A man of style and substance

“ I enjoy watching Virat Kohli bat, because he is a very attacking batsman. Well, sometimes his aggression also causes his downfall. He has to curb his aggressive instincts a bit initially in an innings. Once he settles down, he has all the shots,” batting legend G. R. Viswanath tells P. K. Ajith Kumar.

It was not mere runs that flowed from G. R. Viswanath’s bat. It was poetry. He was without doubt one of the most stylish batsmen the world has ever seen. His batting was not just about style; it was also about courage. Some of his best innings came against some of the meanest fast bowlers of all time.

His statistics may pale when compared with the other little master of Indian batting and his brother-in-law, Sunil Gavaskar, but 91 Tests, 6080 runs and 14 hundreds are not really bad figures, either.

“Looking back, I feel I could have got a few more hundreds; it is alright if you remain unbeaten in the 90s, but it is not when you get out,” admitted the man, who made 35 Test fifties, in an interview to Sportstar at the picturesque Wayanad Cricket Stadium, where he inaugurated its first ever First Class game, the Ranji Trophy Group ‘C’ match between Kerala and Goa, on a beautiful winter morning.

Excerpts:

Question: Few batsmen gave as much pleasure to a spectator as you did. Which of the current batsmen do you find attractive?

Answer: Virat Kohli, undoutedly. I enjoy watching him bat, because he is a very attacking batsman. Well, sometimes his aggression also causes his downfall. He has to curb his aggressive instincts a bit initially in an innings. Once he settles down, he has all the shots.

What I like is the fact that he plays cultured strokes; he is not just a dasher. I particularly love watching him play those shots between long leg and midwicket; he places those shots beautifully.

He has had more success in One-dayers than in the Tests. Do you think he could replicate his success in the shorter formats of the game in the Tests as well?

Yes, he could. He has a good temperament and is a very mature batsman.

Do you expect to see him do well in the Australian series? He did not have a great time in India’s last Test series overseas, in England…

I am sure he would do well in Australia. Yes, he had a bad series in England, but such things do happen for every player; I am glad that it has come early in his career.

What are your thoughts on the current Indian batting line-up?

I find a lot of potential in our batting. Batsmen like Rohit Sharma, who plays good cricketing shots, and Ajinkya Rahane are very talented. Potentially, all our batsmen are good. Their technique is not bad, either.

But staying in the middle is the most important thing in Test cricket. It is not about scoring 40 or 50 runs off 50 or 70 balls. It is about playing out sessions; that is what Test cricket is all about. Our batsmen are capable of that, but they have to apply themselves.

I expect them to fare much better in Australia than they did in England. The conditions are a lot different in Australia; there is humidity, just like in India. And the surfaces are different from England, where there is also the problem of the ball swinging right through the day, not just in the morning.

Why do you think Indian batsmen generally struggle overseas?

Our foreign coaches should be able to tell us why. We have always had foreign coaches, and if they cannot help our batsmen play well overseas, then, good luck to them!

VIRAT KOHLI'S BATTING is much appreciated by Viswanath.-AP

You have faced some of the greatest fast bowlers of all time. How did you prepare yourself for the battle with them?

Technique, technique, technique. Nothing else. I just relied on my technique.

Who were the toughest pace bowlers you faced?

There were many. Michael Holding, Dennis Lillee, Jeff Thomson, Andy Roberts, Joel Garner, Colin Croft, Vanburn Holder, Keith Boyce, Bob Willis, Ian Botham...they were all very good.

Some of them also appreciated your batting, didn’t they?

Yes, men like Botham, Lillee and Holding liked my batting. Appreciation from such rivals did mean a lot to me. Holding had called me up when he came to India recently for the 150th anniversary of the Eden Gardens.

Were you surprised to see this ground? Infrastructure in Kerala wasn’t like this when you played Ranji Trophy.

Yes, I was surprised to see such an excellent ground, with all the facilities. And it is also nice to see some grass on the pitch, for a change.

When I used to play the Ranji games, there were only matting wickets in Kerala; in fact, outside the big centres, that was the case in most places in the country.

Kerala used to produce good cricketers even then, such as Balan Pandit and K. Jayaram, both of whom were excellent batsmen, and Mohammed Ibrahim and C. K. Bhaskaran, who were fine medium-pacers.

It is good to see the emergence of Sanju Samson. He has the talent, no doubt about it. But he has to remain focussed if he wants to play for India.