Sportstar archives: Hold your breath! Sir Vivian Richards on strike

Sportstar had caught up with the legendary West Indies batsman during India's Test tour in 2002; Viv Richards talks technique, the enmity with England and more.

Sir Vivian Richards in action against Australia in Adelaide in 1989.   -  THE HINDU ARCHIVES

Viv Richards is full of warmth as he greets people, right from a fan at the stadium to his colleagues in the commentary team. The swagger marks the man as he continues to be the most-sought after person at the Antigua Recreation Ground. His humility was seen in the manner in which he would walk across the field to the dressing rooms to spend time with the young cricketers of both teams.

It was quite a moment to see the Indians wanting to get close to him, to snap a picture with him and even seek his autograph. He continues to attract attention even though he stopped playing professional cricket in 1993. His charisma is unmatched. An all-time great batsman, Richards spoke to Sportstar during the fourth Test at Antigua when Sunil Gavaskar put in a word.

Excerpts:

What was your batting philosophy?

I don't really look at it as my philosophy of batting. But I did trust this fact that you must know your body, and if you knew your body well enough it would take care of many aspects of batting. I felt that my eyes were reasonably good. They became an asset where certain things were concerned. Like I could pick the ball early. Whenever you pick the ball early while batting, it becomes a joy. You may say that my approach to batting was to pick the ball early and move fast on my feet. As a batsman, you have to have very good footwork.

And then I looked to attack from the beginning. And I've always felt that by getting myself into an attacking mould, I was able to do the necessary defending if need be. I never tried to be defensive in the beginning because my philosophy, if you want to call it so, was such that if I went on the backfoot I would not have the necessary equipment to dominate and to deal with the ball that nips back.

So did you play on the frontfoot mainly to ensure your domination?

If I was on the frontfoot, I could make all the necessary adjustments like moving back quickly. By looking to attack the ball, I gained a lot. If you get into the groove where you become defensive you can't put away the bad deliveries. I've always wanted to attack. If I couldn't attack I didn't mind going on the defensive but attack was always first on my mind.

Former India captain Sunil Gavaskar (left) with Sir Vivian Richards.   -  FILE PHOTO/V.V. KRISHNAN

Is that why you never wore the helmet?

Well, it was always part of the plan. When I saw the game, even before I got involved, I remember they (batsmen) never played with helmet and things like that. And I always felt that without the helmet it gave me the opportunity to be much more focused.

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How did you learn to handle pressure?

Pressure is not the easiest thing to handle and I can remember when pressure did come on, I really didn't want to be around people. You can never ever deal with pressures and problems around too many people. And I felt that I needed to find some space for myself to think. Even if you get advice from all quarters it's important that you learn to identify where you think you may have some problems. Those problems can be your pressure. And this pressure stops you from performing as you should.

Sir Vivian Richards at a training session from the early '80s.   -  THE HINDU ARCHIVES

How tough was it in your case?

When pressure applies you can't think as clearly as you would like to. I found on the whole I tried to place myself in a zone to fight the bowlers. It was my vision of batsmanship.

Can you elaborate?

It was like looking up a tunnel and facing the reality, to know from there, the pressure was likely to come. If you found a way you could always go back and pass on what you found to your team-mates. You must remember to be reasonably calm when things are not settled. We face pressure from all angles but it's all a matter of finding space to think to sort the problems out and it's all about finding the focus to be more assertive.

How much importance did you give to technique?

Technique is important. Very, very important. If your technique is not okay, you can't be balanced as a player. You must be a batsman good enough to play on all kinds of surfaces and that's where the technique comes in.

But there were times when you defied the textbooks? How did you cope with those situations?

If you're a clean striker, there comes a time when sighting the ball becomes so easy and natural. Even a ball the size of a marble can be spotted clear from a distance. For me, a cricket ball was like a marble. If it's that small your technique becomes a little tighter. With a marble you got to focus a lot. More than a cricket ball. Your technique has to be tighter and cover every inch of that marble. That's the way I batted. I looked at the cricket ball as if it was the size of a marble.

How do you react to critics making comparisons. Do you think it is fair?

It's very unfair. That's my opinion. You hear about Sir Don Bradman. People say he wouldn't have scored in modern cricket. But he came yesterday. And yesterday was what was happening yesterday. So it's harsh and very unfair in my view to compare what took place in the 30s with what is taking place in 2002.1 wouldn't touch that at all in whatever era.

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How do you react to the heavy training these days with players laying so much emphasis on all kinds of exercises?

You got to find a happy balance. Before the series begins, you train hard. Get yourself match fit. When you would have done that, the body would have been tuned to go on a tour or be ready for a home series. The tuning of the body is important. I notice the players get tired these days. It's not due to the training factor but added rigours of today's cricket. Training is must. You got to assess and decide how to cope with the lengthy time you spend in the middle.

What is your opinion on the overall standard of the game today?

I think the standard is very good. There are many attractive players today. I'm able to appreciate Rahul (Dravid), Sachin (Tendulkar), Brian (Lara). I appreciate these individuals. Seeing them in the field is such a great pleasure. Seeing them I know how some kid would be feeling watching them.

Indian batting legend Sachin Tendulkar takes tips from Richards during the tour of West Indies in 2002.   -  FILE PHOTO/V.V. KRISHNAN

 Any changes?

I don't think batting and bowling would have changed but fielding standards are much higher than yesterday. On an all-round basis I think the fielding has improved tremendously.

Why were you so severe on the English bowlers?

Whenever I went to England, I used to hear them talk of West Indian batsmen hitting across the line of the ball. They talked of placid wickets in the Caribbean being the reason for our desire to play across the line.

They talked of good batsmen in their country playing good shots. They may not have seen batsmen from the sub-continent or the Caribbean hitting across the line and then they talked of how you couldn't do it in England. This talk of I hitting across the line and not being able to get runs in England was irritating. So I really wanted to prove that was not the case. They were not in a position to dictate what Viv Richards was going to do. That talk gave me the desire and the passion to prove the Englishmen wrong. To prove them wrong when they said that Richards would never be able to score heavily in England. I wouldn't like you to play the way I did but I was only making my point that Richards could do very well what they couldn't.

Richards with England cricketer David Gower (left).   -  THE HINDU ARCHIVES

You picked on them always for special treatment?

Well, English cricket can be so dull. Given the chance I wanted to prove that I could enliven it. Individuals wanted to work on my mind and sometimes you need more than that when you confront Richards, and I wanted to show them that wasn't the case.

How much did you care for your equipment?

I went to bed with my bats in front. I used to care for my equipment a lot. My bats and pads were part of me; I saw to it that the cricket gear was always neat and clean. When I would wake up, my bat would be in front of my eyes. On tours and at home. I couldn't sleep without the equipment around me.

Would you still like to be involved with West Indies cricket after being treated shabbily in the past?

Definitely I would like to be involved with cricket in the Caribbean. You would've seen how passionate we are. I was disappointed to be given the job for just one tour before little politics stepped into play. But I've always felt that there's role for me in the West Indies cricket. And I'm looking forward to that.

How do you view your appointment as a selector from Antigua?

Well, I've just been put forward as a selector from my region. I'm walking carefully though. It's like moving through a minefield and it's just a start with the selection. Maybe some day I might be elevated to a position which I would enjoy and make an impact. I am looking forward to the job.

What does it mean to be an Antiguan because you have always spoken a lot for your little island?

It means so much. Antigua is a small country, about 108 square miles with a population of 60-70 thousand people. It's an island blessed with wonderful beaches and I'm proud of it. As they say you can take someone out of the country but you can never ever take the country out of the man. That's what I feel about Antigua.

You promote music carnivals...

Carnival yes. And then we have one of the best regattas in the world here. We attract yachts from all over the world. It's a grand week of spectacular activities under blue skies. I like my countrymen. They've given me lot of love. They've supported me with everything they could muster. I'll continue to love them.

(This interview first appeared in Sportstar in 2002.)

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