Nasser Hussain interviews former West Indies cricket star Sir Viv Richards for London’s Daily Mail.
The scene is Lord’s on the fourth evening of the first Test and spirited West Indies batting has extended a match England were expected to win quickly and easily into a fifth day.
A familiar figure emerges into the media centre and stops the assembled writers in their tracks.
‘Who checked out of their hotels this morning?’ demands Sir Viv Richards, his mere presence enough to command full attention. ‘You guys all counted your chickens before they’d hatched, didn’t you?’ No-one admits to the ‘crime’ through fear of recriminations.
Viv, here this year mainly to provide authoritative views for BBC’s Test Match Special, is not only one of the greatest of all batsmen, he is also still the brightest symbol of long lost West Indian cricketing domination.
No-one argues with Viv or, at least, that’s what we thought before Denesh Ramdin decided to have his say.
More of that later. Even former captains and greats of the game are in awe of Isaac Vivian Alexander Richards. He still cuts, at 60, a charismatic, almost intimidating figure.
Now, after an unexpectedly competitive series ended with victory for England, Richards is sitting with former England captain Nasser Hussain to share his thoughts on West Indies, a certain Sir Ian Botham and the passion that still burns within.
A crowd quickly and silently gathers in the lounge of Edgbaston’s excellent new press facility to hang on every deep, rich word spoken in that distinctive, Antiguan accent.
Nasser Hussain: First things first, what did you make of the series Viv, from an ex-player and now commentator’s point of view?
Sir Viv Richards: I’ve enjoyed it as a cricket lover because I’ve seen professionalism from England at its very best and as a West Indian we have looked a much better unit and that’s good to see.
Having watched West Indies since I stopped playing I have often questioned whether we had what it takes to get back to the top. That question still remains but there has been progress. Now we have to prove we can win.
Nasser: What would you say to someone who says ‘at least the West Indies are playing with a bit of pride and passion. They’re giving it their best’. Is that encouraging or is it almost patronising, as if being simply competitive is in itself a triumph these days?
Viv: We can’t just look at West Indies in 2012 and say ‘they’re giving it their best shot’. We need more than that. England were searching for a long time to discover what they’ve found now and we have to do the same.
We have to set our sights high. Ability can go so far. Being strong enough mentally is another thing. Some of our players have talent but how strong are they?
We have to find the ways and means to win. People are saying ‘you were getting beaten in three days, at least you’re now lasting four or five days’. Well, that ain’t enough for me.
Nasser: Where do you stand on the missing West Indian players? People like Chris Gayle and Ronnie Sarwan haven’t featured in the Test series and West Indies seem to have been weaker for that. But you weren’t winning when they were around, either.
Viv: That’s fair comment. But I would love to have seen Chris here in our inexperienced Test team seeing if he could handle a very potent England attack. It’s irrelevant that he’s here for the 50-over matches because we know what Chris Gayle can do in one-day cricket. Test matches to me are the caviar compared to the fast food stuff. Having the ability and the constitution to triumph over five days is what it’s all about.
Yes, we haven’t achieved anything with the likes of Chris in the Test team, but we have to get into his mind and get him back integrated into the side. He has to prove he can be part of the collective in a team that’s looking to move on.
I believe he can play a role as a mentor to these guys. They all look up to him. Anyone who can hit a cricket ball as hard as he can demands a certain amount of respect.
Nasser: The Indian Premier League is clearly a significant factor in how often Chris and others play for West Indies now.
If there had been an IPL in your day and, say, the Delhi Daredevils offered you $2million to play for them, would you do it? It would mean you missing some games for West Indies.
Viv (after a pause): That’s a tough one. It would depend on what sort of treatment I had been getting from the establishment.
If everything had been in order and I was in a responsible position as captain, my heart would be solely and totally with West Indies.
I had an obligation to the countries and the region we represented. What I missed on the roundabout financially, I could have made up for on the straight.
But in some ways you could compare it with Kerry Packer. A lot of West Indians played for him when we had our issues with our board.
I always liked to think our administrators were thinking the same way as a Vivian Richards or a Clive Lloyd. But if they weren’t treating us properly and I was playing now, then maybe I would have swapped the maroon cap for the IPL. Maybe…
Nasser: How proud are you of your team and your era? Do you look back and think ‘crikey, we achieved a lot. That was a serious team’?
Viv: I like to move forward but it is still nice to hear that something you participated in is regarded as special. Yes I am proud.
There was a legacy a long time before I came in and it was my job to take the baton and make sure I held it tight and ran like hell. That was the way I felt.
Clive Lloyd did a magnificent job. You hear people say it was easy for Clive as captain because he had great players, but that’s bulls**t. We never started out as a great team. There were a lot of individuals who hadn’t quite done it and we had to have a leader. Clive was it. I looked up to him.
We got beat 5-1 in Australia and Clive said to me over a drink ‘the only way we’re going to compete with these guys, Viv, is having four guys who can bowl just as fast as them or even faster’. We never looked back once we had established that.
Nasser: You’re clearly a very loyal man who made a lot of friends in those days that you’ve kept for life. Like Sir Ian Botham. You two are as close now as you’ve ever been. How did that friendship start?
Viv: When I first came to this country I was this new kid from the Caribbean. England was a rude awakening for me. I played in a trial match for Somerset and Ian walked in.
I think he was on the Lord’s groundstaff at the time. I batted and got out first ball but when we came to bowl I ended up with five wickets while Ian, the big swing bowling hope, didn’t take any. He came up to me in the dressing room afterwards, introduced himself and said to me ‘from now on, mate, you do the bowling and I’ll do the batting’.
I remember it to this day. The warmth of the man. He made me feel so at home. I hardly knew anybody but he made me think ‘wow, some of these blokes are okay’. He showed me what a pint of bitter was all about and we just went on from there!
(Viv pauses, looking emotional). I’ve always said that, now we are getting older, if he goes before me I will drop everything to be at his family’s side to support them and do all I could for them and I know he would do the same for me. It’s in here (tapping his heart).
Nasser: Did the strength of your friendship make it hard to play against Beefy when your team was so rampant against his England team?
Viv: Not at all. Ian is a very passionate, proud Englishman and I knew how seriously he took his country. I was the same about the Caribbean. We always played it as hard as we possibly could against each other, but we were mates again straight afterwards.
Nasser: I was with Sir Ian when you sent him a text inviting him to your 60th birthday celebrations in the Caribbean. His face lit up. That bond is clearly still there.
Viv: Yeah man, he’s a friend for life. We’ve had our personality clashes, our little arguments. He sometimes thinks his view is the perfect one and I’m thinking ‘bulls**t’.
But we never fall out. At the end of the day the respect we have for one another comes through more than anything. If the journey was too smooth you’d have to be wary.
Nasser: I know Ian never really did it against your team, but how good was he? Is he England’s greatest ever cricketer?
Viv: You felt that England could achieve anything with Ian in the side, even when we were winning all those games. He has such a serious, serious passion for the Three Lions and he was the ultimate all-rounder. He had such magnificent will-power and a never-say-die attitude. There was his bowling first and foremost. But he was also the cleanest hitter of a cricket ball I’d seen at that stage.
He would ignore the coaching manual as a slip fielder but he was one of the best catchers I ever saw, too. He stood there with his hands on his knees but his reflexes were incredible.
We took time in our team meetings to make sure he wouldn’t get away. We knew how destructive he could be. He was the spirit of England. He was like a pied piper.
Nasser: What about you, mate? You look as fit and healthy as ever. You look like you could play against England now! How do you spend your time away from cricket?
Viv: Nass, I play as much golf as possible. I’ve got little commercial niches outside the game which Ian is part of. We have some corporate things that will help me in retirement.
I’m into my politics at home, too, and have my friend’s cancer society that I raise money for. That was linked to my 60th birthday. Life is not all about parties and frolicking. You have to show you care for people, too.
Nasser: How do you look back on your career now?
Viv: Well, you are a player for a certain amount of time and you have to make the best of it. I am proud of what I did. I sometimes hear people saying that it’s wrong that some of today’s players earn so much money.
No. We should be proud, because what we did paved the way for what has happened since. I hope some of these guys understand the sacrifices that were made in the past.
Nasser: Is there any kind of jealousy about what today’s players earn? Batsmen who, with respect, are nowhere near your class are getting millions of dollars.
Viv: No, no, never, never, never. I don’t think that way. If you are going to think ‘if only I had earned what these guys do’ you are going to live life with regrets.
I am thankful that I played the game at a time when the West Indies climbed to heights that have never been repeated.
Nasser: Do they respect the past? Do the modern West Indies players understand what you guys did?
Viv: I hope they do understand, because West Indies cricket didn’t start where they are at. There is a serious legacy. If they have respect for that and the game then I will have respect for them. But if they don’t, they will have to answer to me.
Nasser: Which brings us nicely to this week’s incident involving Denesh Ramdin. What did you make of it when you saw him hold up that note at Edgbaston having a go at you? Were you hurt?
Viv: Not at all. I’ve been around too long to get hurt by stuff like that. You have to say things as you see them when you are in the commentary box, as you know, and I was just doing my professional work. If he feels upset about that then tough, because I am not going to apologise for doing my job.
His hundred was okay for the team, but the English horse was in full stride by the time he made it. Perhaps he could have toned his celebrations down a little bit because he did not take his team across the line. I have no problem with his views if that’s what it takes to get him going.
I have no animosity towards Denesh. The statement I made that seems to have upset him was that he has been given a lot of opportunities to get it right. But I was happy for him in the end. It was well overdue.
Nasser: When I first saw him do it I thought, he can’t mean that Viv! It must be someone else with the same name. You don’t take on Sir Viv Richards, the man who sweated blood and tears for West Indian cricket. Should he have insulted the great Viv Richards?
Viv: It doesn’t matter if it’s me or anyone else. It’s like I said on the radio.
The problem I had with it was not what he said about me, it was that he was like a soccer player scoring a goal in the 90th minute, when his team were already losing 5-0, and then running around punching the air and jumping for joy.
You’re getting beat by England. Just play it down a bit because the series is already lost. He may have a thing or two to learn about performing when it benefits the team most. If he needed me to say something to motivate him and give him a little kick up the backside then that’s fine.
Nasser: If you bump into Denesh will you say anything to him?
Viv: No, no. He’s not in my weight class.