Rarely can a cricketer's biography have had a more appropriate title than Simon Lister's study of Clive Lloyd:
"Supercat" was exactly right for him in his early career, not just for the outrageous athleticism he displayed, but for his insouciant demeanour too.
Loose-limbed and aloof, Lloyd padded around the covers waiting for a batsman to have the temerity to attempt a single to him. Then he would consume the ground in a stride or two and a long arm would snake down to the ball before flinging it at the stumps. Seemingly as often as not, the ash would be scattered and the fielder would be mobbed by his team-mates. Next ball, though, Lloyd would be back in his appointed demesne, awaiting the arrival of the next unwary mouse.
Cats, you see, may be fond of human beings but often seem unwilling to show it. They have little of the doe-eyed dependency of dogs and none of the need for praise. A labrador brings your evening paper and waits for a treat; a cat leaps four feet up a paling fence and strolls along the top of it, utterly oblivious to anyone else.
I have been reminded of some feline characteristics during the last couple of days in Cambridge, when I have been living alone in a house in Cherry Hinton. Alone, that is, except for Paddy and Dash, the two cats who share the house with the family who normally live there. My only duties in recompense for this great act of generosity are to feed the cats, which is straightforward, and to operate the burglar alarm, which is trickier. (Yes, the sad truth is that if it isn't written in a book or taking place on a cricket-field, I am knackered, or as Paddy and Dash would not thank me for saying, neutered.)
The cats greeted my arrival with careless indifference. They are serious dudes and this is their manor. I feed them and they saunter around, rarely giving me a second glance. Which might be seen as a little odd, since the people who usually live in Netherhall Way are obviously Lancashire cricket fans: Paddy has surely been named after P. C McKeown and Dash after Ian Austin.
Ailurophobics will already have had far too much of this stuff, so I will return to the matter of fielding. In the last few seasons Lancashire supporters have been lucky enough to see at least two wonderful fielders play for their team, yet the demeanours of Francois du Plessis and Steven Croft could hardly be more different. Both are quick and effective of course, but while du Plessis does his work more in the style of a Lloyd, a Bland or a Jessop, Croft desports himself in the manner of a goalkeeper, truculently defying the ball to beat him as he hurls himself into its path. Is any sport more revelatory of character than cricket?
It has become rather a cliché that no department of the game has changed as much as fielding in the last fifty years. Time was when many batsmen or opening bowlers were wont to plod after the ball in the manner of portly policemen chasing a svelte young burglar. Nowadays, everyone from Chappie to Faf is expected to get at least a dive, if not a slide, in before springing up and whanging a flat, hard throw back to the wicketkeeper.
Maybe so, but we should be wary of carelessly categorising too many cricketers of past generations. After all, if memory serves, Yorkshiremen are wont to say that Wilfred Rhodes took many of his wickets courtesy of the skilful work of David Denton, who frequently fielded in the deep to the great slow left-armer. "Caught Denton bowled Rhodes": a line of poetry to gladden the good folk of Wombwell this bright April afternoon.
Photo of Steven Croft (c) Simon Pendrigh
Article (c) Lancashire CCC