Just naturally

Just naturally

Last Updated: Sat, May 22, 2010 18:40 hrs

The day before the ICC World Twenty20 Tournament Final in Barbados — you know the tournament, it’s where India bombed out in the Super Eights again — and I am asked if I want to play in a Golf Day at the magnificent Apes Hill Golf Club, Barbados. It was a charity Golf Day and, with not a lot to do, I readily agreed.

"By the way," I asked, "who am I playing with?" The event organiser said I would be in a special four-ball that included two of cricket's greatest ever players. "And who would they be," I asked. The reply stunned me into a stare of silence. "Well, if you want to know, two of your playing partners will be Sir Garfield Sobers and Sir Vivian Richards!"

Finding it difficult to control the ridiculous grin across my face for the rest of the evening, and having phoned half the world to inform friends and family who I was going to play golf with the following day, I began to feel terribly nervous at the prospect of teeing it up with two of the biggest names in sporting history.

After a restless night's sleep, it was quickly to the golf course, and onto the sixth tee, a monstrous 645 yards par five. We started on the sixth tee because it was a shotgun start and elsewhere, there would be the likes of Brian Lara, Courtney Walsh, Nasser Hussain, Michael Vaughan and David Lloyd.

To put this into perspective, I had played many times against Viv Richards in county cricket in England, but had never enjoyed a social game of golf. And there alongside Viv was my lifetime cricket hero, Gary Sobers, the greatest cricketer of all time. A day that will never be forgotten, and fortunately for me, my first tee shot was more than acceptable. I was a perspiring mess, not because of the heat, but because of the illustrious company I was playing with.

Two of the most naturally gifted cricketers the game has seen, and here they were playing golf with their own natural swings, Sir Garfield, once a scratch handicap player, and Sir Vivian, having taken to golf only after he had finished with cricket, each smashing the ball miles down the rolling fairways.

Then Viv Richards said something that took me by surprise. "I love this game of golf because it is so technical and there is always something to work out and work on." I couldn’t believe that someone so beautifully natural in his cricketing skills could enjoy a sport that relies so heavily on possession of technical mastery in order to play half decently.

Sir Garfield was just wonderful to watch, with a golf swing as graceful as everything he did in his cricketing days. A sporting genius. Now 73, and with arthritis affecting his movement, he still has the most wonderful golf swing and consistently scored better than any of us that day. Sir Vivian’s golf swing is more muscular and he unleashes the biggest drives you could imagine… not too far removed from his heady days as the world’s most destructive batsman. At 58, Viv still has a magnificent body and cuts a formidable figure in front of awestruck fans.

"So what do you think of this Twenty20 cricket, Viv?" I asked, as we walked the 330 yards to his ball after another massive drive. "Man, I would love to have played it, had some fun and hit that ball big!" I have no doubt that Vivian Richards would have made Twenty20 Cricket a no-go area for bowlers. He was Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier rolled into one and capable of ruthless destruction.

The two West Indian greats were thoroughly disappointed with the West Indies in the ICC World Twenty20 — the West Indies, like India, failed to make it to the semi finals.

"India has some great talent and some nice young players," said Viv, "but they looked as if something was missing. Maybe they expected too much. Maybe they didn’t let it happen naturally."

His comments made me think about India and the way they underperformed in the Caribbean. There is so much natural talent in the Indian team, but why did it not come through this time?

"It’s a fine line between trying too hard and allowing yourself to play naturally and you have to believe that you have the ability to do it," was Sir Vivian’s reply.

To some, like Sir Garfield Sobers and Sir Vivian Richards, sporting prowess comes with such natural flair that it is difficult to see at times how hard they are trying, but make no mistake — they always tried their hardest. Even on the golf course, and long past their cricketing best, these two sporting giants were trying their hardest to play their best golf.

The cricketers of the West Indies and India have to ask themselves the same question. Some things do come naturally, but it's important to convince yourself and others around you that you are trying your best. If not, criticism will flow in waves. Natural waves, of course.

ALAN WILKINS is a TV broadcaster for ESPN Star Sports. His column Inside Edge appears on this page every alternate Sunday

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