Sir Viv Richards: The king who made belligerence look beautiful
When he strode out to bat, the whole world stopped and took notice of him. He would intimidate the fielding side with his gait. He would take a look at the field with chewing gum in his mouth. The attitude, the cricket bat and the reputation of the man were enough to send shivers down the spines of some of the accomplished international bowlers. His willow was akin to a rocket launcher that unleashed some of the fiercest hits. He guffawed at the bowlers as if to say, “you aren’t good for me”. Issac Vivian Alexander Richards was the most destructive batsman of his era – a warrior who conquered the cricketing world without ever wearing a helmet.
This king had a different stance from what the MCC coaching manuals preach. His most dangerous shot at the start of the innings was the whip through square leg or mid-wicket, played by slamming his left foot way outside the off-stump. The bowlers kept thinking that they had a chance of getting Viv out leg before, but the king just unleashed majestic shots from his royal repertoire. His presence in the middle was comforting for the dressing room but it was bad news for the opposition and occasionally the crowds. Richards’ fearsome hitting kept everybody on their toes.
His batting was not a series of airy fairy shots. There was a calculated approach behind his madness. At times, he dropped the anchor and played for the sake of the team. Who can forget Richards’ once-in-a-lifetime innings in the final of the 1979 World cup where he curbed his natural instincts after the fall of four important wickets? He played second fiddle to Collis King and put West Indies in a commanding position. In the last ten overs, English bowlers suffered at the hands of the eccentric Richards. The last ball six off Mike Hendricks over square-leg summed up Richards’ abundance of talent.
His innings of 189 not out against England in 1984 was another example of how Richards had the propensity to murder the bowling attacks. England had picked up nine West Indies wickets for 166. Richards then shepherded Michael Holding, the no.11, and engineered one of the best ODI knocks ever played. The last wicket partnership of 106 broke the spirits of David Gower’s English side. Richards bowled 11 overs in that game and picked up two wickets as well.
Richards was a very fine off spinner. The West Indies side had a pace battery and hence he was required to bowl his occasional off spin mainly to break the partnerships or contain the opposition. He has 118 ODI wickets, with his six-for against India at Delhi being his best performance with the ball.
Richards was not the man who played for personal scores. He did not really care about his average. During his twilight he played reckless shots one after the other. The pundits accused him of being irresponsible. But that very style epitomized the man that he was. He was a talisman who made belligerence look beautiful.
In 2000, Richards was voted as one of the Five Cricketers of the Century. He joined the elite list that comprised Sir Don Bradman, Sir Jack Hobbs, his compatriot Sir Garfield Sobers and Shane Warne. The world has not seen much of Bradman or Hobbs but Richards’ batting has been recorded for the generations to witness and take inspiration from. In boxing parlance, he was Muhammad Ali waiting to deliver the knock-out punch to the bowlers.
He was not a purist. He was not the one who believed too much in the positioning of the elbow or surviving the session playing defensively. That is why the entire world loved the way Richards performed on the cricketing stage. ‘Fire in the Babylon’ is a documentary that emphasizes Richards’ importance in the West Indian team.
In this day and age of power hitting, we are yet to find another Viv Richards. We are yet to find a person who has raw passion, flair, the muscles, flamboyance, talent and more importantly fearlessness in the art of batting.