In his time he was cricket’s king and emperor. His arrogance, vivacity, swagger enthralled a whole generation. Then, he quietly called it a day, and retreated into a shell as it were, rarely giving interviews. Outlook , however, caught up with Viv Richards in Mumbai, and got the master batsman talking on Sachin, the ‘dynamite’, his all- time best Sunny Gavaskar... and his own glorious past. Excerpts from an exclusive interview:
What do you think of Sachin as a batsman?
I think he’s marvellous. I think he will fit in whatever category of cricket that’s been played or will be played, from the first ball that’s ever been bowled to the last ball that’s going to be. He can play in any era and at any level.
Where does his advantage lie?
His outlook. What he looks to do first is to attack. If it’s not there in the groove he waits for the line and defends. Most of the time batsmen, just because it could be a fearsome fast bowler they are facing, tend to defend. But Sachin’s always ready. He’s always in a position to take advantage of loose balls. It’s a mental preparedness thing. I prepared myself similarly. I used to stay focused on being aggressive. I don’t want to be technical beyond saying that he has a good eye. He has something special. He’s blessed.
He says he first met you in Australia. That Manjrekar introduced him to you and he was very nervous.
What I like about him is that he’s such a humble man. I was on a flight with him recently from Bombay to London this year on British Airways. He was going along with Azhar to play for a charity game. I was in club class and I thought he would disappear in first class. But he came and sat with me, possibly because children are not allowed in first class and he was travelling with his family. What’s amazing about the kid, if I might call him that because he’s so tiny, is that he’s always willing to learn. I was quite flattered when he came and asked me this and that. Seeing the things that he has done till now. Things that I would like to be doing. And for him to be asking me what did you do in such and such situation, I felt totally flattered. To me he doesn’t need to achieve anything more. When he’s playing like that what tip can you give except encouragement? He laughed when I said I would pay to see him.
At Sharjah this year in April when he got India to the finals he said that he walked back to the pavilion with the swagger of a Richards.
(Laughs) Oh, he’s got his own little thing. In a game that I have loved so much and given so much, it’s nice to find an individual like him. He may look tiny but he has a large heart.
There has been much comparison between him and Brian Lara. Now Sachin seems to have shifted to a different mode.
You may say Lara hasn’t been as consistent as Sachin. If Sachin has had a phenomenal year, Lara a controversial one. But when Sachin became captain his performances fell too. Though he has a wonderful mind for captaincy and cricket you don’t like to bog your most talented player in that role. You need to put him loose. You need to tell him, ‘Go on, take them tiger’. Now, after captaincy we see this huge change in him. In the West Indies, however, we need Lara as captain more than anything else. I think he has suffered as a player because of that.
Did your batting suffer when you became captain?
I think it did. We never had this huge support staff. The captain had to be manager, father, everything. I would overlook myself in terms of getting adequate batting practice. I felt responsible for the team. I started playing responsibly. My aggressive style went a bit. Sachin also told me something along those lines. But now there are these huge entourages and captaincy can be a little easier. They can work on the captain as well.
How would you compare Sachin with Sunny?
I think if there hadn’t been a Sunny there would have been no Sachin. I would like to think that Sachin did see a lot of Sunny. There is no better person to learn from. In terms of being technically sound and having a wide array of shots, I think Sachin has taken all of what Sunny had a step further. You see great players don’t come in isolation. You have to have some kind of history.
During the 1992 World Cup you commented that Sunny was the best batsman of your generation?
I still say that. I picked Sunny because I saw him a lot. We had the best fast ball attack then. When everybody was complaining about us having 4- 5 best bowlers Sunny was seemingly enjoying them. He never complained. And the West Indies took the brunt of his batting. Sunny to me was the individual because there were a lot of people who had a big fear of the fast bowlers. He made it look so easy.
Can we really compare Sunny, an opener, with Sachin?
Well, they are totally different. Sunny was such a perfectionist. Even when he was playing forward defensive or leaving the ball there was a certain style in which he had to do that. I think if you had to pick a batsman to bat for your life you would pick Sunny. If you wanted an entertainer, a person who would give a money’s worth to the spectator, it would have to be Sachin.
And where would you slot yourself?
(Laughs) I am out of it at the moment. I will let someone else comment on that. But opening bats are always special. I always hold my hat for the likes of Greenidge, Haynes and Sunny. To face the new ball is not easy. To do it in such fine fashion against both quality and quantity as far as fast bowling went took an enormous effort. I always thought opening bats would lead the charge and clear the way for the middle order to take over.
Do you think the present generation of bowlers is a little wanting in quality?
I should think so. There was Dennis Lillee, Jeff Thomson, Imran Khan, Abdul Qadir, just to name a few. We had both quality and quantity. Also look at the batsmen they bowled to. Thomson was then the fastest and Imran was ‘the’ all- rounder of the ’70s and ’80s.
You never wore a helmet. Also Sunny. Do you think it takes away from current batting performances?
No. Guys want to be protected. With so much money around they want to stay protected. They also wouldn’t like someone to have a look at their conscience. The only thing I did detest is that some guys then thought that just because they had their suit of armour they could start pulling and hooking. They didn’t have those shots in them. Some guys got carried away. They started taking on the bowlers just because of their body armour.
Sachin says he sometimes psyches himself up by visualising what shots he’s going to play by standing behind the stumps? How did you psyche yourself?
I used to have a long mirror at home. I used to be batting all the time. Sometimes the whole night. I used to imagine bowlers running upto me and me playing the shots. All the thumping used to cheese the people off downstairs. I was never a great watcher of the game. Of course, I used to have a general idea of how a bowler bowled. In the old days when someone got out they would give advice to the batsman coming in. Pass some remark about the bowler. I didn’t like that. I didn’t like anybody to tell me anything when I was going in because that could put things in your head. Some guys would say the balls were swinging like mad. Someone might say that you need a bat as big as a building to play a particular bowler. The thing is they might have got out playing a rash shot. I liked to figure things out for myself and let others do that.
It seems Sachin gets even more determined when sledged. What did you do when you were sledged?
I gave it back. You see a batsman’s job is so much easier. If a bowler gets you out he can maybe come up to you and say ‘get off’ or whatever. That doesn’t last too long. But I knew when my time came it was going to be pretty painful for the other party because it would be a time- consuming thing. Seeing the bowler’s face after hitting them was the most beautiful sight. Of course, the Indians didn’t sledge. If they did it was in Hindi. When people got personal about me I got 100 per cent concentration. I never felt like I had to have a hole to hide. My better innings were when I was being sledged.
Well, once in a Somerset- Glamorgan match Greg Thomas, who was a fast bowler, beat me a couple of times and had the cheek to come up and ask what was wrong with the edges of my bat. He followed that up by telling me what the ball was like in case I wasn’t seeing it. He said it was red, round and weighed four- and- a- half ounces. I said ‘thank you my friend for letting me know that’. The next delivery I faced was right in the slot so I smashed it out of the ground and into a river. He basically died then watching it go. I got a little witty as well. I told him since everybody was searching for the ball and that he knew the size, shape and colour so why didn’t he go help them find it. Of course, we had a beer afterwards. But I also scored 140 runs in 75 minutes because of that.
Do you see any weakness in Sachin’s batting? Anything you want corrected?
Weakness ? (incredulous). Corrected? When a guy is playing like that you don’t have a look at his batting for faults. I would say he’s 99.5 per cent perfect.
Do you have any advice for him?
What can I say? Who needs to tell him about motivation? The sky is the limit if you take chances. This guy takes them. He has a stout heart as well, though it might not look it.
Some players have commented that when he finishes he would be in the top two- three players who ever played the game?
Easy. I think he’s already there. Even if he retires tomorrow and doesn’t achieve anything more he is right there. And he’s still young. I have never seen Bradman but heard people talk about him. But I tell you what, if Bradman could bat like this man does then he was dynamite. I have seen only Sachin. Players like Sachin deserve to be preserved in cotton wool. I first saw him when he was touring England. I saw two of his innings. When you start hitting respectable fast bowlers for sixes over their heads then you are serving notice.
Between Sachin and you— who has the edge?
Come on, you are not getting me on that.