To think of cricket and not think of the West Indians is impossible. Not only were they unbelievably strong from the ‘60s to the ‘80s, they also created new niches in cricket. They have always been the ultimate style icons of the game. Whatever the era or the format, aggression has been their USP.
They played Test cricket with the flair they play Twenty20 now. From Garfield Sobers to Viv Richards and from Rohan Kanhai to Alvin Kallicharan, they all played natural cricket.
The falling sweep that Kanhai played against English fast bowlers in the 1963 series made aspiring young players in England ask if the MCC coaching manual was the only way to learn cricket.
Recently Richards was invited by the Dr. D.Y. Patil University to felicitate old coaches from Mumbai. Later, while having lunch with a few of us, he made some pertinent points about technique. “As one goes along one learns to adapt oneself but the trick is to not become a slave of technique. It’s a one-ball-at-a-time game. Keep it simple. Don’t complicate it.”
He then talked about the myths in cricket. “When I went first to England, coaches raised eyebrows about my carefree stroke play. Later when I adapted to English conditions, no one advised me. Chris Gayle is now hitting everything into the stands because the conditions are working for him. I am keen to see how he adapts when he plays in the Champions Trophy in England. This game is all about how quickly you adapt yourself.”
Dhoni admits he is technically not correct for the longer version. Yet he has scored 4,209 runs at a decent average of 39.70 merely because he quickly adapts to conditions despite being a predominantly bottom-hand player.
Viv Richards had his way. Supremely confident of his ability, his walk from the pavilion to the middle warned the opposition about his intentions.
At Delhi in 1974 he made the Indian spinners look mediocre when he scored an unbeaten 192.
In the first Test at Bangalore he was mesmerised by Chandrasekhar. He struggled to read him and got out early in both innings.
However in Delhi, he played the West Indian way of cricket. “After failing in the first Test, I was a bit under pressure but if you can adapt and attack the bowlers, it’s the bowlers who get under pressure. India had great spin bowlers.”
This genius Richards is the perfect epitome of natural aggressive cricket. That’s the way the West Indians played. Chasing 192 to win the Mumbai Test in 1966, the West Indies lost four quick wickets to Chandrasekhar who had captured seven in the first innings.
With 102 required to win and Chandrasekhar bowling his top spinners effectively, in came Sobers and finished the game in a hurry as he wanted to be in time for the first race at the Mahalaxmi course.
The West Indians have always had an impact on Indian cricket. The lofted shots that Gayle, Pollard and the other West Indians have been playing in the IPL will surely influence the outlook of the teenagers. No wonder parents have been pleading with coaches at summer camps to teach their sons to play like Gayle and Pollard.
But Richards struck a note of caution. “Cricket isn’t as easy a game as one thinks,” he said. “You have fewer chances of succeeding if you try to imitate. Kids must be encouraged to play natural cricket. ”
Perhaps this is what the West Indians have always done right. Never imitating anyone, they always built their own style.
It didn’t matter what the cricket manuals said in any era, they created their own manuals and entertained the cricket lovers.