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Jamaica's favourite son made among the most storied of cricket starts, and was spoken of in the same breath as the greatest of the great West Indians of the 1970s. The Lord of Sabina Park looks back
Although some say I was a celebrity, I remained the same from the time I was a nobody to the time I reached the pinnacle.
I didn't have a clear run of at least three years after a fantastic debut. That's what I regret most.
Sabina Park is an incredibly special place. I scored centuries against New Zealand, Australia, and England.
I was a better soccer player than cricketer when I was young. I didn't really get into cricket till I was 15.
There was no one I really looked up to. There was [Garry] Sobers, you could say, and he was left-handed. People told me that I reminded them most of Sir Frank Worrell. After my debut series in 1972, they were comparing me to [George] Headley and [Don] Bradman, but injuries robbed me of a chance at greatness.
People like myself, Viv [Richards], and Alvin [Kallicharran] could play off both front and back foot, and we picked the length of the ball much earlier than most.
I first noticed that I had a problem with my eyes when we were on our way to India in 1974. At a restaurant in London, Gerry Alexander noticed that I was holding the menu very close to my face. With my left eye I could only read the first two lines of the optician's chart. The right eye was 20/20.
When I played my first ball in Test cricket off the middle of the bat, I knew I belonged there.
During a warm-up match in Pune, I hooked a bouncer from Karsan Ghavri for six, but slipped and hit the wicket. The fellows were all laughing at me.
I think I was one of the success stories of the Packer years. People still talk of the 175 I made at the MCG. There was no shot I couldn't play. Even 30 years later, people tell me it was the best batting they've ever seen.
I dislocated my right shoulder in England. I didn't know it then, but that was the end of my Test career.
When I made my debut at Sabina Park, Sobers won the toss and told me I'd be batting at No. 3. I was sitting in the old pavilion, on the benches outside, and the crowd was so enthusiastic that they kept chatting to me. Sobers finally had to tell them to stop so that I could concentrate.
The 302 against England at Bridgetown [in 1974] was the best I ever played, for the quality of the innings. I can't remember giving a chance.
|I was more naturally talented than Viv, but he accomplished a lot more|
To be named one of Jamaica's five Cricketers of the Century was immensely special. It was nearly 20 years after I stopped playing when the voting went to the public. Young people knew I had played in South Africa, but I was still included in the list, the only batsman apart from Headley.
I always wanted to go to South Africa to see what it was like. I initially refused to go [on the rebel tour of 1982-83] because my family was here. But they made me captain, and made it clear that the tour wouldn't come off if I didn't go. Some went for financial reasons, some just to get out of the West Indies. I just knew that the decision I made wouldn't have made life any more difficult for black people there. I still think the rebel tour did some good - it allowed black folk there to see that it wasn't only white men who could play the game and excel at it. But I leave it to history to judge us.
When we came back, I left for Miami straightaway. The minister of sport had said that he couldn't guarantee our safety. They were intent on setting the public against us.
I was more naturally talented than Viv, but he accomplished a lot more. He had a full career. The 291 at the Oval [in 1976] was the best that he ever played. I was privileged to bat with him then. Viv and I spoke about the rebel tour. He had his take on things, but our friendship remained.
I remember hearing Ivan Lendl [the tennis player] talk about his grass allergy. But when I had said I had the same problem, people had laughed at me. Some ridiculed me for being soft. I don't believe anyone was tougher.
I was always a cool person. That was my style. It was often held against me.
Dileep Premachandran is an associate editor at Cricinfo. This interview was first published in the print edition of Cricinfo MagazineFeeds: Dileep Premachandran
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