Darcus Howe cheers a Windies cricket triumph

How West Indian cricket took on a bullying multinational and won

In February, reporting from Barbados, I wrote about the "unruly beast", the term used by a local broadcaster to refer to the British-based multinational Cable & Wireless. This company held a monopoly of telecommunications in Barbados and owned substantial chunks of the industry in the other English-speaking Caribbean countries.

Barbadians protested that they were paying exorbitant rates for telephone usage and wanted the monopoly broken. Enter Digicel, a company of Irish buccaneers, which entered into fierce competition with C&W Barbados. While I was on the island, a telecoms quango refused an application from C&W for an increase in rates. Ministers put pressure on the quango to comply with C&W's wishes - and so four members of the body resigned.

Much has happened since. Digicel outbid C&W to win, from the official organising body - the West Indies Cricket Board - the contract to sponsor the game throughout the Caribbean. C&W responded by luring six Test players into individual contracts to advertise its products on hoardings, in newspapers, on radio and on television. The Windies captain, Brian Lara, was already sponsored by C&W. The team then travelled to Australia

for a triangular series of one-day matches with Digicel as their official sponsor. Digicel representatives requested the players to give interviews while on tour and to publish articles carrying the Digicel logo. Lara and the other six refused. They belonged to C&W, they said, and owed no allegiance to Digicel.

The West Indies Cricket Board called in the players on their return to the Caribbean and pointed out that they were subject to the rules and regulations in its own contract with them. The dissidents marshalled the players' union in their cause. The board, preparing for home Test matches with South Africa, dropped all seven of those contracted to C&W and picked a team largely made up of novices.

The players' union called on Caribbean cricket lovers to boycott the Test matches. But the first Test in Guyana attracted huge crowds, and though South Africa scraped a draw, the novices had by far the better of the contest.

Now the C&W Seven have come crawling back. The West Indies cricket team is back to strength and Cable & Wireless is out in the blazing midday sun, bothered, bewildered and defeated. The beast has been tamed, at least for now.

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