In Sir Viv’s own words:
Q “After a disappointing Test debut in Bangalore in november1974 (4and 3), it did not take long for you to arrive ‒192 not out in your second test in Delhi…”
VR “My first Test was a rude awakening. I got intimidated by the crowd. I think we had 70-odd thousand folk in Bangalore, and that is going to be intimidating for any young man playing away from home. It had an effect on me.”
Q “What about your annus mirabilis ‒1976 was a phenomenal year for you in Tests, hitting 1710 runs at 90?”
VR “That was a record that stood for 30 years, before it was broken by Mohammad Yousuf (1788 in 2006). It started on the back end of that tour to Australia. I had been getting 30s and 40s, but I wanted to take it to the next level. I started to see a psychologist, Rudi Webster, and I said, ‘how am I going to get out of this zone?’ He was amazing. And I started making hundreds. I used to bat lower down in the order, getting 30s or 40s, and I was put in a curious position of being opener [in Australia] and I felt that if I had failed, that would be the end of my career. I made it as an opener, I had scores of 101[in Adelaide] and 50 and 98 [in Melbourne], and then we played India in the Caribbean (142,130,177) and then 232 at Trent Bridge and 291 at the Oval.”
I do not offer these passages to suggest that West Indian cricketers should line up at the door of Rudi Webster or some other sports psychologist with a view to becoming Richards-like. I put this before the reader so that West Indian cricket fans will know that perhaps the most dominating batsman ever to have played this game once thought he could be helped by a sports psychologist, and as a result of what transpired after consulting one, he believed that he was in fact helped by the psychologist. So that there is no misunderstanding, I wish to make it clear that a sports psychologist is not a psychiatrist.
It is a fact that most of the more successful international cricket teams incorporate sports psychology into their structure. In fact there was a time when the aforesaid Webster was a part of the structure of West Indies cricket, and I recall a period, maybe in the very early part of this century in which Lara, in particular, was suggesting strongly that he be brought back into the fold. If you have watched West Indian cricket closely over the last fifteen years or so, you can definitely discern times when there were breakdowns that, except for those who believe lack of physical fitness or lack of character can explain everything, could fairly be described as having some psychological underpinning. In fact, while it may be unwise to point to specific players, it is almost a certainty that some would benefit more than others from psychological intervention. International cricket, at its core, is about pressure, response to pressure, and confidence. I know of no discipline better suited to dealing with these issues. It makes no sense that one of the least successful teams does not utilise an aid that all the successful teams use. That Sir Vivian Richards himself even thought about it would be enough for me to recommend it. At some point a sports psychologist becomes at least as important as a physiotherapist. West Indies should not go to the World Cup without a sports psychologist, and should regard such a professional as an integral part of their squad going forward. At this point in time we perhaps need the help more than any other country.