Cricket: The Monday Interview - Testing times find Lloyd ready to come into his own

Clive Lloyd, once the feted captain of a feared West Indies side and now its team manager, talks to Tony Cozier about his attempts to halt the current decline of cricket in the Caribbean
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DURING his long tenure as captain of the West Indies team, Clive Lloyd was unaccustomed to failure. As team manager for the past two years, it has become an unfamiliar and unwanted companion.

In 74 Tests at the helm, from 1974 to 1985, Lloyd built a team that set standards of unparalleled excellence. The West Indies won 36 Tests under him and lost only a solitary series, in 1975-76 to Australia, when he as captain and the young players who were to develop into such a powerful unit were still wet behind the ears. In four consecutive series against England, he won 11 of the 19 Tests and lost none.

Since he was recalled to his present post following the 1996 World Cup, he has supervised two reversals in a year, 3-2 to Australia in Australia and the humiliating 3-0 clean sweep by Pakistan in Pakistan. He is now visibly greying in the midst of a tense, hard-fought series against England that will determine the West Indies' status in the scheme of things and, possibly, his own future as well.

"I'm wondering whether it's not retribution because we used to beat these guys all the time and here I am getting it back in the face," Lloyd quips. If his patience with his inconsistent team is wearing thin and he is openly frustrated over his relationship with the West Indies Cricket Board, at least his sense of humour remains intact.

Lloyd's standing in the game ranks alongside Sir Frank Worrell - and only Worrell - among West Indies captains. There are those, even some who played under him, who contend that his success was derived principally from the talent under him, such as Greenidge, Haynes, Richards, Dujon, Holding, Roberts, Garner, Croft and Marshall.

But those who know the intense insularity among the scattered cricket- playing territories of the Caribbean fully appreciate the significance of his role in the glory years, and Worrell's before him.

It was an effort to regenerate harmony in a seriously fractured team and instil the discipline for which he was noted that the WICB implored Lloyd to return to a position of leadership.

When he received the call, Richie Richardson had just resigned as captain following the 1995 home series loss to Australia that ended 15 years of West Indian invincibility, and the unacceptable defeat by Kenya in the World Cup. Andy Roberts had been dismissed as coach and there was a new president of the board, which was finding its most celebrated, critical and controversial player, Brian Lara, more than a handful.

In the intervening two years, Lloyd has found a decline in the quality of the emerging players in the West Indies and a general lack of pride and commitment in the Test team, something he repeatedly referred to during the difficult days in Pakistan late last year.

So far, the West Indies have been unable to turn around their fortunes and there is little cause for optimism. The A team was being as thoroughly outplayed in South Africa at the same time as the Test side was losing in Pakistan, and the Under-19s were beaten by Zimbabwe and Bangladesh in last month's Youth World Cup, in which they finished 10th.

Lloyd has also had to deal with a second change in the captaincy in less than two years, the mercurial Lara replacing the popular and estimable Courtney Walsh prior to the present series, amidst widespread talk that there was no love lost between the two.

"I think a lot more was made of the whole thing than was merited," Lloyd says. "I've been close to them for some time and can't honestly say there was any bad blood between them. Courtney was naturally disappointed to be replaced, but he showed the type of person he is when he decided to keep playing in the interest of West Indies cricket.

"He had done a good job, but he's coming to the end of his career and it was clear we had to move on," Lloyd explains. "Brian was the obvious man to take over."

Lloyd believes it is too early yet to pass critical judgement on Lara. "Everyone's known all along that he has a good cricket brain," he says. "As we've seen in the two Tests so far, he's intuitive and he's not afraid to try things, but only time will tell how successful will be.

"He's lucky to have experienced men like Courtney and Curtly [Ambrose] with him as he starts, but they won't be around for much longer and it's how the team gels when younger players come in that will be vital."

With the series 1-1 and three to play, Lloyd believes the remaining pitches will be appreciably easier for batting than those at the Queen's Park Oval which, he claims, were more suited to England's disciplined grafters than the impatient West Indies strokemakers.

"It's going to be commitment and discipline that will decide this series," he says. "England are playing with both and we've got to be more committed, especially in our batting."

But Lloyd is not only concerned with the present. It is the long-term future, and his role in it, that bothers him. He has been staggered by the drop in standards.

"Basically, our players are coming through with too many faults," he says. "We have a lot of talent but when we unearth that talent, we have to round it off so that when a player represents his territory at domestic level he doesn't have much more to learn when he reaches Test match status."

He points out that in the three Tests in Pakistan and the two in the current series against England, there are specialist batsmen averaging in the 20s or low 30s. "They remain there because they make the most runs in our domestic cricket game," he says. "It means one of two things, either that our domestic cricket is not as strong as it should be or that we're picking poor Test players."

So does he feel are the solutions - and where does he fit in? "We have to look closely at our structure and see how our players develop from an early age," he says. "We've got to do a lot more work with videos and bowling machines and the like. We're now in an age when technology is taking over and we have to use it to show them their faults and what they can do to improve."

Lloyd recognises the drift away from cricket among the youth to other sports and leisure activities - largely influenced by American satellite television - as a problem.

"It's important to identify talent and work with it to bring it to fruition. We've got to get cricket back in the schools on a stronger footing and get boys wanting to play for the West Indies," he says. "We need to get them interested at an early age, as it used to be.

"There's no problem getting the best out of them once we identify them, because we have so many outstanding ex-players to coach them and show them the basics. The best talent will always emerge when things are properly in place. The players will come into Test cricket with fewer faults than they have at the moment."

He speaks enthusiastically of the way the Australians and the South Africans do things, getting their players mentally and physically ready.

"Once they come through a proper system, young players should already be technically prepared," Lloyd says. "Once they get to the highest level, it's a matter of mind games and fitness."

Installed first as coach for the brief home series against New Zealand and then manager, Lloyd was widely perceived as a cricketing messiah who had come to lead the West Indies out of the gathering gloom back into the light.

The reality has been quite different. Malcolm Marshall took over as coach for the tour of Australia in 1996-97, with a place on the selection panel, and Lloyd became manager, an administration role mainly responsible for mundane day-to-day matters, rather than the cricket. It is a role patently unsuitable for someone of his cricketing stature and experience.

Although he is in his tracksuit at practice, now a portly 52-year-old knocking up catches and giving advice, and is the respected voice at team meetings, that is as far as his involvement goes. He makes no secret of his desire to be given more responsibility - as, indeed, seemed the idea in the first place. "I'm on a three-year contract and there are almost two years to go," he says. "I don't just want to be motivating people on tour or during a series as manager. It's too late then. I want to have done that before.

"According to my contract, I should be involved in the development of West Indies cricket and that means from age-group level, the Under-15s and the Under-19s. I want to be going around, watching and talking to young players, giving them the impetus about what is expected when they get in the West Indies team."

He refers to his work on behalf of Lancashire as committee member and England as part of the old Test and County Cricket Board cricket committee.

"They were looking at how their game was structured at the time and I had to fill in a 20-page questionnaire on how things should be improved," he recalls. "But I haven't been doing that for West Indies cricket.

"I played 110 Tests for the West Indies. I love West Indies cricket. It has given me my upward mobility. I threw up a lot of things to come back here and I feel my role should be much wider."

He believes, above all, that he should have more say in selection. He is not on the panel and, as he still resides in Cheshire, with his wife, Waveney, and their three children - as he has done since his playing days with Lancashire - he will be ineligible under the board's new ruling, effective in May, that selectors must live in the Caribbean.

"I'm accountable for the team on tour and I think I should be able to help choose those players I'll be accountable for," he argues.

His contract states he should be consulted on selection, but he describes his relationship with the current board of selectors as "off and on".

His frustration is obvious, but he is not pessimistic. "We've got to put Pakistan behind us. We got thumped, but everyone is judged by the obstacles he overcomes," he says, recalling that his team trounced England 3-0 in 1976 only a few months after its hammering at the hands of Lillee and Thomson and the Chappells in Australia.

"If I didn't believe we would do well in the future, I'd say thank you and leave. We have problems, yes, but we can get over them with a more effective approach to our planning of our youth, middle range and Test cricket."

And he did acknowledge that a series victory over England in the coming weeks would be a timely boost for the West Indies. It would also be for Clive Lloyd, as well.