It is always fascinating to hear top-level sportsmen speak about their fellow high achievers. There is a clarity of thought and level of understanding they possess about what is happening on the field that those of us over the boundary struggle to achieve.
Like his style of not, Geoff Boycott was one of the finest opening batsmen to play international cricket, and there are few with a keener understanding of the nuances and inner workings of the game than he. So opinionated as some may find him, it’s worth paying attention when he speaks about players.
His career coincided with that of Sir Viv Richards. Often they would have crossed paths, both in English county cricket and the Test match arena, so I recently considered with great interest his analysis of the “Master Blaster” as a batsman.
“Richards against the quick bowlers and the new ball is an intriguing phenomenon,” he once wrote. “He does not even play them on their apparent merits, he simply sets out to dominate—and the faster they bowl the more ferocious his reply. It is a matter of personal pride, ego and macho that he should take the initiative and be seen to do so.
“If anyone bowled at 200 mph, Richards would set himself to hit them for 12. It is beneath his dignity to duck and weave; fast bowling is a challenge, and he must fight fire with fire...
“It cannot be just coincidence that Richards’ sporting hero is Joe Frazier, the (late) heavyweight boxer who typifies aggression, courage and the compulsion to go forward, always forward....Fast bowlers have an in-built intent to do batsmen physical harm...and Richards the batsman like Frazier the boxer, regards it as a matter of pride to walk into the blows.”
No-one who saw Sir Viv at the crease could disagree with that piece of Boycott analysis. He was one of a rare breed whose physical gifts were combined in a very unique way with the type of iron will and self belief displayed only by those at the very top of their disciplines.
One of the few that seem to bear comparison would be Michael Jordan, the basketball genius who was as ruthless and unstoppable against his opponents as Richards was at the crease.
But there is another one who slips effortlessly into the genius category.
In style, Brian Lara was very different to Sir Viv.
The “Master Blaster” was a swaggering figure at the crease, his graceful footwork complementing the power unleashed by his dominant right hand.
Viv could defeat a bowler just by staring him down and then demoralise him by hitting him anywhere and by any means—stepping outside leg-stump and smashing through the covers or gliding outside his off-stump to crack murderous pull shots either side of the spectator fielding at square-leg.
Lara slighter of build, was a left-handed executioner. His determination to dominate was no less than Sir Viv’s. Except he used his blade like a true swordsman. Not a seeker and destroyer of the fastest bowlers, he carved them into submission with nimble movements, bat speed, deft use of the wrists and a canny brain.
Very few in the game’s history have been able to pierce well-set fields the way BC Lara did at will. He seemed to take pleasure in tormenting the fielding team, leaving captains scratching their heads as he kept putting the ball where they had just moved a fielder.
It would have been something to see Sir Viv in partnership with ‘BC’—his successor as the Windies batting champion—when both were in their prime.
Would they have been able to bat well together? Or would the two powerful egos not be able to co-exist in many long partnerships?
That question may seem silly, but getting star players to mesh is not always so easy.
Boycott was able to observe Sir Viv and fellow WI legend Gordon Greenidge at the crease together when England played West Indies in the first-ever Test match played in Antigua back in 1981.
It was a match in which the island expected homeboy Vivi to get a hundred, which he duly did. But during that innings, Boycott noted:“Greenidge had forgotten one of the golden rules of batting, which is never to try and compete with your partner.
Instead of complementing Richards, and even enjoying the relative lack of pressure at his end, he tried to compete with him...That must always be a temptation when you spend a fair bit of your life batting in Richards’ shadow....”
Boycott is entitled to his opinion, but right or wrong, it does take compromise for dominant personalities to work for the good of the team—compromise and humility. Somehow, though, I think the two WI maestros were intelligent enough to have worked things out nicely.
Think of the nightmare the two of them in full flow would have been for any group of bowlers. It’s a good thing for the opposition their timing was just off, Sir Viv departing the scene just as Lara arrived.
But as you try to get comfortable for another spell at home in the new lock-down, dear reader, ease your blues just a bit; put on Youtube, find some clips of the dynamic duo and remind yourself again what genius at the crease looks like.