The King's brother
As astonishing as it may sound, Viv Richards's mother felt that he wasn't the most talented cricketer she'd seen. She reserved that accolade for Mervin, her other son. Mention it to Mervin and he blushes naughtily: "Nah. I was probably more wristy and stylish but Viv was something else."
Mervin didn't play too much cricket; football was his preferred sport. In fact, he's currently the president of the Antigua Football Association. "We played a lot of football. Viv was in defence, me in midfield. Viv had a great leap. He could clear from dangerous positions. He would often come from behind and score. Football lost a great defender in Viv."
Mervin's taller but the resemblance is striking. The eyes widen when when he begins an exciting anecdote; his hand movements accompany his descriptions. "People always get confused. They used to be listening to the radio as I passed by, when Viv was playing in some other country, and say 'hey Viv, we're hearing about you'." He recalls their early one-man games at the Ovals, where they grew up; says their games always ended in fights. "Viv hated to lose, he got that from our old man, Malcolm. Both were very similar you know, born under the same star sign." Viv inherited several qualities from Malcolm. "They were similarly built, naturally powerful men. People talk about Viv's forearms but forget that he never lifted weights."
But what was the secret behind Viv's audacious strokeplay? How did he master that devastating hoick to midwicket? "We used to play in a park where straight shots were not advised. There used to be a fisherman who used to stand behind the bowler's arm and every time you hit it to him he used to cut the ball in half and throw it back. So we needed to hit it to midwicket. And Viv mastered it."
He vividly recalls how Viv mania often enveloped the nation, even during local island games. "In one of his first games for Antigua, Viv was given out by the umpire but the crowd would have none of it. No Viv no match, they say. Viv was called back. He played three innings in the game." He remembers Kelvin Thomas who had a scoreboard outside his grocery shop at the Ovals, listening to the radio and regularly updating Viv's score. "It ensured good business. Everyone went there to see how Viv was getting on."
But of all the things he saw, Mervin picked out a most memorable moment, a moment when he felt goose bumps, when he felt proud to be Viv Richards's brother. It was a Test match at Lord's and Viv was batting on 145. Desmond Haynes was approaching a hundred and Viv was trying to give him a single to take the strike. That was when Viv got an absolute dolly from Peter Willey, the offspinner. Mervin describes it as "a ball which Viv could have hit for six to any part of the ground". Yet, he tried to flick it for a single, just to give Haynes the strike. Shockingly, the ball took the leading edge and lobbed up for the fielder.
"I remember the emotional feeling, I remember trying to hunt him out and give him a pat on the back. Our father Malcolm always wanted Viv to play for records and averages but he never, ever did that. For him, the team came first, everything else later. It was something that made him great, something that made us proud."
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is a former assistant editor at Cricinfo