The natural way is the best way

EVEN as theories and technique continue to dominate cricket, we saw that the West Indian batsmen were a transformed lot during the ODIs in India, simply because they reverted to their natural game.

The strength of West Indies cricket lies in the batsmen striking the ball hard, and seizing the initiative from the opposition, and in the pacemen bowling fast, looking to take wickets more than contain in any form of the game.

This is exactly what we saw in the final and decisive ODI in Vijayawada, where Marlon Samuels produced a wonderfully strokeful essay and Jermaine Lawson came charging in with the ball, seeking to strike early, not to restrict runs.

Given the nature of their cricket, this positive frame of mind is so crucial for the Caribbeans. You don't have to refer to the lap-tops or the latest coaching techniques to comprehend this.

Cricket is a sport where one's natural game has to come to the fore. If the West Indian batsmen dish out cautious cricket, and the bowlers operate to check the flow of runs alone, you can take it from me that their endeavour would fail.

We saw an example of this during the Chennai Test, where the West Indians played tame, negative cricket on the first day and the result was disastrous. In fact, the Caribbeans lost the match on day one.

Things began to change for them only when they went back to a kind of cricket, that has a distinct Caribbean flavour. The transformation began during the third Test in Kolkata, where the West Indians played some scintillating strokes to notch up a big first innings total, putting pressure on the Indians for the first time in the series. That the Test eventually ended in a draw is a different matter altogether.

What was important, from a West Indian perspective was that, they were finally backing themselves to play their natural game. In the ODIs, we witnessed an altogether different West Indian side, and some of the shots produced by openers Chris Gayle and Wavell Hinds brought some old memories back.

I have always been a big admirer of the Caribbeans, especially the manner in which they went about their cricket, or rather the way in which they destroyed an attack. It had a big influence on my cricket, as I grew up.

One of my treasured memories as a youngster was watching men like Roy Fredericks, Gordon Greendige, Vivian Richards, Alvin Kallicharran and Clive Lloyd in the Chennai Test of the mid-70s. Of course, I wanted India to win, yet, there was a desire to watch some explosive cricket from the Caribbeans as well.

It has often been anguishing to see the West Indians going down without a fight in recent years, but I must say that the present Windies side has the potential to perform well, though it might never quite be able recapture the glory of the past.

And the key to West Indies' future in world cricket lies in going back to their roots. Somebody like Marlon Samuels can have a huge impact on the game, in the years to come, if he trusts his ability to go after the bowling. That is the West Indian way, that is what comes spontaneously to them.

When I was developing as a cricketer, there was no dearth of advice to me about my game, yet I knew all along that if I were to play international cricket with a fair measure of success, it would have to be as an attacking opener.

There has been criticism, when I got out to some bold shots on occasions, however, the ability to take on the bowlers remained an asset to me, and it is for this quality that some remember me still.

I am happy Vivian Richards is the chief of the selectors for the West Indies. None knows or understands the value of positive cricket better than him.

He has been the most feared batsman of his time, a cricketer who could strike the ball with brutal power, and accomplish this time and again. And Richards watching the proceedings from the dressing room would serve as an inspiration to the young and talented West Indian batsmen.

Talking about natural talent, Kapil Dev was one of the most blessed cricketers I have seen. He had a God-given ability to bowl the outswinger and was as clean a striker of the ball as they come.

Nobody taught Kapil how to play his game. The coaches in the early stages of his career would have just honed his skills, and beyond that it was Kapil's natural ability surfacing.

Or take the example of Australia's Mark Waugh. He was such a gifted cricketer at the international level that everything appeared to be coming rather too easily to him.

He could play the most elegant of strokes, possessed so much time at his disposal, had the habit of making the hardest of slip catches appear easy. Even, in those rare moments, when he was called upon to send down off-spin, he could settle into a nice line straightaway.

His twin brother Steve is a courageous and immensely successful batsman, who doesn't quite have the in-born gifts of Mark, like his unique sense of timing. Credit is due to the Australian coaches, who understood that the brothers were different and did not attempt to change their contrasting styles.

A glittering talent in the 80s and 90s, David Gower, could pull out strokes of breath-taking beauty. Few left-handers have appeared more elegant, and few have been able to find the gaps more effortlessly. Yet, Gower was often at the receiving end from the British media for the occasional careless stroke.

However, if you look at his record, you would discover that he is among the most successful batsmen in English cricket history. Gower was right in playing the way he did, and he got runs at crucial junctures for England with his style. Now, what the present English side would not do to have a batsman of the class and calibre of Gower in its ranks!

The natural way is the best way. Coaching up to a certain point is fine, but not at the cost of a player's flair and ability.