The man with a mission

Clive Lloyd with Brian Lara. Lloyd's experience should do a world of good for West Indies cricket.-K.R. DEEPAK

Given his own history with the WICB, and those of several others of his celebrated era, it is a brave and welcome return for Clive Lloyd. But he needs to be careful that he isn't once more "shunted to one side" through the ever present curse of West Indian cricket politics or by his own ardent aspirations, writes TONY COZIER.

THE graph of Clive Lloyd's career in West Indies cricket is as undulating as that of the team's many recent batting charts. Its incline has never been more pronounced than over the past two months.

When his bid for the vice-presidency of the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) was defeated at the annual general meeting in August, it seemed that his hopes of further active involvement in the sport closest to his heart were dashed. The captain who presided over the most glorious period in their history had repeatedly stated that his aim was to return home to try to lift the West Indies out of the present, prolonged slump.

Since his retirement in 1985 after 74 Tests and 36 victories at the helm, his links were limited to two unfulfilling periods as manager. He sought a more profound challenge. Lloyd remained an internationally respected figure in the game but, as International Cricket Council (ICC) match referee, he was removed from the West Indies. It was clear in a lengthy article he wrote on the way forward earlier in the year that he would not be satisfied until he was engaged in trying to restore the legacy left by his and other teams of the past.

His bid for the vice-presidency was narrowly defeated, WICB President Ken Gordon, a canny operator in the corporate world who has brought his dominant style of leadership to the organisation, was not about to let a cricketer of such pre-eminence slip through the net. The WICB had been consistently charged with ignoring its great players of the past.

Indeed, Lloyd's vice-presidential rejection was all the more conspicuous since Allen Stanford, the Antigua-based American tycoon, had placed him, and 13 other past champions, on the managing board for his private, 20/20 tournament.

Gordon, a president with no cricketing background, needed such support to rebuild the WICB's credibility in the eyes of a disenchanted public. He recognised that Lloyd could not serve two masters and set about opening the way for him to choose his preferred option. Within weeks, he saw to it that three non-elected directors were added to his board. Lloyd was one. For good measure, he also appointed him chairman of the reconstituted cricket committee.

Eventually, inevitably, Lloyd quit Stanford, citing "concerns for West Indies cricket". Unwanted as vice-president, he suddenly carried more clout on the WICB than anyone apart from Gordon himself. Almost immediately, the president dispatched his new right-hand man to India "to make his vast experience available to the team" at the Champions Trophy.

It was not difficult to read between the lines that Lloyd's mission was that of trouble-shooter. According to Gordon, he had "agreed to make himself accessible to the captain, coach and manager to assist in any way which will build morale, strengthen the team's performance and encourage a stronger culture of professionalism and discipline".

In other words, morale, performance and discipline were areas in which captain Brian Lara, coach Bennett King and manager Tony Howard needed help. Lloyd would be on hand to give it. Lloyd, now 61, finds himself in such a role that only the complexities of West Indies cricket temper the supposition that, once Gordon's term is up, he will be the first captain to become WICB president since Jeffrey Stollmeyer a quarter-century ago. He will know from previous experience that he needs to tread carefully through the minefield. An ongoing tiff between him and Gordon on the one hand and Michael Holding, once a devoted team-mate and friend, on the other, over reasons for the abandonment of Stanford's much-hyped $5 million match against South Africa emphasises how essential it is not to allow the integrity of West Indies cricket to be sullied for the sake of expediency.

Lloyd's earlier dealings with the board should also set off warning lights. His reputation as captain was such that there was a strong lobby for him to be made team manager immediately after he retired. The WICB resisted, preferring to give his successor, Viv Richards, breathing space to settle into the position. Lloyd was eventually appointed four years on but lasted only a couple of years before he was replaced by Lance Gibbs for the 1991 tour of Pakistan. Conjecture was that he was a victim of what the WICB termed at the time "the general deterioration of the conduct of some West Indies players".

Lloyd revealed he had not been given an official explanation for his removal. "All of a sudden, I was shunted to one side," he said. He returned to his home in England to become actively involved with his old county club, Lancashire, and with the Afro-Caribbean community. Soon, he was on the ICC's panel of match referees, rising to officiate in both the semi-final (when he awarded the match to Sri Lanka after a crowd riot in Calcutta) and the final of the 1996 World Cup.

But West Indies cricket called yet again right afterwards. He was persuaded to return as coach for the home series against New Zealand, only to be frustrated once more when he was reassigned as manager on Malcolm Marshall's appointment as coach for the following tour to Australia. The position was strictly administrative but Lloyd wanted more active participation on the cricket side.

The players' strike prior to the 1998-99 tour of South Africa and the 5-0 whitewash that followed tested his resolve. It was especially galling when the WICB, in a lengthy public statement on the team's failure, asserted that it would "like to see improvements in the leadership skills" of himself, Marshall and captain Lara. Not surprisingly, when his contract came up for renewal the following year, Lloyd did not seek an extension, instead returning to his duties as ICC match referee. Even so, the lure of West Indies cricket remained strong and irresistible and, six years on, Clive Lloyd is back again.

Given his own history with the WICB, and those of several others of his celebrated era, it is a brave and welcome return. But he needs to be careful that he isn't once more "shunted to one side" through the ever present curse of West Indian cricket politics or by his own ardent aspirations.