In a curious show of protest against Sir Vivian Richards, Denesh Ramdin held aloft a message scrawled on a sheet of paper on completion his Test hundred against England. Arunabha Sengupta feels that instead of indulging in such farcical gimmicks, the West Indian stumper would be well advised to learn how to respond to criticism from the great man.
Perhaps one of the most circulated photographs of the day, of Denesh Ramdin celebrating his second Test century by holding aloft a sheet of paper proclaiming ‘Yeah Viv Talk Nah’, promises to go down as a flimsy footnote of folly in the history of the game.
It was supposedly his way of getting back at Sir Vivian Richards after a string of low scores by the wicket-keeper batsman had led the Antiguan legend to remark, “Ramdin just looks out of sorts. When he first came into the game I felt he was a huge prospect. For some reason he has deteriorated in such a big way. Just the way he is walking back, he looks like a totally lost guy.”
Viv Richards is not just another critic
At Sorbonne, France, on April 23, 1910, Theodore Roosevelt had voiced, “It is not the critic who counts ... The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood … who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”
Roosevelt’s words predate ESPN by 69 years. In the modern times, his words perhaps echo across the millions of commentary boxes with more than a ring of truth.
Having said that, even the redoubtable oratory of the former US President will struggle to stand behind Ramdin and support his curious show of protest.
The words of criticism had not been uttered by any “cold and timid soul who knew neither victory nor defeat”. No man wearing the colours of the Caribbean has ever dared more and has known more about the triumphs of highest achievements. No face has borne dust, sweat and blood in more certain terms. No individual has ever romped through the arena with an aura more invincible than Sir Vivian Richards.
When the West Indies toured Down Under in 1979, numerous Australian ex-cricketers had harped on the unconditional surrender to the pace of Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson during their previous visit. At the Melbourne Cricket Ground, during the second Test, a fired up Rodney Hogg had hit Richards squarely on the jaw, making the crowd gasp. With the ball travelling at around 90 miles per hour, eyes had strained to watch the great man go down prostate on the turf.
But, Richards had not flinched even for a moment. He had kept leaning on his Stuart Surridge Jumbo, and the swelling jaw had kept chomping down on the ever present chewing gum. Hogg had turned back and following the limiting logic of lesser mortals, had launched another bumper, between his eyes. The ball had sailed high over the fence and into the exultant crowd several rows back behind square leg.
Questions are repeatedly asked on and off the field. And Viv Richards has often shown the way they ought to be answered. For him, the applause and reverberating echoes of his strokes had always drowned sceptic voices, not strange scribbles on crumpled A4 sheets.
Posters and placards, while excellent for political demonstrations, are incongruous to the point of being absurd on the cricket field.
A benchmark in ridiculousness
The voices of critics have been heard since time immemorial.
Arthur Mailey never quite accepted the exploits of Don Bradman without somehow bringing largely imagined shortcomings of technique into scrutiny. But, the Don always responded with a dizzying blur of accumulated runs that confused the questions with mammoth figures.
With time, more and more cricketers started climbing into commentary boxes even while they went through the motions of hanging up their boots. These men are expected to talk about strengths and weaknesses of players, and this has often led to exchanges tinged with bitterness.
Brian Lara has made no secret of his pique at the stinging remarks Michael Holding often aired from the box, and Steve Waugh has never been too happy with the constant carping of Ian Chappell. Even the celebrated gentleman cricketer of his generation, Rahul Dravid, had once celebrated a hundred with his bat thrust at some unidentified but definite individual with uncharacteristic vigour.
However, the churlish reaction of Ramdin carves a farcical niche in the art of inglorious gestures.
The innings, albeit in an inconsequential match of a series already lost, was well crafted and can be a boost for his confidence; but it can hardly justify questioning the analysis of Richards.
Indeed, the foolhardiness of pitting this one century against the august batting credentials and wisdom of Viv Richards leads me to draw very appropriate parallels with the ignorant kid taking a leak in front of the Niagara Falls, wondering which stream gushes forth stronger.
Historically, only one sporting parallel emerges as a close equivalent in terms of hare-brained recklessness. During the 1990 Football World Cup in Italy, with Brazil limping to victories against Costa Rica, Scotland and Sweden, the legendary Pelé had asked the team to get their act together. Forward Luís Antônio Müller had responded saying, “Pelé would do better to belt up.” The very next match – the pre-quarter finals – had witnessed Müller missing a sitter from edge of the six yard box as a late goal by Claudio Caniggia had ended the Brazilian World Cup dreams. One certainly hopes that Ramdin’s fate is not tottering on the edge of a similar pitfall.
When Glamorgan paceman Greg Thomas had beaten the outside edge of the Viv Richards bat twice, and had been pumped enough to inform him, “It's red, round and weighs about five ounces,” the master had duly hit him out of the ground into a nearby river before famously responding, “Greg, you know what it looks like, now go and find it.”
One shudders to think how the batsman in him would have reacted to the scrawled message during his playing days – back when he used to walk to the wicket with majestic arrogance, dreaded willow clasped in supple, sure hand, his very sight sending the fielders scurrying to the remote country and gripping the heart of the bowlers with the cold clasp of fear.
However, having retired into the confines of the commentary box, he has thus far limited himself to observing, “I'm glad he got the motivation to get himself going… He should be quite happy, and humble in himself.”
(Arunabha Sengupta is trained from Indian Statistical Institute as a Statistician. He works as a Process Consultant, but purifies the soul through writing and cricket, often mixing the two into a cleansing cocktail. The author of three novels, he currently resides in the incredibly beautiful, but sadly cricket-ignorant, country of Switzerland. You can know more about him from his author site, his cricket blogs and by following him on Twitter)