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Is Lloyd’s appointment a step forward or back for West Indies?

Columnist Earl Best takes an irreverent, even iconoclastic look at the credentials of the new WICB’s selection panel convenor:

Clive Lloyd is a tactical genius. Reference the second World Cup of Cricket, staged in England in 1979.

Playing against the hosts in the final, Lloyd’s West Indies had posted a challenging 286 for 9. When England set out on their chase, Geoff Boycott took all of 17 overs to reach double figures while his opening partner Mike Brearley fared only slightly better against the West Indian all-pace attack, the pair scoring well below the initial required run-rate of 4.76.

Photo: Former West Indies captain and icon Clive Lloyd (right) shares a point with legendary pacer Michael Holding.
Photo: Former West Indies captain and icon Clive Lloyd (right) shares a point with legendary pacer Michael Holding.

With almost 40 of the allotted 60 overs gone, they had reached a modest 129. Before that, though, Lloyd had dropped a difficult chance off Brearley and then Boycott had offered an easy one to the skipper at mid-on.

Lloyd was the Jonty Rhodes of that era, arguably the game’s best fieldsman, athletic and fast over the ground, with a flat, accurate, bullet-like throw. And two buckets for hands.

So, brilliant tactician that he was, he also dropped the second catch. Obviously, in that split second between shot and chance – or perhaps earlier – he decided that his team’s best interests were better served with Boycott at the crease rather than back in the pavilion.

In the event, by the time the opening pair of snails was finally separated, England’s required run-rate had risen to 7.18. Lloyd’s West Indies won comfortably by 92 runs.

However, Clive Lloyd is not the greatest captain that the West Indies have had. That’s not just my opinion; it’s the publicly stated conviction of Lloyd’s one-time vice-captain Deryck Murray who was at the time the president of the Trinidad and Tobago Cricket Board.

It was December 2007 and Lloyd had been named to manage Chris Gayle’s team in South Africa. In a private letter published on the Board’s website, then WICB President Julian Hunte had called Lloyd “the greatest cricketing leader this region has ever known.”

Photo: Clive Lloyd (right) was West Indies' most successful cricket captain. (Courtesy ESPN)
Photo: Clive Lloyd (right) was West Indies’ most successful cricket captain.
(Courtesy ESPN)

Delivering the feature address at the launch of Sir Everton Weekes’ book, Murray demurred.

“Deryck Murray opened his remarks on a slightly curious note,” Vaneisa Baksh tells us, “asserting that having played with Sir Frank Worrell, and under subsequent captains, he was convinced that Sir Frank was by far the best West Indies captain ever.

“(…) Murray, as head of the Trinidad and Tobago Cricket Board of Control and a member of the WICB, was diplomatic enough in his presentation, but it seemed clear that he felt compelled to make his opinion known. Murray had served as vice-captain to Lloyd and is on solid enough ground for his statement to merit consideration.”

I admit I have not asked Ms Baksh what is her view. I don’t need to. Here, unsolicited, is what the respected cricket commentator, without quoting Hunte or Murray or anyone else, goes on to say:

What has become somewhat blurred in nostalgic recall is the distinction to be made between leading an extraordinary team and being an extraordinary leader of men. Now this is not to diminish the quality of Lloyd’s leadership but simply to assert that as a leader Frank Worrell was peerless.

Far be it from me either to seek to “diminish the quality of Lloyd’s leadership” in anybody else’s eyes. But I have to say that I am no longer really overly impressed by his record as West Indies captain in the decade from 1974 to 1985.

Well, of course I am impressed by the large number of Tests and ODIs WI won in that period but I am not at all certain that Lloyd deserves the proportion of the credit he has generally been given for that achievement.

Photo: Clive Lloyd makes a point during a previous spell as team administrator.
Photo: Clive Lloyd makes a point during a previous spell as team administrator.

In his autobiography titled Marshall Arts, the now late West Indies great described the pre-match preparations in which Lloyd’s team took part. After the whole squad had worked on the primary plan, Marshall revealed, and the team meeting broke up, it was the captain and the quartet of pacers who would stay on to together come up with Plans B, C, D and E.

Don’t take my word for it, go read it yourself. It’s right there, in the chapter entitled “Behind closed doors.”

So since the announcement of his appointment as the new head of the WICB’s selection panel, I have been trying to remember anything truly memorable that the “legendary former captain” has said in the almost three decades since he passed the mantle to Vivian Richards.

In vain. Well, almost….

I do remember him saying after Darren Sammy’s men had convincingly whipped the home side in the final of the T20 World Cup in Sri Lanka that the team should now seek to go on to become world ODI champions. And, after another Sammy side was properly trounced by India in the two Tests hastily arranged for Sachin Tendulkar to go out in a blaze of glory, he said that the team seemed: “drunk on T20s” (Did he mean VaT19?).

Photo: West Indies pacer Kemar Roach (right) celebrates with captain Darren Sammy.
Photo: West Indies pacer Kemar Roach (right) celebrates with captain Darren Sammy.

But that is hardly the level of profundity one expects from a man whose team had literally dominated the world in cricket for far longer than the First World cares to remember.

Let the naysayers point to the long string of consecutive victories amassed by Ricky Ponting’s Australians; for me the West Indians who ruled the cricket world virtually unchallenged from the late 1970s all the way to the early 1990s are indisputably cricket’s most successful side ever.

And none can dispute that that dynasty was started by the bespectacled, left-handed Guyanese batsman who scored 7, 515 runs in 110 Tests and 1,977 runs in 87 ODIs. After the hammering his team took in Australia in 1975/76 at the hands of Jeff Thompson and Dennis Lillee in particular, he had the idea to eschew spin as an option and go into all future battles with an all-pace attack.

The strategy worked. Gloriously well.

But I have my doubts about how shrewd a cricket analyst the new head selector really is. With bowlers of the quality of Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Colin Croft, Joel Garner et al and a kill-’em-with-pace strategy, tactics were essentially reduced to deciding whether to put four slips and two gullies or five slips and a single gully. Or when we won the toss, whether to bat first or put the opposition in.

Photo: Pace like fire! The legendary West Indies cricket pace quartet of (from left) Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Colin Croft and Joel Garner.
Photo: Pace like fire!
The legendary West Indies cricket pace quartet of (from left) Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Colin Croft and Joel Garner.

With a side like Lloyd’s, even Sammy could beat the Aussies. And if Hunte and Hilaire were in charge, perhaps even make the starting XI and be named official captain!

So where, I ask, is the compelling evidence of a great cricketing brain? Or of a great father figure? Or a great off-the-field leader?

Why did the region not clamour for Lloyd to be elected WICB president when he let his bucket down in 2013? Was that merely the age-old internal Board politics at work or at play?

Is it an accident that Mr Lloyd is not Sir Clive? For all we know the modest, self-effacing ever-so-successful ex-captain may well have said no to a knighthood…

But I think of Sir Frank telling Wes Hall in the Tied Test in Australia in 1961, “And, Wes, if you bowl a no-ball now you’ll never be able to go back to Barbados.”

Hall, remember, ensured that he put his foot half a yard behind the crease.

And I think of the 1966 Lord’s Test with Sir Gary telling his cousin David Holford as the young man came to join him in the middle something like: “This is no different from facing the fellows back home in Kensington Oval on a weekend.”

The WI were 95 for 4 and staring defeat in the face. The Test was drawn, the resultant partnership yielding 274 runs, Holford’s contribution 105 not out.

Photo: West Indies cricket star Brian Lara sweeps for four runs against Australia at the Queen's Park Oval in Port of Spain, Trinidad on 20 April, 2003.  Behind stumps are Australian wicket keeper Adam Gilchrist (left) and Mathew Hayden.   (Copyright AFP 2014/Robert Taylor)
Photo: West Indies cricket star Brian Lara sweeps for four runs against Australia at the Queen’s Park Oval in Port of Spain, Trinidad on 20 April, 2003.
Behind stumps are Australian wicket keeper Adam Gilchrist (left) and Mathew Hayden.
(Copyright AFP 2014/Robert Taylor)

Or I think of Kanhai telling Brian Lara on his return to the pavilion after his magnificent 277 at Sydney in only his fifth Test match: “Remember, son, your next innings begins at zero.”

But Lloyd? Nothing. Zero. Zilch. Rien. Nada. Nihil.

Well, not quite. Perhaps there is something.

I seem to remember reading somewhere a story about a young Lloyd coming in to join captain Sobers at the wicket. Take a few balls to get your eyes in, the skipper instructed him, and then let’s get this show on the road. That might not have been the exact message but words to that effect.

Were the WI trying to post a total to declare? Were they trying to beat some threatening weather?

Neither. There was, Lloyd reports, a horse race later that evening that Sobers wanted to see. Or perhaps to place a bet on.

But the story leaves the reader in no doubt that the junior disapproved of what he saw as his senior’s cavalier attitude to the West Indian cricketing enterprise.

Photo: Former West Indies star and world record holder Gary Sobers goes on the attack.
Photo: Former West Indies star and world record holder Gary Sobers goes on the attack.

So what is my point? What am I getting at?

Well, I think it would be a mistake for us to expect great things to happen in West Indian cricket simply because the former great captain is now in charge of selection.

The headline on Ms Baksh’s article, it is worth remembering, was: “Lloyd’s no magician.” His post-playing career record really gives us very little to suggest that he has a lot to offer the struggling West Indian players.

An article in the weekend’s newspapers says the new convenor, who turns 70 at month’s end, has been a kind of Jack-of-all-trades: “a West Indies coach, manager and board director, and currently serves on the WICB’s debriefing panel which assesses team performances following series and tours. He has also served the International Cricket Council, the sport’s world governing body, as a match referee and head of its cricket committee.”

From a man who would have come onto the cricket administration market with such a massive reputation, I for one would have expected a rather more impressive CV at this stage.

Unlike Richie Benaud, Ian Chappell, Boycott and a host of clearly less successful Australian and English captains, Lloyd has not been in great demand as an analyst-cum-commentator.

But, in “this divided world that don’t need islands no more,” that may not at all be a reflection of a lack of cricketing acumen. Who can tell?

Photo: Legendary former West Indies cricket captain Clive Lloyd.
Photo: Legendary former West Indies cricket captain Clive Lloyd.

Just one little footnote to finish.

Lloyd has always maintained that he did not deliberately grass that Boycott chance, a claim which for years many, including me, had difficulty believing.

But what if he was telling the truth?

Hasn’t all that has happened since made it easier to take him at his word?

AboutEarl Best

Earl Best
Earl Best taught cricket, French, football and Spanish at QRC for many years and has written consistently for the Tapia and the Trinidad and Tobago Review since the 1970's. He is also a former sports editor at the Trinidad Guardian and the Trinidad Express and is now a senior lecturer in Journalism at COSTAATT.

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20 comments

  1. That in itself a biased comment.

  2. Backwards.. Why is there no trini selectors on that panel that have a say? The selection will always be biased with the other nations..

  3. You, Mr Imbert, should know better than most that that is precisely the type of thinking that has gotten us as a country saddled with a bunch of incompetents…to focus only on that aspect.
    So yes, it does matter. We should seek out the best candidate and give him the job.
    Mind you, as far as I am concerned, the jury has to be still out on Lloyd. Let us not, however, expect anything but continue to hope for something.

  4. Agreed. But there were more things happening below the surface on choice
    of grounds, choice of players, choice of tours etc.

  5. Well I don’t know if the CEO/President ever actually over-ruled the coaches/selectors with any particular selection. What we could say is under the dark period when he st Lucian pressy/ceo duo of Julian Hunte & Ernest Hilaire was in charge – they picked the captain (Sammy) for the selectors & coach.

    So even if the coach/selectors didn’t agree or wanted to make adjustments to the team between November 2011 – June 2013 (when Bravo became ODI captain), they were handicapped cause they were theoretically only ever picking 10 players. Sammy always had to play regardless of the format.

  6. Is the problem the selector or the selectee?

  7. I think we’re dealing with a culture and patterns of thought that have been allowed to encrust over the years of under-performance which are now too entrenched for him to make a difference. But, hope springs eternal!

  8. Does it really matter? The WI team has been a tremendous disappointment for many, many years. Can Lloyd make it worse? I doubt it. Something positive must come out of his experience and knowledge

  9. Lasana

    It is how it is done and how the power is used.

    Tony

  10. I find it almost farcical to think a president or CEO of a professional sport team would overrule a coach or selector on team selection.
    Could that really be the case with West Indies?

  11. I thought Robert Haynes added value – great players (and I had a couple
    years of seeing them from close-up as selectors when I was at the Board)
    don’t necessarily make the best selectors. Robert paid his dues up to and including a long stint in English league cricket. His great strength, for
    me, is his forthrightness – he never sucked up to or covered up for anyone.
    The point, catch, issue, snag – whatever you call it – is that the
    selectors report to the CEO who reports to the President.

  12. Good thought provoking article from Mr Best on Lloyd. It is true to some degree that Lloyd isn’t the greatest “tactical” captain windies ever had. Worrell doesn’t deserve that accolade based on things over the years.

    WI problems obviously won’t be changed overnight by incorporating big name former players as selectors – but at this point I rather have such players picking WI teams rather than former players like Butts/Robert Haynes who weren’t great players.

    As Lloyd himself said, this is his “last innings” for West Indies cricket in many ways – for windies sake I hope he makes a major impact.

  13. It is not necessarily same, but when each territory coach players differently n when they get to the wi team it is a different approach…. That is a problem… Cause u r also dealing with player confidence… We also have pelters coming thru youth cricket n no one is doing anything about it

  14. Definitely more needs to be done in development. Trinidad and Tobago was doing very well there recently although not so much now.
    I don’t know if all the islands should have the same approach to the game. But of course they should all be technically sound.

  15. Quite Insightful… One of the key problems we have is our young players making the transition form u19 to first class… Far too often, u19 players cannot make their territorial teams n r not developed. Instead of having a CCC team full of bajans, they need to have an u23 team. N there needs to b a similar coaching philosophy throughout the different islands. Too often we c players whose techniques are glaringly suspect n they r on a first class squad. They also need to take the politics out of cricket. Take tnt for instance, y isn’t tony gray in the coaching set up. It has to stop.

  16. Not sure if people drop catch on purpose or that’s sarcasm