While the rest of the cricketing planet has had their eyes diverted to the incessant T20 carnival in the Republic of India, our man in the UK, The Tooting Trumpet, has had ample time between warm pints, cold pies, rain delays and early dim finishes to devour, digest and review the authorised biography of one of cricket’s most loved, most successful and most respected icons, Clive Hubert Lloyd.
It is with considerable humility that 99.94 is once again graced with the significant literary experience of our mysterious reviewer and his latest effort lies beneath for your reading pleasure.
Before Allan Border started the long march to Australian supremacy, there was one team that bestrode cricket as its indisputable masters – The West Indies. Like recent Australian teams, its line-up was overflowing with natural leaders, but there was only one captain, and that was Clive Lloyd.
“Supercat” is billed as an authorised biography on its wonderful cover, so we know the tone will be more hagiographic than biographic, but for a generation of cricket fans born in the sixties, that is what we want. There is another biography to be written on the great man that is more critical, but that can wait – for now we wallow in nostalgia.
Clive was born in 1944 on the South American mainland in the vast sprawling mineral rich country now known as Guyana and quickly learned the responsibilities of leadership when his father died with Clive just 14 years old. Clive left school to earn the money his family needed, but, despite eyesight that was less than perfect, continued to improve his cricket with the “black” Demerara Cricket Club, where he received the encouragement so critical to a young sportsman. The book charts the usual struggles of a player seeking to establish himself, with a little local flavour as the island nations’ representatives scheme for their men to get a slot in the West Indies team ahead of the lanky Guyanese. It’s usually a failure in the biographer to read significance into every little setback in the subject’s life, but Clive really did seem to absorb his experiences and use them to shape his life.
Clive assumes the captaincy of the West Indies and, for his third series, the team (recently crowned the first World Cup winners) travel to Australia and are annihilated 5-1. Clive watches at close quarters as Lillee, Thomson, Gilmour and Walker take 87 of the Windies’ 101 wickets to fall. Like the punk rockers emerging in London, Clive became addicted to speed.
He was to wield this mighty weapon ruthlessly in both forms of the game as his dashing batsmen, led by the incomparable King Viv, set up winning positions that his bowlers drove home with a previously unseen combination of brawn and brains, relentlessly preying on batsmen’s physical and psychological weaknesses. It was cricket one step short of battlefield warfare, and many didn’t like it. Those that did recognised that this great game had been taken to another level and that the challenge was to match the fittest team on the planet. It would take them a generation to do so and Clive’s record of 14 series wins from 18 contested as captain stands as testament to his team’s dominance.
What made Clive a great leader emerges slowly in the book. He is a soft-spoken man, but that ensures that he is listened to rather than merely heard. His education was truncated, but he thought hard about the game and hard about the things that matter to him – his refusal to tour apartheid South Africa, his pan-Caribbean political perspective, his quick understanding of the implications of World Series Cricket‘s impact on the game.
But the biggest factor in his success as a leader was his ability to inspire something not far short of love across a broad swathe of mankind. Arriving in a white Lancashire dressing room (and a white Lancashire) in the late Sixties, this giant black man immediately gains the respect and affection of his team and his new community (if not all the Lancashire committee). Great talent allied to great humility always succeeds in England. Clive looked Kerry Packer in the eye, counted him as a man he could trust and was rewarded with Kerry’s lifelong friendship and support. Most importantly, he gained the love of the disparate group of men who represented the West Indies in his time. In the book’s best sections, Andy Roberts, Michael Holding and Gordon Greenidge speak of him as “Cappy” and he speaks of them like a proud father. His distress at the early loss of perhaps the greatest of the all, Malcolm Marshall, is clear even at this distance.
Clive’s post-playing career is covered in more detail than star-struck fans like me would like. He has given great service to the game as a match referee, intermittent service to the roiling cauldron of West Indian cricket and does good works in the Caribbean and in the UK. Clive’s life is a good one well lived.
But to have seen him live (as I did many times) was to stare as this long, stooped figure, so very black in the bright sun, loped to the wicket, looked up at the umpire through his famous glasses and took guard. Hush, and then the unveiling of those uncoached, but perfectly honed strokes, all around the wicket, with a shot for a ball of any line, any length. Like everyone who has ever met him or seen him at work, my life was enriched by Big Clive and I am very, very grateful.