'Batting should entertain'
In July's issue of Wisden Asia Cricket, Barry Richards talks about what goes into the making of a great batsman, and his nominees for the finest exponents of the craft. Excerpts:
On what makes a good batsman
I suppose everybody has their own definition. There are those who prefer the Geoff Boycotts and the Sunny Gavaskars - batsmen with a great defence, who wear down bowlers. My definition is a bit different - to me it's about domination and being able to assert yourself in a reasonably good time. This requires skill, obviously, and it requires precise footwork and the ability to simplify things. To me it's not about an endless procession of letting balls go to see what the bounce is like, what the weather's like and so on.
...Someone like Sachin [Tendulkar], he's got enormous skill, he's got a simple technique, he's not complicated with his shot-making, and he's got belief in his own ability. He has all the constituents of a good batsman.
...I think the ability to analyse your game and overcome your shortcomings is very important. You don't always have to be brilliant, but if you have a deficiency, you have to develop the ability to not get out because of it. That requires practice, skill, dedication and all the other things that everybody who is at the very top of his field requires.
Garry Sobers, Graeme Pollock, Viv Richards. And Sachin Tendulkar. I think Brian Lara has got the skill to be a great, but whether he has got the drive I am not sure. He is up and down. To me, someone like Sachin is more consistent and really wants it more. He's a more complete package. In my lifetime nobody springs to mind apart from these names.
...When I think of Graeme, I think of timing and domination. The sheer domination of the man - not just the high volume of runs, but also the speed at which he got them - was incredible. He hit the gaps better than any player I have seen in my life, including Sachin. I mean, you might as well have had stones as fielders - hit the stone, you get nothing; miss the stone, you get four.
I never saw bowlers containing Graeme. I remember he once got a 124 at the Wanderers in 1975-76 and even Dennis Lillee (playing for the International Wanderers) was being taken for six runs an over. Graeme didn't look like he was taking a risk, but every over, relentlessly, he'd whack a four somewhere. They said he didn't play the bouncer very well, and he probably didn't, but he would find a way to get a four. If nothing, he had that little short-arm jab over midwicket.
...Garry was more a back-foot player. He was not quite as tall as Graeme, and he played the short ball much better than Graeme ever did. Garry was all flourish, and with that extravagant back-lift he used to just power the ball away. He'd back himself in all situations, in all conditions. He had this great ability to play the ball late, to be able to adjust if it spun or swung away from him. And he had great wrists. Graeme was much more of a through-the-line hitter; Garry was more flourish with the wrists. You could think of Graeme as a Matthew Hayden, but a much better timer. Sachin is also like Graeme in terms of those short-arm punches. Garry was more a Lara type.
...Viv was awesome; at times you just couldn't bowl to him. During World Series Cricket (WSC) he was at his peak, and I was on the decline, getting towards my middle-30s, and he played some fantastic knocks against some of the world's quickest bowlers.
...Viv used to swagger. He used to do it on purpose. It was all that body language on the field working for him. When I think of Viv Richards, I think of arrogance at the crease. That was his way of dominating the bowler. His confrontations with Lillee during WSC were fantastic. Both used to bristle with belief in their own ability. It was a great contest. Very fascinating.
On modern cricket
...All you have to do on a lot of surfaces [these days] is hit through the line. I mean, on some of the pitches you have to be a blind man to miss the ball. You very rarely see the ball seaming; you very seldom see it swinging. The only time you see severe swing nowadays is reverse swing, though that could be because of the ball manufacturers.
I really don't mind seeing a low-scoring game once in a while - a 110- or 120-game - if there is quality bowling on view. I fear for the general status of bowlers. You've got half-a-dozen quality bowlers at the moment, but if you took them out of world cricket there wouldn't be much left.
What also worries me is the increased weightage to stats and figures nowadays. They don't tell the full story. Adam Gilchrist, for example, doesn't get the kudos as a batsman that some of the others do, and yet to me he has got an entertainment value and that's what's counts. How do you laud a chap like Gilchrist who encourages so many kids to play the game, so many people to be interested in the game, but his [one-day] average is only 34? On the other hand, you get somebody who's bored the pants off the people, driven them away from grounds, little kids wouldn't go near him and he's averaging much higher.
...I don't really know how players wield the heavy bats they use these days. And it makes you think about the slowness of the tracks. I just couldn't think of anybody, even Viv, hooking Lillee and [Jeff] Thomson with a three-pound bat. I used a two-seven. I suppose someone like Sachin, since he is short and he holds it right near the bottom, has more ability to manipulate it. I'm sure Gilchrist couldn't use a three-pounder with his grip, high on the handle. I think the trend started because of the wickets in the subcontinent, which are not quick enough; the batsman needs to generate the pace on the ball himself. It's also because the guys train more nowadays and are stronger.
...You also don't see too many horizontals [horizontal bat shots], which is a pity because it's a very exciting part of the game.
For the full interview, get your copy of the July issue of Wisden Asia Cricket.