by Balanced Sports Columnist Ben Roberts
Into its tenth edition and with 36 years of existence, the thought of the Cricket World Cup still provides no great historic or nostalgic pull on the heart of a cricket fan. Despite the tournament still struggling to forge an identity in our hearts, it has acted as a canvas for some tremendous individual performances.Tournaments in all sports often have players rise up and define their careers by them. Think of Rugby player Jonny Wilkinson reaching heights of fame in the 2003 Rugby World Cup and Diego Maradona making the 1986 Football World Cup his own. But cricket, with such a focus on individual analysis, calls for even greater influence then a starring tournament in its search for the World Cup's best.
To combine influence, leadership, as well as personal success is a feat that some have done in individual tournaments, but likely only West Indian Sir Clive Lloyd produced this consistently.
The bespectacled West Indian was an early limited over cricket champion finishing his middle order batting career with an average of 40 and a strike rate of over 80. He led West Indian cricket into the era of dominance but In 1975 they were far from this, still to be drubbed 5-1 by the Australians in the 1975-76 test series. Lloyd would later identify that the brutality of Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson drove them to greater heights.
The first two Cricket World Cups staged were won by Lloyd’s West Indian teams. The 1975 tournament at the time was regarded as somewhat of a novelty, and the West Indian win has only been fully recognised for its significance in hindsight. So trivial at the time that Ian Chappell stated his belief publicly that these one-day 'tests' were just a warm up to the Ashes in 1975, and so misunderstood that Sunil Gavaskar seemingly batted for a draw in one match.
Tony Cozier later wrote that the West Indians were considered the inaugural tournament's favourites given their all-round strength, fielding ability and experience from many players coming out of the county scene where limited over matches were already a fixture. The West Indians had an unbeaten run through the tournament, and outside of geographical hosts England probably had the most home support with a large expatriate community calling Britain home. Lloyd himself dominated the winning final against Australia with 102 off 85 balls (his only ever ODI century) and a miserly bowling performance.
Again in 1979 Lloyd led his side to an unbeaten tournament (though this time one match was abandoned due to weather). Reliant upon the growing status of later champion batsmen Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Haynes and Vivian Richards, Lloyd’s personal contribution was less pronounced with the bat (a top score of 73 not out against NZ) but he still led his side admirably.
Leadership of West Indian teams is regularly undervalued when compared against leadership of other nations. The West Indies we must remember are a conglomerate of different nations and different cultures. They are a group of players thrown together who don't necessarily speak a consistent language (at the very least they have different dialects) and all have differing cultural backgrounds. A successful leader will walk a fine line in their interaction with the team as they try to be fair and justified in their treatment of all.
The West Indian dominance of the tournament finally ended at the 1983 tournament. A seed was perhaps sewn in their opening match when they lost to India. This would be the only blemish for Lloyd's team as they from then on proceeded undefeated to make the final of the tournament for the third successive occasion, even defeating India in the return group match.
They again faced the Indian team led by the charismatic all-rounder Kapil Dev. With what was now considered the most damaging bowling attack in the world the West Indies managed to dismiss India for a lowly 184, but could not overhaul this small target themselves being bowled out for 140. Coming toward the end of his international career, Lloyd did not pass 50 in his final World Cup.
In raising Lloyd as the most influential has required an ignorance of greater individual performances by great players such as Sachin Tendulker, Glenn McGrath and Wasim Akram. However, none ever led their side to a World Cup victory; and the victories that Akram and McGrath both played in, while contributing in a large way, still relied upon great team efforts. In Tendulker's case, now in his last tournament, despite a phenomenal World Cup record he is yet to win and at most can only finish with one victory.
Also ignored are the captaincy feats of Kapil Dev in 1983, Allan Border in 1987, Imran Khan in 1992 and Arjuna Ranatunga in 1996 who led teams that were certainly not tournament favourites to victory. But none have led teams sustaining this success in subsequent tournaments.
Probably the only player who does go near the feats of Lloyd is Ricky Ponting. Ponting is in his 5th World Cup currently and has three tournament wins and a runner-up from his other four. He has led Australia to two of the victories, losing no matches in either tournament and produced some of his great limited over performances on its highest stage.
Ponting of course was blessed with a great, if not the greatest, team in the history of the limited over game. Should Ponting, in 2011, lead a weaker team than at least three other competitors to victory and provide value with the bat, he may have cause to take the mantle from Lloyd.
Lloyd also later went on to have influence off the field at World Cups as well as in his role as a match referee. He was a pioneer of the format and a ruthless competitor. But he was and remains highly respected as the leader of these great West Indian teams that set the benchmark of performance in the formative years of cricket's World Cup.