Sir Viv: batting at its most entertaining and brutal best

Glenn Mitchell Columnist

By Glenn Mitchell, Glenn Mitchell is a Roar Expert

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    Viv Richards. (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.

    Glenn Mitchell
    Glenn Mitchell

    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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    The Crowd Says (34)

    • November 22nd 2012 @ 4:06am
      Coconut said | November 22nd 2012 @ 4:06am | ! Report

      Well I was lucky enough to see the visiting ‘invincible’ Windies when they toured NZ, with Viv, Joel Garner and the likes. The man had real presence for sure. The 80’s were such a great time for cricket overall, all the teams were strong, even dare I say it, the Kiwis!

      • November 22nd 2012 @ 8:41am
        The Grafter said | November 22nd 2012 @ 8:41am | ! Report

        Colin Croft vs Fred Goodall springs to minds from that tour CC…..:)

        A terrific time in NZ Sport when we had a competitive team lead by R.J. Hadlee.

        I was fortunate enough to have a beer with Sir Viv on the Gold Coast two years ago. A real gentleman (who does not speak highly of one Geoff Boycott), and certainly a legend of cricket.

    • Roar Guru

      November 22nd 2012 @ 5:13am
      Andy_Roo said | November 22nd 2012 @ 5:13am | ! Report

      One of my favourite Viv Richards stories was of him playing in a county game one day. The young bowler delivered a series of pearlers which had Richards playing and missing. The bowler politely informed Viv that the ball was about ‘so big’ and red in colour just in case Viv was having trouble seeing it. Next ball Richards smashed it out of the park and into the long grass outside. Viv swaggered down the pitch and told the bowler that the ball was about ‘so big’ and red in colour and said ‘Go find it man’

      • Columnist

        November 22nd 2012 @ 8:11am
        Glenn Mitchell said | November 22nd 2012 @ 8:11am | ! Report

        A classic Viv story from his time at Somerset. The bowler in question was Glamorgan’s Greg Thomas who ended up playing five Tests for England. A case of sledging back firing in a BIG way!

    • November 22nd 2012 @ 8:15am
      Australian Rules said | November 22nd 2012 @ 8:15am | ! Report

      Enjoyable read Glenn.

      There may have been many great batsmen, but far fewer who one would describe as being truly “memorable”.

      I remember Viv almost more than any other cricketer. He had a particular body language – a foreboding strength in his swagger – his nonchalant “lean” on his bat handle. Very charismatic and a true gentleman. And f*#k could he hit it.

    • November 22nd 2012 @ 8:29am
      B.A Sports said | November 22nd 2012 @ 8:29am | ! Report

      I went and watched the Bradman Foundation match on the weekend and watched Sir Viv and Lara batting together – what a treat.

      Sir Viv may be 60, and he hit an unbeaten 20 odd off as many balls, but I sat there watching even at 60 how much time he has and how amazing his eye is. It made me think, that as someone who rated themself as an ok bowler in their time, even if i was in my prime, I don’t think I could get a 60 year old Sir Vivian Richards out.
      A 31 year old Shane Watson on the other hand…. 🙂

    • November 22nd 2012 @ 8:41am
      Sailosi said | November 22nd 2012 @ 8:41am | ! Report

      I only saw Viv live in one series, the 91 Carribean tour and unfortunately at the end of his career. Still one of my favourite cricketers.

      Comment left via The Roar’s iPhone app. Download it now [http://itunes.apple.com/au/app/the-roar/id327174726?mt=8].

    • November 22nd 2012 @ 9:59am
      The Kebab Connoisseur said | November 22nd 2012 @ 9:59am | ! Report

      Best bat I saw and was fortunate to see him bat numerous times. If he played well the Windies generally won.

      People talk about Sachin Tendulkar now, what a laugh that is. Sachin people is a midget compared to Viv. Maybe because all of India and it’s billions are desperate for someone to be a great that he has been elevated. But you only need to compare the eras. In Viv’s generation they had a strong Australia, England, New Zealand and Pakistan. Now you get these easy series against Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Zimbabwe and a weak NZ.

      Only thing I wish was that he played longer and I could have batted anything like he did. An inspiration.

      • November 22nd 2012 @ 12:41pm
        Brendon said | November 22nd 2012 @ 12:41pm | ! Report

        Strong Australia? You mean the “strong” Australia sides of the 84/85 and 88/89 home series? Or that strong Australian touring side in 84? The 1991 Australian touring side was pretty good. Viv averaged 25 that series.

        Strong England? You mean that whitewash series in England 84 or the 4-0 series 88 also in England? Or the other whitewash series 5-0 in the West Indies in 1986? Yup, the West Indies thumped England 5-0 … TWICE. Strong New Zealand? Yeah, at home but NZ were god awful away from home. Hell, we even beat them at home in 87/88. Same with Pakistan and India.

        So besides touring NZ, Pakistan and India (yes, the West Indies won in all 3 countries) what other opposition did they have for over half of Viv’s career?

        • November 22nd 2012 @ 1:01pm
          The Kebab Connoisseur said | November 22nd 2012 @ 1:01pm | ! Report

          Champ, Viv started playing in 1974, so he played one of the toughest Aussie teams in their prime. The mid 1980s were a time when Viv had already been in the caper for a decade and made his name.

          England was very strong in the 1970s and into the 1980s.

          India was garbage.

          Viv was one of the greats, no questions about that. Only an ignorant fool doubts that.

          • November 22nd 2012 @ 1:20pm
            Brendon said | November 22nd 2012 @ 1:20pm | ! Report

            I just find it amusing that the old “everything was better in my day” brigade think that somehow test cricket was stronger in years gone by than it is now.

            Wrong.

            Viv is a great. Then again so are Border, Gavaskar and Miandad. Viv was the best when he was young but after 30 he tailed off and his dominance faded. Especially considering how weak test cricket was in the mid to late 80’s.

            • November 22nd 2012 @ 3:32pm
              The Kebab Connoisseur said | November 22nd 2012 @ 3:32pm | ! Report

              My day is still going on. Just pity those that not all so called commentators on the topic missed that wonderful era of the late 70s through to the early 90s. World cricket has struggled the past 20 years in my opinion. Any wonder crowds to tests have dropped, a lot has to do with the poor standards we are seeing since the early 1990s.

              If you had those great teams still around, you simply would never have needed 20/20. People were enthralled for days on end. I do not think it is the game’s length at all, just the poor standards exhibited nowadays by bowlers and batsmen. Sure the slip and sliding of the fielding is better, but that saves a couple of runs an innings and is a Phyric Victory at best. Good ego boost for the fielding coach.

              When you had the likes of Viv, Gower, Botham, Lloyd, the Chappells out there, people planted themselves anywhere they could to absorb the battles. The bowlers were amazing also, the speed and bounce they had was insane. You feared for your team, now they get these lovely flat tracks to just tap them away from their armpits.

              • November 22nd 2012 @ 4:21pm
                Brendon said | November 22nd 2012 @ 4:21pm | ! Report

                Take those rose coloured glasses off, Kebab Connoisseur.

                As a young kid I went to the first day of the SCG test of the 1990/91 Ashes test. There was 26,000 people but it wasn’t a sell out. Compare that to the 40,000+ and a sell out for the opening day of the 2010/11 SCG Ashes match.

                And do you remember the test match in Brisbane in the 80’s that had a whopping 16,000 spectators … over five days. There was huge crowds for ODI cricket though.

                You can remember the mid to late 80 as an enjoyable time to watch cricket, much of it was. Sport doesn’t have to be at its technical best to be enjoyable. But you can’t say that test cricket was strong in the mid to late 80’s. No South Africa, rebel tours that gutted England and weakened Australia and a young Sri Lanka that was still improving.

                Gower was a very good batsmen, stylish and scored 8000 runs but you can’t rank him as on the level as Richards or Greg Chappell.

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