'It's about how you score, not how many'
It wasn't easy for small island cricketers. Everyone wanted to play for West Indies. It became easier after Andy Roberts, and later Viv Richards, made it, and then a number of others followed. When the South Africa rebel series came, I told myself that I must grab the opportunity. I got a century for Leeward Islands and made it into the West Indies side.
Once, when I was young, West Indies were playing Australia and everyone on the street was listening to commentary. People were sitting on the trees, watching the game. Nobody was working. Everyone was so excited, calling out names like Sobers and Hall and Griffith, and I thought, "These guys must be great. I want to become like them." I thought I would play for West Indies one day. Went to secondary school and played with the hard ball for the first time.
Viv Richards was like an icon for me - a real inspiration. When I joined the team, he was somebody who was there to make sure I found my way.
I only got exposed to helmets when I played for West Indies. I tried wearing them, but I was very uncomfortable. It was like trying to fight against someone without room to manoeuvre. It made me vulnerable. I would always advise youngsters to wear a helmet, but I wasn't too comfortable with it.
A fast bowler's biggest weapon is the short ball. They may want to hit you or they may want to get you out, but I told myself that they wanted to kill me, and took them on. I have never been afraid of anything in life.
I don't know how I got to the wicket in my debut innings in Bombay. I guess I just floated there. I was so happy just to be there. I couldn't believe the names I was playing with - it was like a galaxy of stars. In the first innings, I made nought, and was given lbw after the ball hit the face of the bat. So I said "Welcome to Test cricket, I'm going to be here for a very long time."
Courtney [Walsh] is the first person I'll take with me to war. A real soldier. Even with a broken leg, he's not going to say he won't play. He'll never ever let you down. Curtly [Ambrose], to me, was a more accomplished bowler. He didn't love the game all that much but, apart from once, I can't recall him ever having a bad spell. He had such brilliant control. Curtly was one of the greatest fast bowlers I have seen.
|I tried wearing helmets, but I was very uncomfortable. It was like trying to fight against someone without room to manoeuvre|
When I was in school, I rarely played the hook shot. One afternoon at practice, I was batting on a pitch with a lot of bounce, and tried to evade a few short balls. I was very uncomfortable. My coach Guy Yearwood told all the fast bowlers to not pitch anything up while bowling to me. The only way to survive was to hook. There were a lot of trees on the western part of the ground, and I ended up breaking several branches hooking that day.
The difficult part about being a captain is to keep your players motivated all the time, to want to go out there and give their best. Players can get sidetracked very easily; they need to be focused all the time.
Any sport I played, I wanted to do everything, always be involved. As a kid I would bat and bowl. When I was in the school team, I used to open the bowling and bat at No. 3 or 4. I soon realised there were too many top bowlers around, and concentrated on batting. For Antigua and Leeward Islands, I was an opener. When I made it to the West Indies side, I was never going to replace Gordon Greenidge or Desmond Haynes. So Viv Richards moved down to No. 4, and I was allowed to bat at No. 3.
It's not only about how much you score, but how you score. However much ability you have, and however much you do, if the fans aren't happy, it's all futile. I was very conscious of that. I wanted to do well in front of full stadiums, wanted to entertain.
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is an assistant editor at Cricinfo. This interview was first published in Cricinfo Magazine in 2006