Clive Lloyd: 'This will haunt the ICC. They have bowed to pressure instead of upholding the rules'

Brian Viner Interviews: One of cricket's most respected elder statesmen believes that the game faces an uncertain future in the wake of the world governing body's reaction to the recent furore over umpiring in Australia

While one West Indian man in his sixties stews in the global media spotlight, another is watching, disapprovingly, from afar. Clive Lloyd, manager of the current West Indies tour to South Africa and until 2006 an International Cricket Council match referee, thinks that the ICC has treated the umpire Steve Bucknor "shabbily", and indeed has let down the game itself by withdrawing Bucknor from Australia's next Test match against India in Perth, following complaints by the Indians about the Jamaican's decision-making in Sydney.

"This will come back to haunt the ICC," Lloyd told me yesterday, over the phone from Durban. "They have bowed to pressure instead of upholding the rules and spirit of the game. This is not the first time umpires have made mistakes, and it is not just part and parcel of cricket, but part and parcel of sport. It happens in football too, and in boxing, and some of us were brought up to accept it. What if Billy Bowden [Bucknor's replacement] makes mistakes in Perth and somebody complains? Bucknor is well respected, he's stood in 120-odd Test matches, and this sends out a terrible message to all other umpires."

I ventured to Lloyd that cricket these days always seems to have a crisis or a scandal brewing; it was Duncan Fletcher's revelations that Andrew Flintoff had been too drunk to participate in a practice session in Australia that were still fresh in the memory when we sat down in a committee room at Old Trafford a month or two back, and it then seemed worth seeking the views of a man who, though he grew up in Guyana rather than Goosnargh, is a giant of Lancashire cricket no less, in fact rather more, than Flintoff.

"Those are private things, and my belief is that whatever happens in-house should stay in-house," Lloyd said. "He's a young man, he's enjoying his youth, he's messed up a few times, but is it right to stain his character? Sportsmen had too much to drink in my time and the time before that. I could write a lot of surprising things about people, but I wouldn't want to destroy anyone's image."

It is indeed true that his new authorised biography, Supercat, does not dish much dirt, but it is a fine read nonetheless, and amusing on the subject of the demon drink. When Lloyd arrived, a gangling, unworldly youth of 22, to play league cricket for Haslingden in the wet Lancashire spring of 1967, he found some succour in the sight of people queuing on Sunday mornings, he assumed to get into church. "I said, 'Boy, this is a God-fearing nation'. I thought it was like home. My team-mate, who was driving, said, 'Actually, they're waiting for the pub to open'," A great rumbling chuckle. "I thought British pubs were wonderful. All we had at home were rum shacks. But I couldn't drink the bitter. I'd have a couple of pints and fall asleep with my suit on."

His towering height and, of course, his skin colour must have made him a conspicuous sight in 1960s Haslingden, but he rarely encountered racism. It is true that when he was walking home one day a man ran into the street yelling "Blackie", and he turned, affronted. But the man was mortified. He had simply been calling his dog.

"Then there was one guy here when we were playing Kent one day, who shouted some abuse. Another guy followed him into the toilet and gave him what we call a good seeing-to." Another chuckle. "I think he got a small fine for affray."

Years later, as the all-conquering captain of West Indies, Lloyd was not alone in perceiving some racist overtones when the South Africa-born England captain Tony Greig notoriously declared his intention to make the visiting West Indians grovel. "He didn't realise what a serious word it was for a white South African to use," said Lloyd, forgivingly. "Or that it would galvanise us like it did."

That summer, 1976, the West Indies crushed England 3-0. Viv Richards led the devastation, but it was Lloyd who orchestrated it, and several of the cricketers of that era I have interviewed – notably Michael Holding and Ian Botham – rubbish the notion once advanced by Mike Brearley that Lloyd neither had nor needed a keen cricketing brain, given the talent at his disposal. On the contrary, his astute captaincy was the vital ingredient, they insist, and Lloyd, though a modest man, does not disagree.

"We were the first team to have a trainer," he said. "We used to run round the ground and people clapped when we finished training because of the intensity of it. These days, players think that training camps are to get fit. No, the camp is for topping up your fitness. You must be fit before you get there.

"I also thought carefully about rooming people. Instead of two Trinidadians together I would have a Trinidadian and a Barbadian, or a batsman and a bowler, so that if the bowler had taken wickets he could say, 'Now, we need runs from this room'. And no captain ever had to think about finance like I did. When we came here in 1973 we asked for more money because VAT had come in, but Donald Carr said no, because we hadn't won for 21 Tests. I wasn't yet captain but I thought, 'Ah, so that's why winning is important'. I wanted to be able to afford to educate my kids, which I did, by the way, and now they can converse with anybody. They're people of substance."

So were his surrogate kids, his players, although their substance showed in different ways. In a Test against Australia, for example, Geoff Lawson took the wicket of Gordon Greenidge and waved him to the pavilion with a volley of abuse. "At the end of the day's play, Greenidge came to me, quite calm, and said, 'Can I go and have a word with Geoff Lawson?' I said 'sure'. So Greenidge knocked on their dressing-room door, with us all peeping round the corner. He asked Allan Border if he could speak to Lawson, and Lawson came to the door. Greenidge said quietly, 'I've played cricket for a long while and I didn't like what you did today. I've come to let you know that if you ever do that again I'll break every bone in your body.'" Lloyd wiped away a tear of mirth. "In this day and age he would have been fined for that."

I discerned a slightly scornful tone in the way he said "this day and age", and asked whether he thought cricket was a better game in his time? "There was more respect for umpires," he said, presciently. "They made as many mistakes then as now but they weren't shown as often on television. It's a difficult job. I would give each umpire in each session three chances of going upstairs [to consult a third umpire with a TV monitor]. On average there is one mistake a day in a Test match. We could get rid of that. And common sense should prevail more often. At The Oval in 2006 [when the Pakistan captain Inzamam ul-Haq forfeited a Test following ball-tampering allegations] [the referee] Mike Proctor should have said, 'Listen, you can't do this, you've got to play to the whistle'. I would have gone to Inzy and said, 'You must carry on, and we'll deal with this at the end of the day'."

So much for laws and officialdom, but what of modern techniques compared with the past? Lloyd, whose glasses were as much a part of his repertoire as his vast bat with all its rubber grips, rues the impact of helmets on batting technique.

"Some bowlers got 10 yards quicker when they saw me coming out wearing glasses, but I used to take them on. Clyde Walcott told me that when England had [Fred] Trueman and [Brian] Statham, they sometimes used to bowl four bumpers an over, and they were hooked. Nobody plays the hook shot any more, because they wear helmets and they have forgotten the basic rules, to keep your eye on the ball and get into line. That's why batsmen get hit more than ever these days."

Unsurprisingly, he rejects the theory that intimidatory bowling was the major factor in the West Indians' success during his 11-year captaincy – when, of 18 series played, 14 were won, two drawn, and just two lost. "There was much more to it than that," he said. "Everyone forgets our fielding, but we hardly dropped any catches, and we had guys with the best arms you can think of. Viv, Greenidge, Desmond Haynes at bat-pad, Larry Gomes, Joel Garner at gully, [Alvin] Kallicharran, Lawrence Rowe ... and in the earlier days Keith Boyce had a rocket arm. We needed three fellows backing up when he was throwing in."

He omitted to mention himself, of course, as though anyone could forget the sight of Lloyd pouncing, giant cat-like, in the covers. I asked him whether he subscribed to Ian Botham's belief that there has never been a better Test side than his. "Well, I think our rate of winning was excellent when you think of the teams we played. There was no Bangladesh or Zimbabwe back then, and we had to deal with [Dennis] Lillee and [Jeff] Thomson, Kapil Dev, Imran Khan, [Richard] Hadlee, [Bob] Willis..."

Let us now wind the clock forwards to my phone conversation with him yesterday. When Lloyd last managed the West Indies in South Africa, in 1998, he suffered what he calls "the most shameful incident in my whole career". It was the first Test series between the two sides in South Africa, an event "pregnant with symbolism," as his biographer Simon Lister writes. Nelson Mandela himself had invited the West Indies to tour. Yet the tour was almost cancelled when his players threatened to strike over their pay structure, and Lloyd had to plead with them to go.

The current tour is considerably happier, thanks not least to a comprehensive win over South Africa in Port Elizabeth 12 days ago that was the West Indians' first Test victory over anyone for more than two years. "The team spirit is terrific," Lloyd told me, cheerfully. "We have been in the doldrums for so long and the board has been very complacent, but if you are doing well, everything flows from there. The captain [Chris Gayle] is leading well, and the coach [John Dyson] has a nice, quiet way of going about his business. Things are looking up at last."

'Supercat: The authorised biography of Clive Lloyd', by Simon Lister, is published by Fairfield Books, £16

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