His massive 6’5-inch frame slouched under a cap, lazily walking to the crease, dragging ‘Big Bertha’ (the fans’ nickname for his bat, which looked anything but ‘big’ in his hands) behind him, Clive Lloyd in his playing days looked every bit like a big cat from some animation classic come to life. But that sleepy, insouciant gait belied fearsome power with the bat and lightning-fast reflexes on the field that earned him the sobriquet ‘Supercat’.
On January 12, that iconic slouch and that elegant amble, once so familiar in international cricket, were seen in a most unlikely place—Satgachia High School, in an obscure village in East Bardhaman district, West Bengal. The West Indian legend, universally acknowledged as one of the greatest captains in cricket history, had come as the chief guest in the celebration of the school’s 75th anniversary.
Even though it has been nearly 40 years since Lloyd retired from international cricket, the overwhelming reception he received from the locals, many of whom were not even born when he played his last Test in 1985, showed that the years had not dimmed his stardom in the slightest. Even in a village situated more than 100 km away from Kolkata, the legend of Supercat still burns as bright as ever. Lloyd did not disappoint his fans. The 79-year-old icon showed that he had lost none of his famous wit.
Observing that he was a “little older, four years to be exact,” than Satgachia High School, Lloyd admitted that it was the first time that he had ever been to any village in India and that he felt privileged to be a part of the celebrations. “School life is the best time for any human being. I can’t forget those beautiful days in Guyana and my schooling…Education is a must for everyone. Education gives knowledge and confidence, the two key factors in any sphere of life,” he said. Accepting a sketch drawn of him by a standard XII student of the school, Lloyd said, “I must thank the young man who made this sketch. He made me look handsome.”
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He said it was important for the government as well as the teachers to understand the importance of sports for the development of society and “apply human and financial resources to this institution accordingly… such an investment in our youth is a worthy down payment for the future of any country.” Giving the examples of Brian Lara, Sachin Tendulkar, and “young” Gavaskar (“for I still think he is young,” he said of 74-year-old Sunil Gavaskar), Lloyd stressed dedication and hard work are key to achieving sporting excellence. “Sport has always been at the cutting edge of progress, and a vehicle for fostering peace and unity,” he said.
Speaking to the media on various issues relating to cricket, including different formats of the game, Lloyd observed, “I can only find out how good you are if you are playing the longer format of the game… I don’t mind the T20 format; it is good entertainment; but too much of it might hamper cricket throughout the world. It has hampered us in the West Indies, and we only have 5 million people; and we are losing a lot of our players to the shorter format, as they are refusing to play for their country. I find that very disturbing.” According to him, to bring Test cricket to its former glory, the players should be paid at par with other formats of the game. “If you are telling me that Test cricket is the highest form of cricket that can be played, then it should pay better,” said Lloyd.
Lloyd is hailed as one of the most astute strategists of the game, and under his leadership, the West Indies team of the 1970s and mid-1980s was considered well-nigh invincible. As captain, he won two World Cups (1975 and 1979) and went undefeated in 26 Tests, with 11 successive wins.
Speaking on his role as a captain, and the challenges he had to overcome in making West Indies one of the greatest-ever sides, he said, “Nowadays there are batting coaches, bowling coaches, fielding coaches, some of them even have a priest! In my days, you ran the nets, the practice session, spoke to the press—and I’m thinking now, they owe me some money (laughs). As West Indies captain, my role was to get those players from 14 islands thinking as one. As a young man, I watched Frank Worrell, and then I played under Sir Garfield Sobers, and Rohan Kanhai. We did not have the kind of help that they have now, so you had to create your own discipline… if you were late, you were fined. The discipline had to be not just on the field but off the field as well.”
With different players coming from different islands, Lloyd had devised a unique way to foster camaraderie in the team. “I made sure that a Trinidadian would share the hotel room with a Barbadian, a Jamaican with a Guyanese, so they got to know one another’s culture. I would rotate them as often as I could. It was not a situation that you just had these players and they became great… You had to get their trust; and that trust had to be earned,” he said. He believes that being the captain of the West Indies is a far more difficult job than being the captain of any other country. “All the others happen to be one country – Pakistan is one country, as is India, Sri Lanka, Australia. So, it was hard work, but it was rewarding… You would never see West Indies lose. We have a lot of things to be proud of,” said Lloyd.
The Caribbean legend also presided over an inter-school cricket match. Hundreds had gathered from all around the region to see him. From children who had only read of his exploits on the field to middle-aged people who had witnessed them—all flocked around him, seeking his autograph, shaking his hand, and requesting selfies. Lloyd patiently obliged each and every one of them. There was no sign of impatience on the great man’s face; and even though it was long past his lunchtime, and the organisers were getting worried that he might feel hassled by the crowd, he continued to sign cricket bats, posters, and scraps of paper, unperturbed. He still projects the same grace and dignity with which he had uplifted cricket in his playing days.