While discussing modern batsmen one of the first names that comes to mind is that of Sir Isaac Vivian Alexander Richards, the master blaster from the West Indies. They called him the king and whether you talk about Test cricket or One-day cricket, or just the World Cup, Richards was indeed monarch of all he surveyed. He made his Test debut against India at Bangalore in 1974-75. By the end of the series, Richards had established himself as a young batsman with a great future.
When the first World Cup came around in June 1975, his name was put down at no.6 in a very powerful West Indies line-up. That did not give him much scope to display his undoubted potential, nor was he able to dazzle when promoted to the second drop. His best performance came in the league match against Australia. With his gentle off-spin, he took two wickets for 18 off 6 overs, including that of top-scorer Ross Edwards (58), and then brought up an easy seven-wicket win in an unbroken 36-run stand with Rohan Kanhai. Richards would have been relegated to the ash heap of anonymity in the first edition of this premier tournament had it not been for his electric fielding in the final.
On that day at Lord’s, Richards was sheer magic on the field. He made a brilliant direct hit to run out Australian opener Alan Turner. Then he stunned the capacity crowd as he hit the stumps again to catch star batsman Greg Chappell out of his crease. Amazingly, he made another super return that resulted in the dismissal of skipper Ian Chappell. Even when Richards was not regaling the crowd with the bat he was stealing the show with his outstanding fielding display.
Richards the batsman came to the fore in the World Cup only towards the end of the second tournament in 1979. He played a couple of fine cameos in the opening encounter with India, and in the semi-final against Pakistan, but his best was yet to come. He also took three wickets for 52 in the middle of a Pakistani collapse in the penultimate round.
In the final, he blasted the English bowling in a stunning innings of 138 off just 157 balls. At one stage the West Indies were in dire straits at 99 for four. But Richards put on a rousing 139 runs for the fifth wicket in just over an-hour-and-a-quarter with allrounder Collis King. He proceeded to hit 11 fours and 3 sixes, in the process helping his side to a big total and a second straight championship. When it mattered, Richards showed who was the real king.
In 1983 Richards failed in the first three matches, but not much longer. As predictably as the run rises again the next morning, the full weight of Richards’ bat was felt by the Indians in the return encounter. He played a terrific innings of 119 off 146 deliveries inclusive of 6 fours and a six. Richards figured in two sparkling partnerships worth 101 for the second wicket with Desmond Haynes, and 80 for the third wicket with skipper Clive Lloyd. This enabled his side to reach a formidable score of 282 for nine in 60 overs. It also helped avenge the shock defeat at the hands of India in the opening match, and restore Caribbean pride.
Richards was back in prime form. The Australians were the next to bear the imprint of his punishing blade. Richards blazed away to a brilliant unbeaten 95 off 117 balls, enabling his side to race to a seven-wicket triumph. He hit 3 sixes and 9 fours in a truly dominant display. Richards put on 124 for the second wicket with Gordon Greenidge, and an unfinished 48 for the fourth wicket with Lloyd. He did not get to bat against Zimbabwe as the West Indies won by ten wickets, but bagged three wickets for good measure.
Richards was on the rampage again in the semi-final. He blasted an unbeaten 80 as the Caribbean giants completely overwhelmed the Pakistanis by eight wickets with 11.2 overs to spare. His match-winning unbroken stand with left-hander Larry Gomes was worth 132. Richards won the man-of-the-match award in the last three matches that he batted in; such was the dominance of the man. There could be no greater proof that the king was in fine fettle.
Then came the final. The West Indies were expected to romp home easily and lift the gleaming Prudential Cup for the third time in succession. Their opponents were the unfancied Indians who had done a commendable job in making it to the final. But nobody, except the most optimistic patriot, gave them a chance to upstage the mighty West Indians, even though they had upset the champions in the opening fixture. The match seemed to be going along predictable lines as India flopped to 183 all out, more than five overs inside their allotted 60. Then Richards sauntered in at one down and set about the bowling as only he could. He began to treat the bowlers with disdain and crashed seven boundaries all round the wicket.
It seemed that Richards would win the match off his own bat in a trice. Unfortunately for him and his team, he chanced his arm once-too-often, and skied a delivery from Madan Lal high up over mid-wicket. Kapil Dev ran back to hold a superbly judged catch. Much to his chagrin, Richards trudged back having played a cracking, but all-too-brief innings. The West Indies collapsed in a sensational manner to be all out for 140 in 52 overs, to trigger one of the biggest upsets in the game. Richards had top-scored with 33 in his 28-ball stay, but he had to face the ire of fans and critics for supposedly casting his wicket away when he was in such great touch, and the Cup almost in their grasp. But then, that’s cricket.
The game can be a hard taskmaster, and the followers most unforgiving. Richards had contributed handsomely to the team’s cause but was still seen as the villain when the West Indies just failed to live up to their own exalted standards. Quite simply, Richards was not destined to repeat his glorious performance of four summers earlier.
Vivian Richards was captain in 1987, but the West Indies were not the same force in the World Cup as they were under Clive Lloyd. "My winning record as captain hangs around Viv's neck like a millstone. We had an exceptional team when I was there, and it was a no-win situation for other teams", sympathised Lloyd.
Now the team was only a pale shadow of its former self, more so because Gordon Greenidge, Joel Garner and Malcolm Marshall were unavailable for the tournament. The West Indies lost an exciting match to England. But in the game against Sri Lanka, Richards let loose all fury. He thrashed the bowlers with a vengeance and added 182 for the third wicket with Haynes. He reached his tenth hundred in One-day internationals and went on to record the highest score of 181 in the World Cup, which was bettered by Gary Kirsten in 1996. Richards hit 16 fours and 7 sixes in a 125-ball innings, surpassing Kapil Dev’s 175 against Zimbabwe in 1983. That enabled the West Indies to register what was at that time the highest World Cup total of 360 for four wickets. This stupendous innings, coupled with the then all-time One-day high of 189 not out against England at Manchester in 1984, was the ultimate proof of his stature as one of the greatest ever.
Richards scored brilliant fifties in the second game versus England, and in both the matches against Pakistan, but that was not enough to steer his side into the semi-finals. In the exasperating one-wicket defeat at the hands of Pakistan, Richards hit 51 off 52 balls.
His 82-run third-wicket stand with Richie Richardson failed to pull off a win over England. Richards crashed a-run-a-ball 51 studded with 4 fours and 3 sixes.
The master and the disciple featured in another glorious third-wicket partnership as they put the classy Pakistani attack to the sword in the last league encounter. They put on 137 runs which laid the foundation for a consolation win over the hosts. Richards was bowled by Wasim Akram for 67 in 75 deliveries with 2 fours and 2 sixes. That was the last that one saw of the great man in the World Cup.
He was the first batsman to reach 1000 runs in this showpiece event. His record of 1013 runs was overtaken later by Javed Miandad and Sachin Tendulkar. Allied to his prolific run-getting, an average of 63.31 and strike-rate of 85.05 only served to illustrate statistically what a dominant batsman Richards really was.
Though he retired from international cricket in 1991, Richards did indicate that he wished to play in the 1992 World Cup. Time, however, does not stand still even for the best. The selectors, who were building a new team, bypassed him. Needless to say, Richards is well ensconced in the pantheon of greats. The abiding image is of Richards striding out to bat in his maroon West Indies cap, chewing gum, head tilted slightly at a jaunty angle, with not a hint of nervousness. It was usually the bowlers who got nervous at the sight of this awesome batsman coming at them. A more arrogant approach to the crease has not been seen in the game.
More likely than not, if the ball was pitched up, Richards would whip it to the fence through the on-side. It did not matter what the line was. He would mete out this treatment even to deliveries pitched inches outside the off-stump. Planting his front foot right across the crease, he would pick off the cherry with perfect balance. This was a stroke typical of Vivian Richards. It brought out the genius in Richards, a player who transcended technique and put his own stamp on the art of batsmanship. Even so, he had all the strokes in the book – the thundering drive, the mighty hook, the sizzling cut, the imperious pull. When he was not belting the leather off the ball, he would deftly place it in an untenanted region and set off for a single. He had an impregnable defence too, as he dropped the ball dead at his feet.
Richards was in a class of his own. It was only a matter of time before he received knighthood. Whether judged by the huge impact of his performances or by the sheer weight of statistics, Sir Vivian Richards strode the scene like a colossus. There cannot be another like him.
World Cup batting and fielding record of Vivian Richards
Matches: 23, Highest Score 181, Runs 1013, Average 63.31, Strike-rate 85.05, Hundreds 3, Fifties 5, Catches 9
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