No. 27 July 24, 2010

Lloyd's pace quartet

Mike Selvey
Till then fast bowlers had hunted in pairs; Clive Lloyd decided his attack would hunt in packs
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1976

It was an Australian tour 35 years ago that changed the face of cricket. Clive Lloyd was in his second year of captaincy, the Australians were in their swaggering pomp, Lillee and Thomson were rampant, and West Indies lost a six-match series in humiliating fashion by five matches to one renegade game in Perth.

It was not the defeats themselves that rankled Lloyd as much as the perception that his side were a soft option compared to the narrow-eyed, gunslinging Aussies. Phrases such as "Caribbean crowd-pleasers" and "calypso cricketers" carried, by association, the implication that tough cricket and attractive cricket were mutually exclusive. His side, Lloyd felt, were demeaned, and he swore that never again would such a situation pertain again. Thus was constructed the great war machine that was to dominate world cricket for the next two decades, until complacency caused the defection of a generation of young West Indians to the lure of American sport.

Lloyd looked at his strengths. Batsmen who dominate have always been part of the heritage. So too fast bowlers. But historically the pacemen had hunted in pairs. It was how things were done. Lloyd questioned why. He wanted his bowlers to hunt in packs.

The signs were already there in the course of the previous year, with the redoubtable Andy Roberts spearheading a four-man attack that also included Vanburn Holder, Keith Boyce and Bernard Julien. But the great days were to come. The young, raw Michael Holding sent down his first Test match overs in Australia. Then came Wayne Daniel and the production line started.

Lloyd encouraged aggression and intimidation just as the Australians had. The bouncer, unfettered by legislation other than an umpire's judgement of unfair play, became a stock ball. Batsmen were battered into submission, over-rates dwindled, and the game at times became unedifying. Yet Lloyd had given a region something of which to be proud: the best team in the world. And still the pacemen kept coming: Colin Croft, Sylvester Clarke, Malcolm Marshall, Courtney Walsh, Patrick Patterson, Curtly Ambrose.

Hindsight tells us now, though, that this cornucopia of fast bowling excellence was less natural progression than a historical happenstance. And when in the end the well had run dry and would not replenish naturally, the side suffered. It has never been the same since.

Former England and Middlesex bowler Mike Selvey is cricket correspondent of the Guardian. This article was first published in Wisden Asia Cricket magazine in 2003