Lloyd lords over others

S. SUBRAMANIUM

For his team's domination of world cricket, his own ability to unite his players, as well as for encouraging an entertaining brand of cricket, Clive Lloyd wins the vote as the greatest captain in Test cricket history, writes KANTA MURALI.

In his autobiography, Last Over, distinguished cricket writer E.W. Swanton notes that Field-Marshal Bernard Montgomery, the hero of the allied World War II campaign in El-Alamein and an ardent cricket fan, held the simplistic view that success in sport depended solely on leadership. Swanton corresponded regularly in the 1960s with the Field-Marshal on cricketing matters and in one letter, Montgomery reveals his disappointment with English captain Colin Cowdrey's tactics during the 1968 Ashes.

Commenting on the third Test, he wrote: "Cowdrey is a magnificent cricketer — the best bat in the world today, and a superb slip fielder. But he has a great deal to learn about generalship. In a battle it is captaincy which counts; a Test match is a battle. In England's first innings what was the point in going on to make 409? Cowdrey has a team packed with bowlers. I suggest he should have declared at 300 plus and then let his bowlers loose at Australia — trusting a bit of luck to get them out. Instead, he played for safety. In my profession you cannot expect luck, and don't deserve it, unless you are bold. It is the same in cricket. If Cowdrey had been bold, and remembered the English climate, he might well have won the third Test."

Swanton goes on to add that no captain impressed the Field-Marshal in the time they corresponded. In the history of the game, 264 men have led their countries in the Test arena, but only a handful can truly be considered "great." Richie Benaud famously stated that captaincy was "90 per cent luck and 10 per cent skill." Mike Brearley suggested, a good captain was "like the conductor of an orchestra." So what makes a captain great?

Quality of resources

It is a simple fact that a captain's success partly depends on the material at his disposal. Great captains are ones who can adapt to changing situations but without reasonable players, the options open are few and far between. The accomplishments of Steve Waugh and Clive Lloyd as captains must in part be attributed to the strength of their teams. Would a side with players of the calibre of Viv Richards, Michael Holding and Malcolm Marshall or Glenn McGrath, Adam Gilchrist and Shane Warne not captain itself, you may ask.

Perhaps, it is appropriate to quote Richie Benaud in this context: "It is true that a side will not stay strong, no matter what their resources, if the captain is weak."

Ideally, a great captain merits a place in the side because of his playing skills. In this regard, the Australian policy of picking the side first and then selecting the captain is eminently sensible.

Tactical skills

A good captain is always ahead of the game; a great one is capable of making the opposition play the way he wants it to. Sometimes the best tactics are simple. Mark Taylor took a very positive approach to captaincy at all times. He subscribed to the Colin Cowdrey adage when winning the toss — "Nine times out of ten, you should automatically bat first. The other time you should think about fielding, but then bat anyway." His plan was simple — seize the initiative by putting runs on the board and then set attacking fields.

Sometimes it is intuition that makes a difference. In 1992, Allan Border's side recovered from a first innings deficit of 291 runs to beat Sri Lanka in dramatic fashion in Colombo. Chasing 181 for victory on the last day, Sri Lanka got off to a solid start before Greg Matthews and Craig McDermott effected a middle-order collapse. At seven down with 31 still needed, the match was anybody's game.

At this point, Border chose to give the ball to Shane Warne, whose career figures up to that point were one for 335 from 90 overs. Warne had bowled only one over in the innings until then, which had cost 11runs. He responded to his skipper's call in style, taking three wickets for no runs in his next four overs to end the match.

Communication ability and player management

Brearley was a master at producing the best from his players. Brearley's deep understanding of his players is revealed in his handling of Ian Botham and Bob Willis. He says: "With Ian Botham, you could get more out of him by knocking him, saying, `You're bowling slower than my Aunt Edith'; he would bristle and come in much faster. But when we did this with Bob, we realised at a certain point that it would get him down and he needed to be helped rather than teased."

Ian Chappell... the second best among post-war captains.-Pic. GETTY IMAGES

Great captains are capable of striking the right note at the right time. Nothing typifies this more than the exchange between Wes Hall and Frank Worrell during the last over of the first Tied Test in 1960. The big fast bowler had committed a series of blunders in the over and with the scores tied and one ball to go, Worrell knew that Hall would be inclined to bowl as fast as he could, greatly risking an extra. Worrell calmly walked over to Hall and said "Remember Wes, if you bowl a no-ball, you'll never be able to go back to Barbados."

Hall later admitted that he was terrified at the prospect and made sure his foot was well behind the crease. Great captains not only know what to communicate but how to communicate as well. They are democratic at times but autocratic when necessary.

Leadership and character traits

Steve Waugh believes that Test cricket "entails words such as dedication, sacrifice, commitment, unselfishness, camaraderie, courage, pride and passion. To win, you must have all this plus more." Waugh's eloquent words also describe the traits that a great captain needs to a T.

Ian Chappell was an inspiring example for many others. In his autobiography, All Round View, Imran Khan says: "The captain whose example I always tried to follow was Ian Chappell. He was dynamic and forceful, and above all, had the complete respect of his young team. Ian Chappell, led by example, and expected his team to fight along with him. I've heard a lot about captains being good tacticians, but I am convinced that unless a captain can lead from the front, he cannot inspire his team to fight."

The great ones

To narrow the search for the greatest captain, only post-war captains who have led for 20 Tests or more were considered. Don Bradman has been included, even though his leadership tenure began in the pre era. The 20-Test criterion sadly excludes Frank Worrell, arguably the greatest statesman in the history of the game.

How should a captain be judged? Statistical records are important but a captain cannot be judged on this alone. Stephen Fleming has made New Zealand a far more competitive side than its modest talent would suggest but his win-loss record will never reflect this. History tends to judge captains largely by the number of `W's and `L's against their names and lists such as this often fall prey to this trap.

Clive Lloyd won 14 of the 18 series he captained, losing only two. Like Waugh, he had tremendous resources at his disposal but his task was more difficult. The gap between Waugh's Test side and the next best is unprecedented in the annals of the game. Lloyd also faced a greater task in bringing his team together — West Indies has historically been plagued by bitter inter-island rivalries.

As Lloyd has himself said, his greatest contribution was to continue Frank Worrell's legacy. Lloyd, like Worrell, managed to transform raw talent, brought up on the beaches of the Caribbean, into a unit professional enough to dominate the international arena. Lloyd scores over many others because of the dignity with which his team carried itself.

Delivering this year's Colin Cowdrey lecture, Sunil Gavaskar said: "Out of a possible 150 Test cricketers from 10 Test-playing countries, there are perhaps not even 15 who indulge in this verbal abuse and intimidation, unfortunately most of these belong to a champion side and it makes others believe that it's the only way to play winning cricket. Did Bradman's all-conquering side of 1948 practice these tactics? I don't know, though I know for certain that Clive Lloyd's champions of the 1970s and 1980s never uttered a word on the field to an opponent."

In his career, Ian Chappell fashioned some unlikely victories with his tactical ability and inspirational leadership. He won five of the eight Test series he captained, losing only one. He is remembered most for revitalising Australian cricket and setting the benchmark for attitude, determination and approach to the game. All Australian sides since have tried to live up to these standards. His off-field leadership was instrumental in establishing players' rights. In many ways, he was the catalyst for the Kerry Packer revolution. Chappell is believed to have introduced sledging but he is one of those rare cricketers whose impact extended far beyond his playing career.

For sheer statistical record, Steve Waugh has no peers. His win percentage as captain is an astounding 74.5; Bradman's 62.5 per cent is the next best. Waugh inherited a very good side from Mark Taylor but has raised the bar to new heights. However, he possesses resources that others can only dream of and there is a yawning gap between the current Australian team and the others. He cannot in any way be penalised for this and it is to his credit that the Australians have continued to improve despite the fact they are rarely challenged. Steve Waugh is the ultimate professional — - disciplined, motivated, determined, passionate and courageous and it is hardly surprising that his team exhibits these traits as well. However, Waugh has one black mark on his report card — his unwillingness to curb sledging is regrettable.

Don Bradman is without doubt the greatest player in the history of the game and many consider him the greatest captain as well. He earned his reputation as a skilled tactician and never lost a series as captain, winning four of five. His 1948 `Invincibles' were among the best teams ever. He was not the greatest man-manager, however, and his relationship with many team-mates in the pre-war era, including Jack Fingleton, Bill O'Reilly and Stan McCabe, was strained.

Interestingly, some have suggested the problem was a sectarian one — many of his detractors, including Fingleton, McCabe and O'Reilly, were Catholic while Bradman was Protestant. His post-War teams on the other hand were completely in awe of everything he did.

When Mark Taylor retired in 1999, Scyld Berry wrote: "Allan Border stopped the losing. Taylor taught them how to win — and how attacking cricket is the most effective form, as well as the most attractive to crowds." Armed with a strong team, Taylor combined his tactical strength with fantastic communication skills to lead Australia to 11 series victories (out of 14), his most memorable being the 1994-95 victory in West Indies.

Imran Khan transformed the attitude of Pakistan cricket. He instilled self-confidence in his teams and made them believe that anything was possible. Under him Pakistan was competitive against the very best in Test cricket. He defeated Mike Gatting's side in England in 1987 and managed to draw the 1986-87 series against the West Indies at home and the 1987-88 one in the Caribbean. One of the biggest tests for an Indian or Pakistani captain is to win on rival turf. Imran passed with flying colours, winning against India in 1986-87. Earlier, he had beaten the archrival at home in the 1982-83 series.

In the late 1950s, players were almost negative in their approach and cricket was in serious danger of losing its crowd appeal. But Richie Benaud along with Frank Worrell put a stop to the slide. Their attacking approach, readiness to encourage attractive play and willingness to strive for results made the 1960-61 Australia-West Indies series one of the most exciting ever. (The Brisbane Test was the first tie in history.) A fine tactician, wonderful communicator and a truly dignified cricketer, Benaud's greatness is exemplified by the fact that Australia never lost a Test series under him.

Mike Brearley, Allan Border and Ray Illingworth round off the top 10. Brearley used his psycho-analysis to manage his players better than most. On first glance, his record is exemplary (a win percentage of 58) but Brearley's success was hyped in some ways. Many of his wins came during the Kerry Packer era when Test cricket was, arguably, at a low point. He never captained against the West Indies and two of his Ashes series victories (1978-79 and 1981) came against depleted Australian sides.

Border was initially a reluctant leader and his captaincy career can be divided into two parts, before 1989 and after. He was hampered in the first half his career by weak talent but he became a better tactician and communicator in the second half. His team in the 1980s was a reflection of him — gritty, workman-like players who made the most of their talent. Border's contribution is best summed up by Dean Jones: "AB effectively made a cricket team. He put it together. He taught the new rules, the new culture, he lifted the baggy green cap off the mud and made it pristine again."

One of the best to lead England, Ray Illingworth had a keen cricketing brain and great tactical skills. Between 1969 and 1973, he led a solid English side to six series wins, including victories over West Indies, New Zealand and Australia. Never one to back down, Illingworth almost forfeited the 7th Test in Sydney in 1970-71 when he threatened to walk off following crowd trouble that erupted after John Snow hit Australian tail-ender Terry Jenner in the head with a bouncer.

For his team's domination of world cricket, his own ability to unite his players, for encouraging an entertaining brand of cricket, and for doing all of this with grace, Clive Lloyd wins the vote as the greatest captain.

Would Field Marshal Montgomery have approved? Perhaps. He once remarked: "Leadership is the capacity and will to rally men and women to a common purpose and the character which inspires confidence." Clive Lloyd did this and more.