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.
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.”
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.
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?).
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?