Cricket Australia’s announcement, some wondered why quality international players like Mitchell Marsh, Joe Burns, and Matthew Wade missed out on a contract. We can learn two things from this: 1) the ideal number of contracts varies from country to country, and 2) people will always question the non-inclusion of certain players.

I believe that having a low amount of retainer contracts is more advantageous. The high performer player pool in India is bigger than in the West Indies. However, we could learn from the Indian evaluation system in which they grade the players’ performance into four payment structures based on 4 pay grades- A+, A, B, and C.  Only 3 players, for example, qualified for A+.

I think that attaching a grade to the player and then the criteria for those grades will give the transparency that will satisfy all parties involved. Some individuals would have preferred if the contracts were delayed due to Covid’s impact on the year. However, the West Indies did play enough cricket, and WIPA agreed to issue the current contracts.

The retainer contract had also ended the dark days when the Board and WIPA struggled to get an agreement on wages for a tour, and the possibility of a strike loomed over our heads. Yes, retainer contracts are controversial, but it is the correct remuneration system in which to operate a successful international cricket team.

Readers Bureau, Contributor

Edited by Jesus Chan

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