Colombo: There was a time when the West Indian dressing room was the most intimidating place in the cricket world — not just for the opposition but for the young players trying to make the cut as well.
Clive Lloyd was the best captain in the world, Viv Richards was the most destructive batsman around, few hit the ball harder than Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Haynes was consistency personified and we’ve haven’t even got started about the pace bowling.
In this situation, a youngster named Richie Richardson, wearing a narrow-brimmed sunhat, made an appearance. He was intimidated and at the same time, thrilled. He was in the team with legends who he dreamt of playing with but at the same time, he knew that he had to compete to stay there. He started off his Test career with a duck but eventually found his place – especially against the Australians who he scored 9 centuries against.
Now, a new generation of Indians are faced with the same dilemma. Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman have just stepped down. Sachin Tendulkar is still around. So the expectations from Virat Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara, Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane and more are immense. They are expected to walk in the footsteps of legends. Now that is easier said than done.
Firstpost caught up with Richardson in Colombo to find out just what it’s like to play in the shadow of legends and the way forward for Virat Kohli and youth brigade.
What’s it like to play in the shadow of legends? What's it like to walk into that dressing room?
When I first made it to the team, I felt like I had it made it to a massive heaven of stars. To me they were godly players – I never thought I could be like them. So when I was selected, I just felt like I was not on Earth. I was somewhere in heaven amongst really great people. But I very quickly realised that I needed to get my feet back on the ground and perform, if I wanted to stay in the team.
It really was an honour to be playing under the captaincy of Clive Lloyd; to be batting next to Sir Vivian Richards; to be coming after the great opening pair of Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes; to be the roommate of Malcolm Marshall; to be in the same dressing room as Michael Holding, Jeffrey Dujon and Larry Gomes. It was just absolutely great.
What advice would you give the likes of Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma?
It’s clear to everyone watching that these two young batsmen are immensely talented. They have tremendous potential but it’s just for them to make sure that they don’t slack – they have to work hard and strive for greatness; to be the best in the world. Once you have the talent, you will get a chance. Barring injury, if you have that inner desire there is nothing to stop you.
The support system is there is Indian cricket – you have the IPL, the BCCI is the richest board in the world, India is the most passionate country when it comes to cricket. So the support is there. It is up to these youngsters now to focus entirely on becoming great cricketers. I mean Sachin has shown them the way, just as Gavaskar and Kapil showed him the way.
There’s nothing more exciting than being able to watch young players come up through the ranks. Kohli, Rohit and the other youngsters have taken the first step – their potential to rise has no ceiling right now.
When you were first starting out, what was the difference between you and say Greenidge or Richards?
We were all different players but mentally, they were tough… so tough. These guys were seriously tough. Vivian Richards is the toughest individual you will ever come across. He is the most positive individual you will ever come across in any walk of life. They backed themselves 100 percent. They worked hard and backed themselves to come good in every situation. They just did not believe they could lose. He believed that no bowler could get him out, he believed he was the best, he believed he was invincible. For a young guy just entering the team, they were wonderful role models. But the other thing that happened when I entered the team is that I saw how hard they would work off the field – they kept themselves physically fit and trained very hard. It was just about looking or feeling invincible, you had to deliver the goods as well and they did that.
So for any youngster, you are saying that belief in their own talent has to be absolute?
That’s the key. The greatest achievers in sport or in most things in life are the ones who believe. The talent is one thing, the ability to believe is another but at the end of the day, you have to be a strong individual; you’ve to be very strong inside.
What do you make of Kohli and Rohit?
I’ve seen these guys bat. I like the way they play and both are very talented. Rohit Sharma – people don’t talk a lot about him but I’ve been watching him especially when we toured India last in those ODI games and he just has such an easy going manner. He is quietly destructive. He probably doesn’t get the publicity as some of other players but I’ve been watching him and I really like him. He is a quiet destroyer.
He’s got that sort of easy, languid sense about him. Even when he’s walking he’s cool… he’s Caribbean cool. He’s just cool. I like him.
We’ve seen some legends from the Indian team go missing from the dressing room. How does it feel?
Some of these guys that we spoke about are legends in the making. The younger lot is showing some great signs. And India still has some great spinners. Harbhajan Singh seems to be getting back into the groove and I am an admirer of him. I think he brings a lot to the game with his approach to the game. So India still has a top team, it’s upto to these players now to take the place of the Dravid’s and the Sachin’s.
Is there a feeling of… it’s going to be tough now; that we might fail now?
Well, when they are going to go, you know they are going but the young players need to realise that somebody’s got to step up. And that’s they key. Just don’t tell yourself that we are going to lose these guys, so we can’t play. No. They’ve already set the tone for the youngsters are well. Now one of the youngsters needs to step up, grab the baton and push on towards even greater heights.