Viv Richards once surprised an interviewer by telling him that he thought his best innings was the 61 he made in 1983 against India at Sabina Park. I was there. And I can tell you that there is no innings that stands out more in my memory than the one he played that day.
Considering the many great innings that Richards played, why was that innings of little over a half-century so special to him? I don’t know the answer to that; I can’t recall if he gave one.
I can tell you, however, why it was special to me.
It was my first time at a Test match. My friend and I decided to cut afternoon classes in order to watch the final session, despite everyone telling us we were in for an evening of boredom. I am yet to understand how an evening spent watching the likes of Michael Holding, Andy Roberts, Malcolm Marshall and Joel Garner could ever have been considered boring—whatever the state of the game.
The West Indies replied to India’s 251 in the first innings by scoring 254. The entire fourth day had been lost due to rain, and at tea on the last day – with India 6/168 – the game seemed destined for a tame draw.
Roberts thought otherwise. His rousing spell after tea, liberally sprinkled with short balls threatening rib cage and throat proved too much for the Indians and they quickly succumbed, leaving the West Indies with 172 to make and about 28 overs to make them.
We watched with anticipation as Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes added 46 before Haynes got out going hard for runs. His 34 was made off just 24 balls and it was clear that he understood the urgency of the situation. Greenidge, on the other hand, was batting far too slowly for our liking, and we let him know. He had scored a painstaking 70 in the first innings and it appeared, to us at least, that he had set out to play in a similar manner. We thought assault and battery was what was required and so we were not disappointed when he was out for 42, scored without a single boundary.
Clive Lloyd, in the meantime, had decided to come in at number three when we were expecting the Master Blaster himself. He didn’t last very long, scoring only three. And so it was now Viv’s turn.
Richards strode to the wicket like he owned Sabina Park and immediately attacked the bowlers. His first scoring stroke was a huge six and the onslaught had begun. Richards stroked the ball to all parts of Sabina Park, whipping the crowd into a frenzy. At one point it seemed like every fielder was manning the boundary ropes, yet the king of all batsmen was still able to beat them. One straight hit landed in our section of the crowd and my friend went berserk. He lost control of himself to the point that he strayed onto the playing area, and only returned to his senses after being scolded by an angry guard dog that almost escaped his handler in striving to reach him.
What an evening it turned out to be! Viv’s 61 came off only 31 balls with five fours and four sixes, and everyone there knew that they had witnessed something truly special. He returned to the pavilion at 5/156 with 16 needed for an unbelievable victory. Without his awesome innings West Indies would surely not have won, and victory was still only achieved in the very last over, with Jeff Dujon hitting a full toss for six, in fast fading light.
The next day at school we made sure everyone knew that we had been there.