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Hilaire: Hunte was my 'calming influence'

By Kern De Freitas kern.defreitas@trinidadexpress.com

He has been much criticised for his tough love methods of running West Indies cricket. But outgoing West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) CEO Ernest Hilaire says his "shake up" of regional cricket could have been more forceful but for the "calming influence" of WICB president Julian Hunte.

Hilaire was speaking during an exclusive interview yesterday with Observer Radio in Antigua—where the WICB headquarters also stands—of which the Express was also a part.

In the interview, he hailed Hunte as "a remarkable man to work with".

"It's not by accident that he was foreign minister (of St Lucia), ambassador, president of UN General Assembly," Hilaire said. "He has stature; he has a certain capacity to work and to reason. In many ways he was the calming influence on me. Trust me, if it was not for Julian Hunte, I would have tried to shake up a lot more than has been shaken up."

Hilaire, whose tenure as WICB CEO concludes at month's end, when he will take up a position as St Lucia High Commissioner to London, stated that contrary to rumour, he never managed Hunte's failed political campaign years ago in their native St Lucia.

In fact, Hilaire revealed he was campaign manager to Hunte's opponent, to whom the now WICB president lost.

"It is a statement of the kind of person Julian Hunte is, that there is somebody who helped engineer his downfall in the political circles, but (he) held no animosity or acrimony (towards me)," Hilaire stressed. "(He) never did. That tells you about the kind of person Julian Hunte is."

Asked about his term and approach as WICB CEO, Hilaire said he had no choice but to take "painful" and "brutal" decisions to turn floundering West Indies cricket around. He added that before taking up the post he was "critical of the Board and the way it operates" until he "got an opportunity to make it better".

"In a sense we started off knowing that we had to go through a difficult period. And (my tenure) was that difficult period; the next few years you would find all the elements of the foundation have been put in place already.

Hilaire continued: "Some very tough decisions have been taken about the future of West Indies cricket, and the next CEO will have to take it to the next level."

His most "tremendous success" during his three-year stint, Hilaire noted, is the Sagicor High Performance Centre. He was proud to get the Centre up and running "within six months", a project he said the Board struggled with for six years because of the "complicated" decision-making process in the WICB that previously stymied its progress.

Other problems he inherited, Hilaire pointed out, were a lack of player selection policy and no permanent head coach. Australian John Dyson had quit, and current T&T coach David Williams was acting in the position when he (Hilaire) took over.

Of the selectors, Hilaire said: "You had selectors saying 'we're not sure exactly what the policy is. We select players and we are criticised. We change the players and the selection committee is changed, because people don't like the fact that the team is not performing and they don't like who is being picked on the team'. And there was no structure to it."

The WICB went ahead to draft a five-year plan from 2012-2017 that involved a strict selection policy, that also drew strong criticism.

About the coach matter, Hilaire claimed that it was in fact the senior West Indies players—who he declined to name—that selected Barbadian Ottis Gibson, then England bowling coach, as West Indies coach.

"The senior players had already had discussions with (Ottis Gibson) in England to become coach," said Hilaire. "I took over negotiations with Ottis, sat down and spoke with Ottis, he sold his vision, it coincided with the particular historical points where the board was, and it meshed. And all that was done within six months of becoming CEO."

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