‘I am a sore loser'

He was a bowler's nightmare. And he simply hated to lose a match. “I was never satisfied with anything less than a victory,” says Vivian Richards in a chat with V. V. Subrahmanyam.

He was known for his ability to destroy the best of bowling attacks. For 17 years, between 1974 and 1991, he tormented the bowlers around the world. So, when Sir Issac Vivian Alexander Richards says that he just hated to lose a match, it is his way of expressing to the modern generation of cricket fans the passion with which the indomitable West Indians played the game and ruled the world, first under Clive Lloyd and then under him.

“I can say that I was thrust into captaincy. There are some who are born captains and some who develop into splendid leaders. In my case, I just was keen to lead from the front and by example,” said Richards, looking back at his career.

The 59-year-old West Indian, who was in Hyderabad on a promotional campaign during the World Cup, said: “I was never satisfied with anything less than a victory. In a way, I am a sore loser.

“Yes, I was definitely lucky to have played under Lloyd who, I believe, moulded the West Indians into the most respected and successful cricket team ever in their history. From him I learnt how to lead by example. I really worked hard on my skills so that it encouraged the team to do what I did.

“We took immense pride in playing for the West Indies despite each island having its own indigenous culture and economic situations. We were not playing for our islands. Cricket proved to be the unifying force for the entire Caribbean Islands.” Richards, the original ‘Master Blaster' who played the key role in West Indies' victory in the 1979 World Cup, was of the view that cricket has changed a lot. “See, I am wearing glasses now,” he said with his typical smile.

“I enjoy these upper-cuts from Sehwag and the Dilshan scoops. These are inevitable innovations. I can recall that it was Tony Greig and Alan Knott (former England cricketers) who played the upper-cut to counter the fast bowlers then. But again I wonder whether the current batsmen can play these strokes without helmets,” he said, flashing a broad smile.

“More seriously, at one stage I thought Test cricket was dying. But honestly, the advent of Twenty20 has not only given life to the limited-overs version but also to Test cricket. Now I can say confidently that there is place for all three formats,” the West Indian legend said.

Does it hurt him to see West Indian cricket struggling these days?

“In a way, yes. It is a fact that over the years we have ignored developing the cricketing structure at the school-level. There is only one academy now in Barbados. You know how important an academy is in building a cricket team,” he explained.

“Now we are working very hard to regain the past glory,” he added.

In an interview sometime back, Richards had complained of old-timers being ostracised by the West Indies Board. Does he still think so?

“Well, things seem to change a little bit as Richie Richardson is now with the current West Indies team (in the 2011 World Cup) as manager. But then, I would have loved to see him speak more than the coach Ottis Gibson whose resume is no match to Richie's contribution to the game,” said Richards.

Did he talk to the current West Indies team during the World Cup?

“Not much. Because I am not sure whether I would be welcomed even though I am genuinely interested in giving back something to the game,” he said.

While speaking to Richards, a reference to the 1983 World Cup is inevitable. And he was forthright about that fateful day when Kapil Dev & Co. stunned the two-time World champions led by Clive Lloyd.

“Believe me, on that day (June 25, 1983) I felt so small in my life, for no one came to us even to say tough luck. It was all about winners and so I felt it was all about achievements,” Richards said.

“No one wants to associate with a loser,” he added.

But how did it happen?

“Well, I heard Kapil say that we were over-confident. It is not the case, and neither were we complacent. It was also said that I was in a hurry. But that is the way I batted right through my career,” he explained.

“I remember, the conditions changed a lot when we batted. Suddenly, it was cloudy and the Indian bowlers did a wonderful job. We were also handicapped by the injury to Lloyd,” he said.

“So, it was a bad day in office for us and these things happen to any team,” he added.

Talking of the on-going World Cup, Richards said it was very open with no clear favourites. “Initially, like many I too thought India were the favourites, but the lack of support for Zaheer Khan in the death overs is a major handicap. And mind you no one can dismiss Australia.

“Ricky (Ponting) should be hungry to win the World Cup in order to erase the bad memory of losing the Ashes to England recently.”