Speight had to go – but he should go with our thanks
Neil Speight handing in his resignation as chief executive of the Bermuda Cricket Board recently was not so much a case of him abandoning a sinking ship but a matter of affixing an oxygen tank to his back with flippers to deliver him from the ocean depths.
Cricket has already sunk, and those who truly love the national sport will have a job on their hands making it relevant outside the county fair atmospheres that pervade Cup Match and the Eastern Counties.
Speight came to us in the early Nineties as an ungainly-looking Commercial League wicketkeeper — all arms, legs and floppiness — and leaves as arguably local cricket’s most influential figure of the past two decades.
Love him or loathe him — and there are many who take a shamefully negative view of the man because of his ethnicity (yes, we said it) and because he is not a born Bermudian — Speight has made a significant contribution over more than 20 years of direct involvement at administrative level and has remained the one constant as executives have come and gone.
At one point, he was the last man left standing after all others had jumped ship.
He has served as chief executive the past 13 years, overseeing the highs of qualification for the World Cup and the lows that began even before Bermuda had departed the Caribbean in that glorious spring of 2007, albeit having not been competitive in any match.
Since then our cricket has careered inexorably to the point now that we are pretty much an international afterthought as an Associate Member in Division Five, the lowest level to be found until ten days ago when the International Cricket Council reconstituted how qualification for the World Cup would be determined.
Speight can be credited with many things, from securing sponsorship that led to the four-year, $11 million government grant, to the genesis of the Hiscox Celebrity Classic, to getting a seat at the high table of world cricket, to his role in helping the likes of Bermuda captain Terryn Fray, Delray Rawlins and numerous other youngsters of lesser profile to find cricketing opportunities through education.
But for each of those notable achievements, there is understandable pushback and no small degree of scrutiny:
• Where did the money go? And did cricket really get all of it? If not, why not?
• Is the Hiscox shindig a moneymaker or a drain on already limited financial resources?
• As a long-time ICC Americas representative, what has he done for Bermuda?
• Rawlins is now a professional cricketer, but will Bermuda ever reap the benefit of that, given his stated desire to play for another country?
The unprecedented grant, coming as it did during a government spending spree before global and domestic economic realities took hold post-2008, can be dismissed as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity wasted. It is uncontestable whether the money, however much of it went directly to cricket, was put to good use.
It wasn’t. Where we are at present with the game tells us so in no uncertain fashion.
The annual celebrity event at the National Sports Centre is the marquee fixture on the board’s calendar. But renting North Field for a day is not inexpensive and, for all that the skills competition and celebrity match are wonderful for the children, there are question marks over whether the knees-up pays for itself or, rather, is putting a big dent in the BCB’s bottom line.
The national coach’s position was discontinued, remember, more for fiscal reasons than because Clay Smith performed inadequately in the role.
Speight was in Singapore when the ICC effectively gave Bermuda a mulligan as it restructured qualification for the 2023 World Cup.
He has been at countless other meetings as well, but while the bigger-market United States has had the world governing body falling over itself to give myriad second chances to their fumbling administrators, and Canada have gone on from strength to strength, there is little evidence that Bermuda has benefited at all from having someone at such close quarters to the power brokers.
The Rawlins issue would be probably the most contentious were domestic cricket not in the mess that it is in.
The 21-year-old dreams of playing for England one day. Despite his second season as a pro at Sussex County Cricket Club not going as well as his first, Rawlins has turned some heads this year and he retains a chance of breaking through at the higher level.
Until such time, though, Bermuda should be calling on its best player. We didn’t insist on him appearing on the Malaysia tour in April and May, when his presence might have made all the difference in a winnable World Cricket League Division Four tournament.
Instead quite the opposite happened and we were relegated, and indefinitely lost the services of Kamau Leverock in the process after a troubled start to the tour.
Meanwhile, the domestic scene is littered with “cricketers” who wear the societal decline on their sleeves as evidenced by a lack of respect for the game and, markedly, for each other.
This can be viewed almost every week where there is as much inane chatter as there is decent cricket played.
If only our grounds were fitted with stump mics — we have to possess the only cricketers in the world who sledge one another, if you wish to classify the often puerile babble as sledging, more than they do the opposition.
With no real appetite to play the game beyond the first week in August unless involved in county cricket, they can be accurately described as a football generation who play cricket only because it is summertime.
The shame is that there are many who care and are keen on their development, but they are overrun by those either at the end of their string or simply passing time. Those they are meant to inspire, the youth, sadly are following in the footsteps of a cursed generation.
Not pretty to watch — or hear.
How much of this is Speight’s fault? Outside of making a greater fist of getting Rawlins onside, hardly any, if we are being fair. But the societal degradation of the Bermudian cricketer has happened under his watch and little has been done to arrest its decline.
If anything, it enables it — the end-of-season awards are undeniable evidence of that.
The relationships that Speight has desperately needed to fix while things have turned bad have actually worsened. The Eastern Counties Cricket Association is on lukewarm terms at best; so, too, the Cup Match clubs.
How can that be when what they do is so significant to the community?
And the worst is with the people no cricket match can be played without — the umpires.
This Speight has to own. He has proved incapable or unwilling of negotiating these hurdles, especially in his final days, and it is right that he take his leave now and try something fresh.
His respite will be to pluck the many daggers out of his back — from the past ten years, in particular, for there have been a few.
Many have questioned his suitability for the job without themselves finding a solution.
’Twas ever thus.
Now, with Speight gone, maybe they can take a stab at it themselves.
The one safety net in their favour is that, if they fail, cricket can’t fall much farther.
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