An interesting read
Where batsmen are concerned, Vivian Richards stands head and shoulders above everyone else. His greatness lies not only in his talent, but also in his determination. He has immense pride in himself and in his team. He has the best reflexes of any batsmen I have come across. When I first played against him, in the West Indies, I was not a genuine fast bowler, but I did vary my pace a bit. He played me almost as if I were a spinner; to block my inswing, he would put his front foot down and across the wicket. I would
continue at medium pace and then try to surprise him with a bouncer; although he was on the front foot he would merely lean back and hit the ball over mid wicket. I had a recurring nightmare on that West Indies tour, that Viv and I were two Wild West gunslingers, and had to draw against each other. In dreams you are slow anyway, and it is not hard to imagine how I felt trying to outdraw Viv Richards. Richards has had a great deal to do with the West Indian supremacy over the years. He has gone out against fast bowlers like Lillee and Thomson, and has not just tried to stay there but has gone for them and knocked them about as though he was playing in a school match. This attitude makes it easier for the following batsmen, who realise that the bowlers are only human; and the bowlers confidence is shattered when their best deliveries are carted about. I remember an innings Richards played against England in Manchester in 1984. He came in when Greenidge was 4 or 5; not long afterwards, Richards was out for 64, by which time
Greenidge had moved on to 6 or 7. I asked Richards afterwards if he had got something against Bob Willis,
because he had been especially hard on Willis's bowling. Richards replied that he was younger, Willis had come out to the Caribbean with England. He had hooked him once, but was out the second time he tried it, and called Richards a black *******' as he walked off; Richards was always keen for revenge. Richards has great pride in his race and colour. He is capable of rising to the big occasion, think of all those runs he has scored in big finals at Lord's, or the huge crowds at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in Australia. I was amazed when Somerset sacked Richards, because he had always tried his utmost for his county. Somerset were struggling because they had a poor team, with no one to back up Richards and Garner. They did all right in one-day matches, but in the championship you need good back-up bowlers. Take Hampshire for example; Malcolm Marshall has done consistently well for them in recent years, but because their other bowlers are not penetrative enough they've never won the championship in that time.
Statistically one of Pakistan's all time greats, Zaheer Abbas, was certainly the best timer of the ball I have ever seen. There may have been harder hitters, but no one could match his timing. At Karachi in 1982-3, during his 186, he went to drive a ball from Kapil Dev and found that it was not quite up to him. He checked his shot and played defensively, and his innate timing sent the ball away for four past cover. The cricket commentators kept replaying this shot on television, pointing out that Zaheer had'nt even followed through. His exquisite timing meant that he was a great player of spin bowling, which he could take
apart on any wickets. Zaheer could play off either foot, and through either side of the wicket, but his main problem was one of temperament. As soon as he was under pressure, he found it hard going, and often fell into a bad patch. Once in a poor run of form, he often found it difficult to break out again. He also had a problem with pace bowling. It didn't seem to worry him early in his career, but in the early 1980s he
suffered a form of shellshock. He was never the same after Sylvester Clarke had hit him on the head during the West Indies tour of Pakistan in 1980-1, often making excuses or taking the easy option by hitting out wildly against the slower bowlers. He was also very conscious of his average, which counts against him in my view. I can't really rate him in the top flight of batsmen.
Moving over the border to India, it will come as no great surprise if the first name I select is that of Sunil Gavaskar. His record is such that he must remain one of the all time greats. Gavaskar has had a great influence on Indian cricket, matched in recent years only by Kapil Dev,
whose main significance was that he was the first bowler of any pace that India has produced for many years. But Gavaskar has made the greater contribution in my opinion. In the 1950s and 1960s, Indian batsmen had a reputation for avoiding fast bowling, and some of them were even known to back away towards square leg if a quick bowler came on. Gavaskar changed all this. He played pace with relative
ease: he could hook if he wanted to, but more often, he would leave the bouncer alone and watch it sail by. His defence is well organised, and he is a very intelligent batsman who performs well under pressure. Indeed he has played some of his best innings under intense pressure: twice India has made a good fist of chasing over 400 runs to win a Test, and on both occasions, Gavaskar was the major factor. Agains the West Indies in Port of Spain in 1975-6, Gavaskar scored 102 to set his side on the way to 406-4, the
highest score ever made to win a test. And at the Oval in 1979 he hit a magnificent 221 as India chased 438. They fell a few runs short of improving their record, but drew the match. The best innings I ever saw him play was his 96 at Bangalore, in what turned out to be his final test. It was one of the most difficult pitches I have ever seen - the ball was turning square, bouncing awkwardly and sometimes keeping low. Pakistan were bowled out for 116 in their first innings, after which India made 145. Thanks to gritty play
by our tail enders, we set India 221 to win, and Gavaskar
played an incredible innings. Both teams knew that the match would be over if Gavaskar was out, which was what eventually happened: Iqbal Qasim had him caught, just four short of what would have been his thirty-fifth Test century. He is the master of an unusual shot: a type of late flick which he plays with great control between square leg and midwicket, I have never seen any other batsman play this shot with such precision. It brings him a lot of runs, which is one reason why he can keep the scoreboard ticking over.
Although he has had to cut out a lot of his more risky shots in the team's interest, he can be brilliant when he lets himself go, and I have seen him outscore stroke makers like
Srikkanth on occasions. I batted with him for a long time during the MCC bicentennial match at Lord's in 1987. He scored 188, I made 82, and we put on 180 for the fifth wicket. I found it a revelation to see how he tackled certain bowlers, and how he understood the game. He is a master, and I am afraid that
Indian cricket will struggle to replace him adequately.