One of the greatest to have played the game, Vivian Richards wears his legend lightly. He jokes his way around, obliges fans with a smile and keeps those around him enthralled with his many tales. Richards is as eloquent with words as he was with his bat. In an exclusive interview with TOI at the historic Queen’s Park Oval after the end of the India-West Indies Test series, Richards spoke his mind on several topics. Excerpts:
From what you have seen of the Indian team here, do you think it can compete in places like Australia, England and South Africa where they have traditionally been found wanting?
From what I have seen here, they should. They have won the series handsomely and it opens the door even though you may not have played the best West Indian team. But they did what they had to do… especially Ashwin, coming at six which was new for him and doing so well. I don’t know how he is going to handle it in the future but he is on the right track with bat and ball.
The Indian team has done its job here and that’s all you could have done. To me, they played very well and that should create confidence. And it’s nice to have a captain as positive as Virat. His body language says it, the way he is in the field. It should give them confidence to compete at a much better and higher level, especially Down Under.
People see a lot of you in Virat…
I believe Virat is Virat, but you know how people and spectators are like. I like the way he approaches the innings. He doesn’t have any fears. One of the things I was most impressed with was in Australia when he scored those fours hundreds with the abuse and a lot of things coming your way… he stood his ground. It’s a pity India couldn’t support him in the way he batted. That to me was very special. I like the way he gives it back and this is what competition is all about at the end of the day, so long as no one is hurt and you feel comfortable in the fact that you had competed hard and a few words were said and it’s over. If you are in an aggressive country of fast bowlers and aggressive talk, some people hide. Virat came to the surface and performed. That to me is what champions are all about, the real deal.
You are so unassuming and friendly but when you went out to bat during your playing days, you were intimidating, carrying a certain arrogance about you. Please explain the dichotomy.
(Smiles) It’s the same confidence that Virat has. That’s serious stuff out there. When you are here you should be relaxed, let your true emotions shine through. But when you are there (points towards the pitch), it’s competition. Linford Christie (former British sprinter) used to say whenever he was at the 100m line, he had tunnel vision. That’s what you have and that’s what Virat has. What happens out of the field is that the special human being comes out, the way you can react to people. When you go out to compete, there is a viciousness about you which is always important (laughs).
The bigger, heavier bats that modern batsmen use have come into scrutiny recently. How do you look at the controversy?
I see nothing with the bats. What I see are the boundaries… they are very small. Sometimes you are playing with 60-yard boundaries. When you are playing with such good modified bats, the boundaries should be a little bit more respectable. Seventy-five yards should be the least. On these small boundaries, if a guy mishooks, it can still go for a six even though that’s a position you want your batsman to be in where he plays a false shot. That is making the game look a little silly.
How do you think we can get to get in more crowds for Test cricket?
One of my main suggestions to the governing body is if you can put aside a period of time for individuals who want to play cricket at the highest level as Tests are the backbone of cricket. You have to make sure your best players are available for Test cricket and the best players who come out of that then should be drafted into IPL. Too many young players are jumping the gun and not wanting to play Test matches because of the attraction of T20 cricket. If that can be done, then we can preserve Test cricket. Otherwise we will lose the history which helped create 50-50 and the T20. That would be sad. The Sunny Gavaskars, the Tendulkars, the Bradmans… they won’t be remembered because everybody will be attracted to T20.
The governing body has a chance to get on track and make it a little bit better. They should not make it easy for someone who says I don’t want to play for my country but I want to play T20. You can stop that and give them an opportunity to play at the highest level and represent their country. Otherwise, we will start losing all those young players who wanted to play for their countries and we will continue to have empty stadiums.
What’s the road ahead for West Indies cricket?
I still believe there is light at the end of the tunnel. The ball is in the West Indies establishment’s court to find ways to make it better. To be better administrators, better organisers… and stop having the personalities before cricket.Any bowler you felt uncomfortable batting against?
Yes, there were many but I never let them know that (laughs out loud). Chandrasekhar (India legspinner) was always one of those guys. In those days, when you went to India, you played the best spinners in the world to this day… the quartet. You had Chandra, Bedi, Prasanna and Venkataraghavan. If you have a quartet of spinners playing for you, it goes to show how special they were. Chandra was very difficult, Prasanna was a master. Dennis Lillee (Australia paceman) was highly competitive.
When Lara and Tendulkar were playing, there was this constant debate about who was better. Your opinion…
I will never ever get into that argument. They were too special for me to separate. Because of his achievements and the numbers he has amassed, you have to give the nod to Sachin but in batsmanship, it’s hard to separate the two. It was great that the two came around the same time and the world saw it.