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'We loved what we did and the people loved what we did'

Former West Indies captain Clive Lloyd made his Test debut 50 years ago this week. He looks back at his time in international cricket

Interview by Simon Lister
Clive Lloyd attends a cricket conclave in New Delhi, October 18, 2014

"The thing I am most proud of is that we have moved forever from 'calypso cricket' to fielding some of the best professional players you'll ever meet"  •  Getty Images

Clive Lloyd made his Test debut five decades ago. West Indies were in India and Lloyd, from Guyana, was 22. He was told he was playing in the first match 40 minutes before it started, in Bombay. It was the beginning of one of the most significant careers in modern cricket.
Lloyd talks about the challenges of captaining a group of islands, the West Indies board's historic apathy, and the need to mentor young players.
You didn't get much warning that you were about to play. Were you frightened?
No, I wasn't. I'd made a lot of runs in the Shell Shield - the first-class competition in the West Indies - and, in fact, a lot of people thought I would be going to England in 1966, but I wasn't chosen. Those were the days of bartering between the island selectors. "You give me X and I'll give you Y." So I missed out.
But by '67 I got to India and, by coincidence, Frank Worrell was there on a lecture tour. He said to me: "Listen, you could have gone to England and been exposed to a moving ball to which you're unaccustomed. You could have got some low scores and it would have set you back. Anyhow, most of our great players start in India." Because it was Frank Worrell speaking, I accepted it.
On the morning, 40 minutes before [the start], Seymour Nurse had hurt his hand in the nets, I think, and our captain, Garry Sobers, said, "You're in." That was as big a surprise as I'd ever had. But the butterflies left because we fielded first. And when we came to bat, I did well - 82 and 78 not out in my first Test match, and they couldn't leave me out. Garry and I finished off the game. And that was the start.
I had never seen spinners of this quality, of course. [Bhagwath] Chandrasekhar, Venkat [S Venkataraghavan]. So it was a bit of a test. And to add to that, I was playing in front of my idols: Conrad Hunte, Rohan Kanhai, Sobers. Looking back to that game, I guess the thing I reflect on now is that none of us were coached. I'd never been coached. So you watched other people and worked out how they did things. You worked everything out by yourself. I had always been a very aggressive sort of player. We went to the nets, practised, and that was about it. You learned on the job.
Did you ever think when you shared a dressing room with Sobers and Kanhai that one day you would succeed them as captain?
Never. Although I do remember when we played against England in Jamaica in '68, we were in the Flamingo Hotel in Kingston and there was a saxophonist playing there one night and he said to me: "You'll be captain of the West Indies one day." I had never thought that myself. Turned out he was a bit of a fortune teller.
"I fully accept that these men have to be paid properly. But at the same time there has to be a minimum requirement for our batsmen. You can't be averaging 20 in first-class cricket and be getting a year-long contract to play for the West Indies"
Being captain of the West Indies was difficult. England is one nation. India is one nation. We have a plethora of islands and different cultures and backgrounds. Barbados is not like Trinidad; Trinidadians are not like the Guyanese. The Guyanese are different to the Jamaicans. So to mesh all these men together, you have to get the trust of the players. That's the first thing they think: "Is he gonna fill this side with Guyanese?" And, of course, this sort of trust can only be earned over time. Then the captain has to perform well. Because if you don't, the players will soon ask: "How did he get here and why is he still here?"
My batting average for the first couple of years when I was captain was touching 70 [51.33]. They knew I was putting in the effort and that I would embarrass some of the guys into doing well. I also wanted to change some of the things that hadn't been done in the past. I wanted to help these players in the nets, for instance. So not only was I captain, I was the coach, the mentor. I had to be the disciplinarian, the tactician. It was not an easy job - especially at 27 years old! I was never groomed for the captaincy of the West Indies, I was simply given the captaincy.
Did the West Indies Cricket Board help your captaincy or distract you from it?
Well, I don't expect there was any other professional captain in the world who had to worry about his board's finances like I did. You know we were in the red when I first took over? You should know that the West Indies players have never been in awe of the board. Not for as long as I've been around. Garry Sobers was once told by someone on the board, "Of course, if your plane crashes today, Garry, we'll have to find a new captain". Now if your boss is speaking to you in those sorts of terms, you're not exactly going to be enamoured to him. So the players and the board were never great buddies. I should add that, despite this, we were always respectful of each other. But when we were winning, we had very little to do with the board. We hardly saw them. Only one of them ever used to call us and that was Allan Rae. He wanted to know how we were being treated, how big the gates [attendances] were, and that sort of thing, because he wanted to negotiate a better deal for us and for West Indies cricket.
When you and your team left to play World Series Cricket in 1977, there were those who thought you'd led a coup against the board.
We had to be strong, that's for sure. When we made that decision we were emerging champions - World Cup holders and winning our Test matches. Sure, we did it for ourselves, but for other cricketers too. Before Kerry Packer came along, I had to pay for my own bat, trousers and boots. When I first played for the West Indies I had to pay for the badge to be put on my cap and the pocket crest for my blazer. People were happy to call me a great cricketer, a legend, but not pay me in a way that matched my ability. But the biggest thing about World Series Cricket was that it taught us to be winners. Winning was so important for us. Not only did it help get rid of insularity within the Caribbean, it meant we got paid better.
What was the reaction in the West Indies to your success?
When we were winning, the political leaders would send us telegrams. Michael Manley in Jamaica, Forbes Burnham in Guyana, Errol Barrow in Barbados. They were all there and they knew what we were doing. And they let it be known to us that our success as cricketers assisted their negotiating strength in their international politics. Because here were these guys representing less than six million people and we were champions of the world.
So you think that the success of the cricket team assisted the political development of the region?
Yes, I would say that. And I would say, too, that our success also inspired other black people. Black cricketers in South Africa have told me that our team gave them hope when they weren't allowed to play. So I guess we created something that we didn't even know about. We had a following all over the world. Ordinary people everywhere. And by the mid-1990s, if you were a young West Indian, you would have lived your entire life and never seen us lose. Now that's quite something.
And when you take all that in, you can see how my position as captain came with a huge responsibility. The prime minister of Trinidad only had to make decisions for the people of Trinidad, but I was making decisions for the whole of the West Indies. And for 11 years, the authorities didn't have to worry about finding a new captain. I can't recall any other captain who's around now who did 11 years, playing all over the world with a team in testing conditions. But we still produced the goods. We weren't playing on many green flyers in India and Pakistan! Then you have to consider the standard of umpiring in world cricket back then. If we'd have had the DRS system, our games would have finished in two days! (laughs) We had some of the worst umpires around, but we played through all of that.
And in the quiet of a hotel room in the evenings, did that responsibility bear down on you?
Not at all. Because I had grown into the job and I knew how important it was. When you're in a dressing room and you see Viv Richards wrap himself in the West Indies flag, and you see how we celebrated when we won, the high fives when we got a wicket, you were seeing something new in West Indian people. You never saw that in the old days. We had such an excellent unit. And much later, when I became the manager of the side, I wanted to bring that back, but by then there was a different breed of player. There was a different way of thinking. Unfortunately that harmony we engendered had been lost. No one begrudges the money these guys earn nowadays, but on top of that I don't want them to lose that feeling of pride that we had in playing for the West Indies.
"If we'd have had the DRS system, our games would have finished in two days! We had some of the worst umpires around, but we played through all of that"
How do you feel about cricket in the West Indies today?
I'm sad, I'm exasperated, I'm angered about the situation, but I keep hoping. Many times I say to myself, "It looks like we've turned that corner", but, well, it's looking like a very long corner. All my hopes rest in our young cricketers, but we don't do enough talking to our young people. They need to have more mentoring from people who they can trust. Not just from people with a list of qualifications after their names, but from men who can tell them how they can get through difficult situations.
But do young West Indians desire Test cricket? Or do they just want to play it as a way to make money from the one-day game?
Well, Test cricket has to be an attractive proposition to West Indians. It's very different for a young English cricketer who dreams of playing for his country. We are people from islands and territories. Our experience has always taught us that we need to make as much money as we can as fast as we can. So I fully accept that these men have to be paid properly. But at the same time we have to have standards. There has to be a minimum requirement for our batsmen. You can't be averaging 20 in first-class cricket and be getting a year-long contract to play for the West Indies. We've been lax on that in the past. We should want to play all our types of cricket in the same manner. We have to give our best one-day players a reason to come home when the T20 competitions are over. Our guys tend to stay away when the franchises are finished. Let's get them home. If we're not working in unison with them, they'll never come home.
Can you see a time where they may not be a West Indies Test side?
I hope not. I think there are still quite a few people who want to play Test cricket, and people will watch if they see us trying to do well. People back winners in the West Indies, and that's why they're backing the guys who are making money from T20 nowadays - because they're doing well.
Fifty years is a long time to be in the game. What is your single biggest regret, and what are you most proud of?
My greatest disappointment is that some of our people don't recognise what we have achieved. There is a lingering disrespect and I'm unhappy with that. We put in a huge amount of effort over many years and a lot of our past players haven't been given enough recognition. They could have done a marvellous job for the West Indies, and had they done so, we probably wouldn't be in the abyss. We'd have been way up high.
The thing I am most proud of is that we have moved forever from "calypso cricket" to fielding some of the best professional players you'll ever meet. And we've done our people proud. We made great strides. We played cricket of the highest quality. Some people may not have liked it, but I noticed just the other day that the Australian coach, Darren Lehmann, said that he wanted his team to be like the West Indies of the 1980s, with four fast bowlers. People now like the look of that successful blueprint. There was nothing wrong with what we did.
Our best team was in 1984, when we had four quick bowlers and the spinner Roger Harper. Terrific batting. Excellent wicketkeeping. Now, that was a balanced cricket side. I'm the one that sorted that out. I showed people something. There had always been good fast bowlers, but I hit on an idea that worked. Any captain would want four fast bowlers. The Australians had them in '75, and 30 years later England had them to win the Ashes. But our guys were more consistent and played much longer. A lot of other people may not like what we achieved, but that is because we put them to shame. They had 60 million people or 250 million people. We had five million people and for 18 years we were champions. This was cricketing excellence - and it wasn't only down to the existence of four fast bowlers. We still had to bat. We still had to catch. I want people to give us credit for what we achieved.
You've been a drinks carrier, a player, a captain, a coach, a manager, a selector, an executive of the West Indies. You're no longer the chairman of selectors now. Do you think that this is the end?
Yeah, I think so. At 70-odd, I feel that I have done my lot. But if I was to mark my own report card, I'd give myself a grade in the high 80s (smiles). I think I've done well in all departments. I think I've given great service to the game and I don't hate anybody. For my clubs and my country, I've thoroughly enjoyed it all, and I'd do it all again. You know, we were exciting. We played exciting cricket. We loved what we did and the people loved what we did.

Simon Lister is the author of Fire in Babylon: How the West Indies Cricket Team Brought a People to its Feet