Sir Viv: batting at its most entertaining and brutal best

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Portrait of West Indies cricket coach Viv Richards during his playing career. AAP Photo/Alan Porritt

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It was on this day, 38 years ago, that Viv Richards first swaggered onto a Test ground. The Indian fans in Bangalore that day got the first glimpse of a gait that soon become recognized by cricket fans around the globe.

His debut was inauspicious with scores of 4 and 3.

It was the other debutant that rose to the occasion and stole the headlines with opener Gordon Greenidge peeling off 93 (run out) and 107.

But Viv was never a man content with living in the shadows.

In his next Test in Delhi he scored an unbeaten 192.

But that innings proved to be a one-off as his early form in the Test arena was patchy.

After 11 Test appearances his average was a mere 30.4.

At that point he was part way through his first tour of Australia.

It was at this time that he began working with renowned Caribbean-born sports psychologist Rudi Webster.

Richards, a free flowing batsman, was finding it frustrating batting down the order behind the likes of Greenidge, Roy Fredericks, Alvin Kallicharran and Lawrence Rowe.

Part of Webster’s way of dealing with Richards’ insecurities was to petition skipper Clive Lloyd to elevate him in the batting order.

In the last two Tests of the 1975/76 summer Richards was thrust into the opening position.

The move proved highly profitable as he reeled off scores of 30, 101, 50 and 98.

By the time he played his next series he found himself at number three, the position he would assume for the bulk of his career.

In the end it was his teammates who were regularly reduced to mere bit players.

It was on the 1976 tour off England that Richards truly displayed his genius.

In four Tests he made innings of 232, 135 and 291.

His tally for the series was 829 runs at the Bradmanesque average of 118.

Had he not been unavailable for the second Test at Lord’s he may actually have bettered Bradman’s all-time series record of 974 runs that he set in England in 1930.

As it was, Richards compiled 1710 runs at 90.0 for the calendar year, a record that would stand for three decades.

‘The Master Blaster’, as he became known, had that rare capacity to single-handedly draw people through the turnstiles, something that only the truly great players can boast.

Whenever he swaggered to the crease, with an almost lordly disdain and slowly rotating his arms to loosen up, spectators slid forward in their seats.

And more often than not, Richards delivered.

At times it was like watching Gulliver take on the Lilliputian XI as his expansive and attacking approach to batting proved that nothing succeeds like excess.

Through his 17-year international career he produced some of the most memorable and exhilarating innings in the history of the game.

He still holds the record for the fastest Test century – fittingly scored in his native Antigua in 1986 against England – posting the milestone off a mere 56 deliveries.

It was the signature knock during his 121-Test career that saw him amass 8540 runs at 50.2 with 24 centuries.

In the one-day arena his most famous innings came again at the hands of the hapless England team.

At Manchester in 1984 the Windies found themselves at 9-166, at which point Michael Holding came out to join Richards.

The pair set about putting on an unbeaten stand of 106 for the tenth wicket with Holding supplying just ten runs.
Richards finished on 189 not out – a then world record – out of a team total of 9/272.

It was recognized by Wisden as the greatest knock in ODI history.

It would be 13 years before Pakistan’s Saeed Anwar bettered it.

Richards was ahead of his time as a one-day batsman, compiling his runs at a strike rate of 90.2, a stratospheric figure back in the 1970s and ‘80s.

In all, he averaged 47.0 with 11 centuries en route to 6721 runs from his 187 one-day appearances.

But not all of Richards’ most memorable feats came with willow in hand.

In the inaugural World Cup final at Lord’s in 1975 he ran out Alan Turner and Ian and Greg Chappell with a hat-trick of direct hits.

Whether prowling the covers or standing at second slip with hands like eiderdown, Richards was a fieldsman of the highest calibre who could lay claim to the best of all-time.

The arrival of helmets meant little to Richards who refused to don one, choosing instead to rely on his phenomenal eye.

In a Test match at the MCG in 1979/80 he was hit flush on the jaw by a Rodney Hogg bouncer with the ball dropping at Richards’ feet.

His reaction was two-fold – first calling for a fresh stick of chewing gum from the rooms and then dismembering Hogg who went for ten an over through his next six overs before he left the field citing a back strain.

Richards’ hawk-like eye allowed him to play with a bowler’s mind and forced him to rethink their approach to getting him out.
Anything full, or just short of a length, and within five centimetres wide of off-stump was likely to be despatched, around a braced front leg, to the on-side boundary with the ease of someone knocking the top off an egg.

Drop short, and it was a matter of waiting for the return of the ball from amongst the seats as he wielded his willow in the manner that d’Artagnan did his rapier.

For opponents who felt his full wrath it was akin to descending to Dante’s ninth circle of hell.

Many a bowler crumpled like a cheap seersucker suit at the hands of Richards’ brutality with the blade.

He later captained the West Indies and through 50 Tests at the helm, never lost a series.

Few argued with the venerable staff at Wisden when he was named alongside Bradman, Jack Hobbs, Garfield Sobers and Shane Warne as one of the five Cricketers of the 20th Century.

And like Bradman, Hobbs and Sobers before him, Richards was also knighted.

Like most of his West Indian contemporaries, Richards was the recipient of an exotic multi-barrel name – Isaac Vivian Alexander.

But, like Pele, Madonna and Sting just one name would suffice to guarantee instant recognition.

Viv – a name that evoked, and still does for those lucky enough to have seen him in his pomp, batting at its most entertaining and brutal best.

His place among the pantheon of batting greats has long been etched in stone.

After 21 years as a sports broadcaster with the ABC, since mid-2011 Glenn Mitchell has been freelancing in the electronic and written media. He is an ambassador for mental health in Australia, and tweets from @mitchellglenn.
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