‘T20 and tests can make a wonderful partnership’

Viv holds court… the Delhi Daredevils ambassador, mentor and coach is a big influence on the team and the youngsters just cannot stop talking of the Master Blaster — Mark 1.-RAJEEV BHATT

“The craze for IPL is like the soccer madness in Brazil. It is important for the game. It will continue to get better as long as the game is run well with time for Test cricket too,” says Vivian Richards. By Vijay Lokapally.

His swagger leaves you in a trance. Sir Isaac Vivian Alexander Richards stands out with that regal gait of his, throwing a glance here, acknowledging a greeting there and studying the ambience just the way he used to do many summers ago while walking to the crease, much to the awe of the rival players.

The youngsters of today may adore Chris Gayle following his sensational performances in the Indian Premier League. No doubt, Gayle brings a touch of Richards-like aggression to the middle, but only a touch, for no one can replicate what the original master blaster did in his prime.

Richards spared no one and he did not face mediocre bowlers while playing those furious knocks. He batted in Tests the way Gayle plays in a T20 contest.

When Delhi Daredevils decided to rope in the great Richards as its ambassador, mentor and coach, the team management had presented its players one of the finest gifts they could have asked for. To share space with Richards in the team bus, discussion room and at the ‘nets’ meant an opportunity for the players to learn from the man who knew how to dominate and destroy the best of attacks.

Kapil Dev and Imran Khan preferred bowling to Richards than Sunil Gavaskar. “He gave you a chance,” they say. Richards gave you a chance because he played his shots, played to dominate and destroy the bowlers. But that chance would often come only after Richards had undermined the attack with a flurry of sensational shots.

He symbolised the art of aggressive batting. Richards was aggressive by nature with the appearance and mannerisms of a boxer, though he was a self-confessed football lover. These days he sits up late to watch football on TV. He is a fan of the Brazilian style of football, the attacking style.

Richards likes Virender Sehwag’s style of aggression. “You can be aggressive like Sehwag. What he has been in his Test career is what I call aggression. That to me is the symbol of what aggression is all about. You are hurting Test attacks with guys all around you and they bowl to a certain field to try and get you out and not try and contain you. But when you counter all that and still be there with a hundred against your name that is serious aggressive batting,” he said in a chat with Sportstar.

Richards is a busy man at the Delhi Daredevils nets. He has time for every batsman. He is also not averse to the popularity of T20 cricket.

“At one stage the attendance for Test cricket was dying. It needed better organising and there was concern. Interest in the longer version of the game was dying. Ever since T20 has come on board, we have seen a resurgence of the game for various reasons. I have no problem with that. What I only hope is that the ICC (International Cricket Council) and its member units must ensure that all the players are available for something like the IPL. It will also help to continue the longevity of Test cricket,” he said.

“I don’t like it when some guys are available for their countries sometimes and some guys are not. That to me sometimes weakens the strength of Test match countries. They have to collectively work things out and make all players available for selection all the time. Test match, at times slow, and T20, fast and furious, can be a wonderful partnership,” Richards added.

Would he call a player who scores 30 and takes two wickets a good cricketer?

“For the format itself, it is fine, 30 runs and two wickets, but not otherwise. T20, because of its fast and furious nature, is getting performers like Chris Gayle. His 175 was awesome. The way (Kieron) Pollard and (Sunil) Narine have been performing, the West Indies is looking good in T20. For the shortest version, that’s the way to play,” Richards said.

The West Indian, dreaded by bowlers in his heyday, observed that the way forward for the game is to have a balance between Test cricket and T20 cricket.

“It is nice to know you have so many different versions of the game. To me there is only one winner, the T20, the IPL. Look at the attendance. You tell yourself ‘who would turn away folks from the game just because it is a shorter version and not Test match cricket?’ That’s rubbish in my opinion. It is a continuation of the game. As time goes by you would see the relevance of T20 itself. I will compare it with soccer. I am a huge soccer fan. I know what it is to the Brazilians. They are fanatical. The message that IPL sends to me is the enthusiasm of the people. The craze for IPL (here) is like the soccer madness in Brazil. It is important for the game. It will continue to get better as long as the game is run well with time for Test cricket too,” Richards said.

On his famous swagger, arrogance or confidence, the 61-year-old Richards said: “Lot of folks would say arrogance. I would get angry, totally pissed off when folks would say that. It was my sense of confidence when I walk to the crease. There are 11 guys who believe just because you are outnumbered, they have the numbers on you. I have to present myself in such a way that I am hoping the confidence that I bring may just match the 11 guys that you have on the field.”

It wouldn’t be a surprise if some of the Delhi Daredevils players develop a swagger by the end of the IPL. Richards’ influence on the team has been huge.

Richards was gracious when he said that Virat Kohli was a bit of himself. He was touched when Sachin Tendulkar confessed he wanted to be a combination of Richards and Gavaskar. And youngsters at Delhi Daredevils just don’t stop talking about the team’s new ambassador, mentor and coach.