Sir Viv - Twenty20 is cricket's saviour
 

Times of India article.

DELHI, INDIA - Delhi Daredevils mentor Vivian Richards walked into the TOI office and immediately seemed to roll back time. There it was, the characteristic swagger, that laidback charm, that compact frame.

Even the adulation and excitement he generated seemed straight out of the 1980s. As Guest Editor of Times Sport, the West Indian legend came across as a multi-faceted personality, with a deep knowledge of sport and the world around him and an intensely philosophical bent of mind we had not glimpsed all these years. Excerpts from an enlightening conversation...

What do you like to be addressed as, Sir Viv or Vivian?

Vivian is quite relaxing for me.

Your famous swagger to the crease, the gum-chewing... these are as much a part of your legend as your batting. Viv Richards and the gum-chewing went hand in hand... do you still chew gum?

No, not any more. There aren't any more battles going on (laughs)! My chewing gum had always been my saviour. There wasn't any particular brand of chewing gum. It made you feel a little cool, you know you're chewing and it takes away a little bit of the tension having to face these guys. The chewing gum was basically life to you at that time. The walk to the crease...there wasn't anything that was a put on. I think as a Caribbean person you always have a laidback style. That laidback style and the chewing gum, it was my companion, just the sort of protection I needed. It's wasn't an aggressive walk but a walk that said which region you're from. It was a Caribbean thing which said, 'you are cool, maan'.

It's said when you went to Australia during the 1975-76 tour, you visited a psychiatrist...

No, it was actually the psychiatrist who came and saw me (laughs)! It was Rudi Webster. He was from the West Indies himself, from Barbados. He basically came up and offered his services. I was facing the best cricketing team in the world at that time, Australia, the best fast bowlers, and coming off maybe a successful tour of India. Not that I was out of nick or anything but I was getting out in the 30s and 40s. Then he came and identified certain things that he felt we could work with. Things progressed a little bit so I guess having spoken to him, I went to Adelaide and scored my first ton in Australia, then a 50, then 98.

Do you remember all your dismissals?

Not much, maybe the ones in which you do not score that well...

Do you remember the one after which you smashed up the dressing room?

Yes I remember that one (it was in Delhi). It was a nasty LBW decision. Those days we never had neutral umpires. Even Kapil went, "Aaaahhh..." (And) I couldn't believe it when I saw the finger going up. Funny, the incident leading up to that whole stuff.

What incident?

Someone called me up the night before in the hotel. Some anonymous call came in saying, "Mr Richards? You don't know me but if I were you tomorrow I'd be careful of the umpire." That was scary, wasn't it? I don't know what was going on then. Those days you never heard about match-fixing and all that stuff. So someone called me that night and funnily enough the next day....it (Kapil's delivery) wouldn't have hit another set (of stumps) and I was given out.

What was it about BS Chandrasekhar? You have said in the past that he was one bowler you really feared...

I don't think anyone bowled leg-breaks as fast as him, especially when you can turn it and get that bounce. You know, playing my very first Test match in Bangalore and getting out for 4 and 3, and then Chandrasekhar misses the second Test (in Delhi) and I get my first century! That could have played a huge role in my development of sorts. In terms of my style of batting, Delhi has always been kind to me in a big, big way.

Talking of your mentoring stint with the Delhi Daredevils, Virender Sehwag recently said after a good knock that you taught him how to 'bluff'. What was this 'bluff' he was talking about?

We know Sehwag's style and I've been impressed with his aggression. When things are not quite working for you, sometimes you can still bluff, and I use examples like Chris Gayle. When everyone knows you have that sort of aggression then people are expecting you to do it from Ball 1 or Ball 2, and most times there will be guys in the circle who will concede the single. The bluff is to take that single. It helps because it gets you into a right frame of mind... you can always catch up. So that's the bluff, rather than a fiery start. Also, every batsman has to have some sort of respect for the bowler, respect for the game itself.

Did you ever have bouts of self-doubt?

Yes, every sportsperson goes through that. Here again is when you do your bluffing. Even though you're feeling bad inside, you're hurt inside, there are times you can still have the same walk. You can bluff your way because of your style itself. These are some strategies that I think sportsmen - regardless of what sport they play - use to get things done.

Did a bowler ever bluff you?

Dennis Lillee used to do it often. Even when I spanked him around the ground, he would still be in your face. Sometimes when you score a ton, you can see some bowlers fade away but this guy, even when you score a 150, he would still come at you with a never-say-die attitude. I couldn't tell him this when he was still playing but in retirement I made sure that I told him, "You're okay, you know."

Who's the most difficult bowler you ever faced?

Jeff Thomson was more awkward than anybody else. He had a totally different style, a slinging sort of action. He used to hide the ball somewhere behind him (laughs). He would get the ball to jump from a very good length. And bowling that fast, it's always a problem for any batsman. Thommo wasn't that vocal, he was a guy that would get down on himself if he bowled a loose delivery. That's why we're still friends today.

Do you rate the 138 not out in the 1979 World Cup final as your best ODI knock?

No, I wasn't at my aggressive best. It was a good knock for the circumstances, not the style or the bravado. The team needed the knock and I was happy to play the second role to Collis King (who scored 86 off 66 balls). Here it was a case of trying to assess the situation, rather than be a one-dimensional player. An idol of mine, Sir Everton Weekes, said, "Young man, you are now a cricketer." I couldn't understand what he was talking about. Then, he pulled me aside and told me how proud he felt because the situation in the match didn't call for aggression from both guys... this is what teamwork is all about.

Do you think respect for bowlers has gone down since the advent of T20s?

Well, the bowlers got to get their act together. Because the batters have. You've got to find ways and means, as the batsmen have, regardless of whether the bats are better today. Bowlers have got to put on their thinking caps.

Every time there is talk of the greatest team ever, three teams are talked about: Bradman's Australians, Steve Waugh's Australians and Clive Lloyd's West Indies. What's your take on that?

I'm not quite sure what order they would be in. These teams never quite met, that's why they rule. We'll never ever find out which team was the best. Like we have a saying in the Caribbean, "Two men crab cannot live in the same hole." (laughs out aloud). 

Why is that players like Chris Gayle or Bravo do so well for their T20 clubs but somehow don't hit the same heights with their national team?

This is something they may have to try and readjust. Maybe they've got to come to grips a little bit more with the longer version. This is why winning the World T20 in Sri Lanka has given us a new lease of life. Let's hope the confidence created there by winning can push them on to better things in the 50-over and Test format. Confidence does that. I would not say money is the greatest motivator, these guys love their cricket. You just have to look at Dwayne Bravo and the way he throws himself around. Any team that he plays for, he is 120%. There's hope for West Indies cricket. As Jesse Jackson said, "Let's keep hope alive."

Personally do you like T20?

Nothing wrong with that at all. At one point I felt Test cricket was starting to take a dive, maybe with attendance. T20 is basically the saviour. Even though folks will tell you T20 is that and T20 is this, it's still spelt 'cricket'. It's still cricket. If they change the name, then I could understand. It's just shortened, it's like various other competitions you have around the world, whether in tennis or golf. T20 has got everyone's attention.

Shane Warne recently said there's too much tinkering around with ODIs, and that it may lose out to T20s and Tests...

He said that? I've always felt there's room for all the versions.

Do you look back fondly on your boxing days?

That was all fun stuff, to get that anger out of you sometimes. Rather than hitting someone, I'd rather hit a punching bag.

You also represented Antigua in football, appearing in qualifying matches for the 1974 World Cup...

I represented them on numerous occasions. It's a passion that I have still. As a Caribbean person growing up, you tend to play all sports. "All work and no play make Jack a dull boy," was what my folks used to say. I was a centre half. I got maybe around 20 or more caps. It coincided with the cricket and sometimes one has to make sacrifices.

Your favourite club in world football?

Liverpool. Sadly we're not doing that well. You know what the whole Liverpool success story is all about, the Bill Shanklys and the Kenny Dalglishes. They've been through some bad times but it's the only club apart from Man United at present that has a rich history in not just the domestic league but in the Champions Trophy and Europe. But hey, it's Liverpool.

What do you feel about Alex Ferguson finally leaving and his long, long stint as Manchester United manager?

It's a huge loss to the footballing world. 26-27 years...that I think is phenomenal. I don't think we'll see that feat repeated again.

Coming back to cricket, who would you rate higher, Lara or Tendulkar?

I don't make comparisons between batsmen. Never. I allow you guys to do that. What I can tell you for sure is that they're two of my favourites. I myself as a batsman feel privileged to have watched them. And let's not forget Ricky Ponting.

When do you get the sense that it's time for one to retire?

I was playing my second to last series, against Australia in Antigua, and I was standing at first slip. The position was pretty far back at that time with the fast bowlers on, almost halfway to the boundary. I think it was Mark Waugh who nicked one and I missed it completely and it hit me straight in the chest. I took it on the rebound. Then I realized that it was time for me to go because I wasn't seeing it as well.

There's this talk about Sachin Tendulkar, maybe he is hanging around too long, maybe he should go...

Who are we to tell the Little Master when to go? That's not our call. We can make suggestions and be opinionated. I believe when you have a guy who has given so much to the game itself, and still has that love and passion, enjoy it as much as you can. There are times we get guys who come rather quickly and go rather quickly. We should appreciate having a modern-day legend around for this long.

When you're a legend, it can be difficult for selectors to actually drop you...

I guess some cricket board think like that. Some are brave enough to take these decisions. If you have deteriorated that badly, and they can make a decision like that, then there shouldn't be any grumbles when you are dropped. But no one was gonna tell me when to go. I felt I was smart enough to know when to go. I never lost my hunger. Until my last Test I was as passionate as ever.

You've said Virat Kohli reminds you of yourself...

The style. He is aggressive. You know, everyone is so protective about their wicket in Tests but this guy is brave. Everyone is aggressive in T20s and maybe ODIs but he did it at the level where everyone was so fearful of getting it done. I felt similar when I played. As folks would say, I was in a hurry.

There's a perception that Virat crosses the line sometimes, abuses opponents...you never did that...

I can only comment on what I've seen. I would never take a backward step when I was abused by bowlers. I would look them in the eye and nothing is wrong with that. Virat to me has that style.

There's this urban legend that Glamorgan's Greg Thomas once bounced you and said, "It's red, round and weighs five ounces." Then you hit one out of the ground and you told him, "You know what it looks like, now go find it." Did this really happen?

Yes, this happened in Taunton, when Somerset played Glamorgan. He was a big Welsh fast bowler, as quick as anyone on his day. For some reason I won't tell you what we did the night before. Next day I wasn't feeling that good, and he saw me looking a little pale. After I had missed three deliveries, he said, "Hey Viv maan, it's red and round and it's whatever ounces." That what you need to get your competitive veins pumping. Then he pitched it where I liked it and it went out of the ground into a little river. Two guys were fishing and it fell into their dinghy, and when we asked for the ball they said, "You guys can go to hell, this is the first catch we've had all day!" The bowler was walking back to his mark and I remembered what he said, so I followed him back and said, "Hey Greg maan, since you know what colour, shape and size, go help them find it!"

You spoke of boxing and the need to let off anger. Do you feel the anger is dying in West Indies cricket...

No, everyone has their little passion. Like not going to South Africa. (During apartheid) South Africa - for no fault of the cricketers themselves - was a big issue. Any serious thinking person, anyone who is passionate about his colour, his race, would certainly have turned his back on South Africa. It's nice to hear about my great innings but the greatest innings that Vivian Richards played was not going to South Africa.

Like when Tony Greig said he would make you grovel...

Yes, that sort of things is enough to make you passionate enough. May god bless Tony's soul, he was a South African who was playing for England at that time and maybe he lived long in SA and brought some of the habits. Yeah, we fed off that, in terms of how we felt as people. It was a statement he went on to regret. When they lost he got down on his knees and started to grovel himself. I felt his apology. He really meant it. Tony was a man like that.

Coming back to your present stint with the Delhi Daredevils, what sort of work have you been doing with the players?

They were 6-zip when I came here. We haven't got a bad record since I've been here, losing three and winning three! So at least I've won some. I've worked with some of the young players. When you look at some of the shots that are being played, it's hard to teach these things. These guys are so inventive. It's all about getting them in the best frame of mind to accomplish such feats. The thing that I preach is that as a batsman, you have to be strong with your presence. Just the way that you move around. Do not feel that you do not belong there. Confidence does help. I do not try and overstate the facts about the game itself. It's very much a simple game.

Has the game lost out on characters?

No, I don't think so. It has highlighted the game to such a degree. If we all stood still, time is not gonna wait on us. We still have characters. Virat Kohli is a character. There's a lot of characters around. They just handle it differently these days.

How do you explain the rise and fall of great teams? Like the West Indies, maybe Barcelona now...

Nothing lasts forever. You're here for a period of time to accomplish what you want to accomplish. I would love to hear such questions, not always in the sporting world... but take the party that has been ruling Malaysia for 56 years. That to me is a dynasty! In sports, we're here to accomplish what we need to accomplish. I appreciate the teams that fade away, instead of getting knocked out. Even Barcelona, this is only for this year... German football is on the rise, so all the other teams have to raise their game next time. So let's wait till next time.

Some feel the Indian cricket board is being perceived as a bully...

It is a board that has been going on for some time and I've been coming here since 1974. It looks good, some of the things they have done.

What hurt more, losing the 1983 World Cup final to India or the 1-5 hammering at the hands of the Aussies in 1975-76?

Actually what hurt in 1983 was not just that we lost. We played badly and when in sports you play badly you deserve to lose. What hurt was the fact that we couldn't make it three in a row. But if we had to lose to someone, I would say I minded losing to India less than anybody else, since I had so many friends here (smiles).

First Published In The Times of India.

Date: 
Thu, 05/09/2013 - 19:51