Column | A richly deserved honour for Clive Lloyd

Master craftsman
Clive Lloyd was a strokeplayer of the highest order. File photo

The New Year honours is broadly seen as one of the relics of British monarchial system, involving announcement of various medals and awards to deserving citizens and subjects of the empire. But occasionally this system can also spring some pleasant surprises as is the case this year where the list announced by the Queen of United Kingdom included the name of Clive Lloyd, the former captain of West Indies and a cricketing great, who is being knighted for his services to the game.

Lloyd would be remembered by the followers of cricket as the last of the great captains of the West Indies. He moulded a talented bunch of cricketers into the arguably one of the greatest teams of all time. He achieved this by ensuring that meritocracy prevailed in the system. Further, he did not allow the petty politicking and differences between the various islands that constituted the West Indies to affect the performance of players on the field. At its peak, the West Indies side under his leadership was such a well oiled machinery that people commented that anyone could lead this side but the swift downturn in the fortunes of the team in the years following the retirement of Lloyd and Viv Richards served to underline the positive impact of his presence and the importance of his contributions.

A look at the life of Lloyd would reveal how closely India was entwined to his cricketing career and fortunes. He made his Test debut in Mumbai in 1966 as a member of the West Indies side led by the great Gary Sobers. On a wicket that aided the spinners, leggie Bhagwat Chandrasekhar tied up the visiting batsmen in knots but Lloyd held his own and announced his arrival with a masterly knock of 82 in the first innings. In the second innings, chasing a target of 192, the West Indies were 51 for three when Lloyd walked out to bat and this soon became 90 for four, with Chandrasekhar picking up all the wickets. But Lloyd did not show any sign of nerves and held the batting together with an unbeaten 78 to guide his side to a six-wicket win.

Debut series as captain

After Lloyd was appointed as captain in 1974, the first country that West Indies played against was India. West Indies were a side undergoing transformation after the retirement of legends such as Sobers, Rohan Kanhai and Wes Hall. This series also saw the blooding of Richards and Gordon Greenidge besides the evolution of Andy Roberts as the fastest bowler in the world. Lloyd helped these youngsters find their feet and settle down in the rough and tumble world of international cricket. He contributed with the bat as well, hitting a stroke-filled 167 in the first Test and a quick-fire 70 in the second as West Indies won both the matches. After India came back strongly to win the next two Tests, Lloyd came out with a career-best knock of 242 in the final Test to steer his side to a series win on Indian soil.

India again played a big role in Lloyd deciding to rely solely on pace and intimidation and pack his side with fast bowlers, leaving no room at all for the spin bowlers. In 1976, India toured the West Indies for a four-Test series. The hosts had returned from a a six-Test series in Australia where they were drubbed 1-5. Lloyd, who was looking for an easy, morale-boosting win over India, was shocked when the visitors successfully chased the target of 404 in the third Test at Trinidad to square the series. In despair Lloyd ordered his fast bowlers to go for the jugular in the last Test at Kingston, which resulted in a virtual bloodbath as Micheal Holding and Wayne Daniel used the bouncers aimed at the head and body of batsmen to good effect, incapacitating and sending five Indians to the hospital.

Pace battery

The strategy of depending solely on the pace and fury of his speed merchants paid Lloyd rich dividends and the West Indies got catapulted to the top spot in international cricket, both in Test matches as well as in the limited overs format. The presence of six top quality fast bowlers such as Roberts, Holding, Daniel, Joel Garner, Colin Croft and Malcom Marshall gave Lloyd access to firepower of the sort not seen before in cricket history. He was also fortunate that his side possessed the best batting line-up at that time, starting with Greenidge and Desmond Haynes, followed by Alvin Kallicharran, Richards and Lloyd himself. Larry Gomes and Faoud Bacchus used to compete for the last batting slot, while Deryck Murray and his successor Jeff Dujon donned the big gloves with aplomb.

On top of the world
Clive Lloyd guided the West Indies to glory in the inaugural World Cup in 1975. File photo

The victory in the first ever World Cup in 1975 was a personal triumph for Lloyd as it was his splendid 102, that came off a mere 85 balls, which shaped the win in the final against Australia. Coming into bat when his side was in the dumps after losing three wickets with only 49 runs on board, Lloyd quickly took charge and attacked the Aussie bowling with gusto, carting the ball to all parts of the ground. His century took West Indies to a total of 291 and helped to set up a 17-run win. The second edition of the World Cup held four years later proved to be a cakewalk for the reigning champions as no side even came close to challenging their might. It was West Indies all the way, with other teams proving to be the proverbial cannon fodder in front of this mighty juggernaut.

However, Lloyd and the mighty West Indies met with their Waterloo four years later at the hands of India during the 1983 World Cup. India had shocked the West Indies in the first match of the championship by scoring a 34-run win in a game affected by rain. However, the two-time winners recovered quickly from this setback and won all their matches en route to the final, where they met India again. No one gave India even a ghost of a chance to win the final as West Indies appeared to be head and shoulders above their opponents in all departments of the game. The predictions of an easy win looked like coming true when India were dismissed for a paltry totals of 183. But the Indian bowlers struck gold when the West Indies started batting and the famed Caribbean line-up was demolished by the combination of Kapil Dev, Balwinder Singh Sandhu, Madan Lal and Roger Binny.

The loss by 43 runs in the final stunned the West Indies and Lloyd swore vengeance. He achieved it during the season that followed when his side toured India, defeating the hosts by margin of 3-0 in Tests and 5-0 in the limited overs matches. Lloyd’s guiding hand and steely resolution was evident throughout this series where he was determined to prevent complacency from creeping in. His batting during the fifth Test at Kolkata deserves special mention in this regard. After India were dismissed for 241 in the first innings, the hosts came back strongly to push West Indies on to the back foot, by dismissing half the side with only 88 runs on the board. Lloyd rebuild the innings in the company of Marshall and took the score to 175 before the latter was dismissed. The Indian spinners then got into the thick of action and reduced the visitors to 213/8 when Roberts joined his skipper at the crease. The duo took the score to 374. Lloyd batted for more than eight hours, without allowing his concentration to falter even once and ended up with an undefeated 161, when the innings closed.

Another setback

Lloyd had to face another disappointment when the West Indies were knocked out by Pakistan in the semifinal of the World Championships of Cricket (WCC) in Australia in 1985. This championship had followed the Test series against Australia in the summer of 1984-85, at the end of which he had announced his retirement from Test cricket. Apart from the blip against India in the 1983 World Cup final and the defeat at the hands of Pakistan in the WCC semifinal, the West Indies remained the lord and master of all they surveyed on the cricket field during the period from 1976 till 1985. No other side could come close to attaining the degree of dominance that West Indies under Lloyd could achieve over their rivals in both Tests and one-dayers during this phase.

After his retirement, Lloyd was appointed as match referee by the International Cricket Council (ICC) in 1992. He was the referee for the 1996 World Cup semifinal between India and Sri Lanka at Kolkata, which ended with the latter being awarded the game due to crowd disturbances. After the World Cup, he took over as the coach of the West Indies side but could not recreate the magic that made him a successful skipper. He resigned from this post in 1999 and went back to being a match referee, where his standing and reputation for fair play earned him the respect of all quarters. After retiring from this position, he was appointed for a term as Head of ICC’s Cricket Committee in 2008.

A little known fact about Lloyd was that he was among the best fielders of time. He started by fielding at cover point, where his height, long limbs and athleticism gave him an innate advantage. He also developed a powerful arm and his throws from the deep seldom missed the stumps. In the later years he moved to first slip where he did not drop almost anything that came his way and finished with 90 catches from 110 Tests. He was also a useful medium-pacer till he gave up bowling altogether due to injuries.

Followers of the game would always remember Lloyd as the fulcrum around whom the mighty West Indian cricket machine revolved during the 11 years that he was at the helm. He played the game hard, never yielding a quarter, but did so mostly in a fair manner. He understood that the laws prevailing at the time did not prevent intimidation of batsmen by bowling bouncers, nor were there any penalties for slow bowling rates, and capitalised on these to his side’s advantage. He was an astute skipper, blessed with excellent man management skills, which helped him to get the best out of his teammates. Unfortunately, the extent of his contribution to West Indies cricket was realised only after he stepped down when it was found that the void left behind was too huge to be filled by those who came after him.

(The author is a former international umpire and a senior bureaucrat)