The Butcher way to clean up the mess

VIJAY LOKAPALLY

HE sits nursing his drink, surrounded by admirers. Among them are his sons, pounding him with queries on pitch-making. Basil Butcher is not a man who prepares pitches but in the West Indies there are few who can match his cricketing wisdom.

The cacophony at the bar in the Members Stand at the Bourda Oval in Georgetown, Guyana is so typical of the place. Arguments concerning cricket are so legendary. Tempers rise but the focus is not lost. Butcher asks, "You want to talk to me now?" Well, if he is willing. With the din in the stands, I am a little apprehensive. He is quick to understand the predicament. "Don't worry, I can raise my voice on top of them," he quips and bursts out laughing. His laughter reflects his personality. Happy with life, watching cricket he adores so much, and enjoying the attention he still commands.

-V. V. KRISHNAN

In 44 Tests, Butcher compiled 3104 runs at an average of 43.11. Seven centuries did not quite do justice to his potential even though he was rated as one of the most reliable batsmen to have occupied the number four or five slot.

Looking at the Indians staging a comeback in the Georgetown Test, he commences the conversation, "You know what? Cricket today is very entertaining. I can't find any faults with the game as it is played today." He is honest at the outset.

Does the game appeal to him as much? "It does," he says in an emphatic tone. "It does appeal to me. After all I'm a cricketer and that's what counts. As a cricketer you tend to know more than people around you and that means a lot."

But there should be something, some aspect of the game that does not appeal to him. He ponders a while and forces himself to disagree with one development that has caused consternation among the fast bowlers. "What has not been good for the game is the bouncer rule. By restricting the bouncers per over, the authorities have taken away the glamour from the game. Spectators, especially in the West Indies, like to see the batsmen ducking and weaving and hooking. Sadly, it is not there because of this rule now. You have to harness the talent and not hamper its growth. The authorities have actually taken it away from cricket and that's wrong."

This coming from a batsman should sound strange. Why should a batsman take up a bowler's cause? "Let us accept that all the changes in the game have been in favour of the batsmen, not the bowlers. And that's wrong. To make the game attractive and get the spectators interested, it's important to have all the right ingredients."

Butcher was a batsman respected by bowlers all over the world. He got runs on the spinning tracks in India, the bouncy and fast ones in Australia and the seaming pitches in England. He was a complete batsman - correct and consistent. How did he manage that? "From what I gathered from the older players. You see the older players have to pass the word around. They have to guide you about the conditions so that you can prepare yourself. To achieve success everywhere, you have to create the kind of atmosphere you would encounter overseas so that you are able to adjust to those conditions."

So, why has the West Indies not been able to keep pace with the rest of the world? Why has it lagged behind? "Simply because of the lack of knowledge of people who are in the administration. I'm happy to see that Wesley Hall is at the helm now."

What more reasons could he think of? "We haven't been doing much for our players. Earlier, we would have the West Indian cricketers going around the world and assisting other nations in their buildup. The West Indians would be busy playing in their league. That's been minimised now."

What then is the way out? "We have to introduce a few programmes. Development of cricket is as important as conduct of cricket. Without the West Indian style of play, I know even international cricket loses a lot of charm. The West Indians have always played exciting cricket. If we feel strongly about West Indies cricket then we have to do a lot more than what we have been doing. I look at cricket as an experience. That experience can be taught in schools. To do that, you have to have very good administrators."

So was he suggesting that cricket was not moving in the right direction in the West Indies? "You need to investigate and find out what's happening. How cricket is when compared to other sport. We need to get people who have played the game. Only people who have played the game have the pride for it. The development of the game depends upon people who have played the game. So we have to involve people who have played the game because their experience can make all the difference. I'm sure they would have all the answers to all the problems that the West Indies is facing."

Returning to the topic of the state of pitches in the West Indies, he said, "We have to study the reasons why the tracks have become slow. In my opinion they have become slow because they are not properly compacted. They should have some moisture and proper rolling."

Another point Butcher would like the administrators to take care of was regarding the rising number of players on the injury list. "To tell you the truth the injuries to players has become embarrassing. Cricket is the only sport in the world which has so many people coming off the game because they are unfit or injured. It's not good for the players and not good for the game. If you are not physically fit, you can't be mentally fit and it can certainly affect your game."

Butcher continued on the subject: "Today there is such prestige attached to the game and your performances. It is cold war. The players have to be hundred per cent fit for 365 days. You are paid well and for more payment you have to be ready always for your job."

Having stayed away from the game for some time because of differences with the administrators, Butcher was looking forward to helping the West Indies regain its glory. "I would love to be involved with cricket. I had problems with our administrators because too many people who did not know the game were involved. They were able to manipulate the system and that was the reason for the downfall of West Indies cricket. I'm now trying to get involved because cricket is greater than I am."

His eyes lit up when I asked him about his memories of India where he made 486 runs at an average of 69.42, including centuries at Calcutta and Madras. "India is a special country. You can wake me up anytime until I die and say look we are going to India, I'll jump out of my bed. I love India."

Butcher, 69, spends time watching and discussing cricket. And for living, he simply does business. "Life has been kind to me, thanks to cricket!"