'Today's bowlers should be better than me'
West Indian great Lance Gibbs' greatest disappointment is that the new generation of bowlers refuses to learn. The 72-year-old was the first spinner to reach the landmark of 300 wickets. His control and unerring accuracy along with his control of flight made him a bowler to be feared. His career-best figures of 53.3-37-38-8 against India at Barbados in 1961/62 are a testament to his skill as are his spinning fingers which still bear the marks of his toil.
Mahatma Gandhi once said: "Live as if your were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever." Does that hold true for a bowler too?
Well, absolutely. And you have got to learn in every way possible. You see when I would come back from playing in the Lancashire League in England, I would be bowling a lot flatter than I usually would because the wet wickets there. But in the Bourda Oval in Guyana, you would need to tease the batsmen. So as I would walk back to the boundary after an over, a voice would ring out from the crowd: 'Lancy, you are bowling too fast… give it some air my maan.' The point I am trying to make is that no one is too small to learn from. And in Guyana, you didn't need the coach or the captain to tell you that you were bowling badly, the crowd would.
So what is the first thing you would generally do when you would go on tour?
Well, I would seek out the great spinners of that country. If in India, I would seek out Ghulam Ahmed, who was one of the finest off-spinners in the world. In Australia, Ian Johnson is the man I would look for. In England, Jim Laker or David Allen are the people I would look to learn from. If you can learn something about different conditions by talking to someone you are at an advantage. You don't have to test the waters yourself because, you would already know.
And what is spin bowling on good wickets – the kind that you get in ODIs -- all about?
I think bowling in general is about assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the batsman. If the batsmen is good on the off-side, bowl a little straighter and make sure he can't do that and make him play a different shot. The best way to assess a player is to look at his stance. The stance can tell you whether he is an all-round player. Garfield Sobers, for instance, would shift his hands up the handle when he would be ready to go over the top. But the only way, you would know that was if you watched the batsmen. That's the rule: Never take your eyes off the batsman. I remember this one incident where Wes Hall was being charged by England's Brian Close. Hall stopped in his tracks at the bowling crease and looked back to see if someone was behind his arm. The point is that Hall knew exactly what the batsman was doing.
So how do you rate the bowlers of today?
When I watch the bowlers of today, I become angry. They should be better bowlers than me. They play each others so many times and should know each others strengths and weaknesses but when you look at them bowl nonsense, it just shows that they are just not learning. We used to play each other once in 2-3 years and during that time, we needed to store the information about the batsman in our minds so that we could use it against him again. You see, the computer is not going to help you on the field but your brains are. Unless you have all that information stored in your head, you are never going to be a great bowler.
But the ODI scenario is tougher – the batsmen are going after you, the bats are heavier, the grounds smaller. It is difficult…
Yes, I am not denying it is. But you need to earn the batsman's respect. And the only way to do that is to be fearless. You must be fearless. Some batsmen are fearless. Some bowlers are fearless. All the great ones are for sure. I always bowled in an attacking manner because if you fear batsmen then it is defeatist attitude. I remember playing England with Colin Cowdrey as captain and West Indies were struggling with 5 wickets down and as soon as Sobers walked in, Cowdrey directed the third slip to third man straight away. The next ball went through exactly where third slip was. It is a prime example in my eyes of a captain giving too much respect to a batsman.
Having played so much with Gary Sobers, you must surely had the opportunity to bowl at him. What was the experience like?
Well, Sobers was a great batsman. He was a power player who could destroy attack and very quickly at that. But he was like all other batsmen, vulnerable to begin with. The story of how, I got him for the first time is rather interesting. Sir Frank Worrell, on his dying bed, called me just before Barbados was about to take on a World XI that was lead by Bill Lawry and included Rohan Kanhai and me. "Barbados has nearly 9 players in West Indies team. If they beat the world XI, then might be tempted to just formed a team of their own. And that will be the end of the West Indies," he said. Now, that was a frightening proposition. So when Lawry and the others got in, we had to convince them that this just wasn't some picnic party. And I didn't need to be motivated anymore. But that's the match in which I got Sobers for the first time.