The super cat and his super teams

Game-breaking batsmen and bowlers, at least one of each category that brought to the table the intangible of genius, wicketkeepers of calm thought and unfussy tidiness or of balletic athleticism and glittering strokeplay: the West Indies' super sides had everything save an all-rounder. They didn't need one, writes S. Ram Mahesh.

Cricket stories are marvellous things. Though on occasion apocryphal and often apt to grow more fantastic with each retelling, they reveal much. There's a particularly corking yarn about the great fast bowler Malcolm Marshall. It captures the essence of why a generation of batsmen — bruised mauve by the relentless West Indian four-pack — sunk obediently into the plush leather of psychiatrists' couches.

When turning out for Hampshire, Marshall, the story goes, was approached tremulously by Essex tailenders, Ray East and David Acfield. The pair offered to carry his bags. "Why?" asked Marshall. "Well, Mr. Marshall, we thought you might consider a couple of half-volleys and, if they are nice and straight, we promise to miss them."

It's one of the great ironies of limited-overs cricket that Marshall was never part of a successful World Cup campaign. His first ODI came almost a year after Clive Lloyd — shoulders hunched a few degrees more than when he was at Lord's in 1975 — accepted the 1979 Prudential World Cup. In the 1983 final, Marshall dismissed Srikkanth and Madan Lal, and railed against the unthinkable with Jeff Dujon, taking West Indies from 76 for six to 119 for seven in pursuit of India's 183. He didn't play in 1987; and was past his prime in 1992.

This irony of Marshall serves to illustrate a curious phenomenon. Such is the nature of careless hindsight — the same phenomenon that probably drives stereotyping — that ease substitutes accuracy in remembering events. Thus, in popular lore, Lloyd's super team is one barnstorming entity that started its roll in the 1975 World Cup, and didn't let up for a decade. The truth, though different, is no less romantic.

The team that gathered in England in 1975 for the two-week tournament was on the cusp of two generations and two philosophies. There remained Rohan Kanhai, who made a careworn 55 in the final, Roy Fredericks, and Lance Gibbs, who played just one match, from the era of Sobers. Of a philosophical match, if not of an exacting chronological fit, were Keith Boyce, Bernard Julien, and Vanburn Holder: exponents of fast-medium bowling on their quickest day; not scaldingly fast like their successors. Lloyd, 31, had beside him Viv Richards (23), Gordon Greenidge (24), Andy Roberts (24) and Alvin Kallicharan (26), men who would be kings.

The success in 1975 owed itself in part to a familiarity with the conditions and the format: 11 of the 14 squad members had played county cricket in England, and had thus been exposed to the treacle in its wickets, the idiosyncrasies in its weather, and the blasphemy in the format.

There were glimpses of the sinfully athletic fielding that would soon turn staple: Viv Richards running out the tetchy Australians is an evocative image. Then there was the left-handed Lloyd, the Midsummer Day sun glinting off his spectacles, his telescopic forearms launching at a cover drive, his feet following the stroke. The West Indies came to the 1975 World Cup favourite to win; there wasn't however the air of inevitability that would soon become de rigueur.

Between 1975 and 1979 occurred two defining moments that shaped the West Indian ascent. The first was during the 1975-76 tour of Australia, where Lloyd's men were beaten 5-1. Reports record that Dennis Lillee, Jeff Thomson and Gary Gilmour took 76 of the 110 West Indies wickets that fell, but just as importantly hit every batsman on the face and the body at least once. Lillee reset Kallicharran's nose at Perth; Julien had his thumb broken; Lloyd, who was forced to retire hurt at Sydney, observed first-hand the effects of such sustained hostility.

Moreover, a 21-year-old Michael Holding had shown in the West Indies' only win at Perth that he and Roberts could reply in kind. For Lloyd, who had earlier despairingly watched India pick off an anaemic West Indian attack — barring Holding — of Julien, Albert Padmore, Inshan Ali, and Jumadeen for a world record 406 in the fourth innings, it was a strategic turning point.

Lloyd decided he'd play four quicks. All the time. In Roberts, Holding, Croft, Garner, and later Marshall, he had excellent options: men that were as diverse as their bowling styles. The strategy in Test cricket translated nicely into the limited-overs version. Four strikers that looked constantly to take wickets were immeasurably better than lesser men content with restriction by strangulation. In 1978, Desmond Haynes joined Greenidge at the top of the order, beginning a long and fruitful partnership.

Haynes was an innovative stroke-maker, a man of such natural means he often changed his stance on whim during an innings. Yet, with Greenidge, whose genealogical attacking instincts were structured within the framework of an English upbringing, Haynes embraced a more solid method. At one-drop was the raging genius of Richards. Thus, the West Indies was assured of winning the early battles with both bat and ball — a considerable advantage in the longer version, absolutely critical in a format that compresses time.

The other defining moment was a consequence of the Packer Series. Packer's packaging of the game as sexy and macho — "Big Boys Play at Night" — necessitated a show of unmitigated athleticism. In the white heat of competition, Lloyd's men realised they weren't fit enough. Dennis Waight was roped in as fitness trainer: many observers credit this for the West Indies stepping its game up a level.

Game-breaking batsmen and bowlers, at least one of each category that brought to the table the intangible of genius, wicketkeepers of calm thought and unfussy tidiness (Deryck Murray) or of balletic athleticism and glittering strokeplay compared to Zaheer Abbas's by Sunil Gavaskar (Jeff Dujon): the West Indies' super sides had everything save an all-rounder. They didn't need one.