May 3, 2013

What Richards and Gilchrist did for modern batting

Matt Cleary
Viv Richards: delighted both purists and hedonists  © Getty Images

One was raised in the country town of Bellingen in New South Wales, the other on the tropical island of Antigua. One was the son of a schoolteacher, the other of a prison guard. One's accent is a nasal, all-Aussie strine; the other has a lilting Caribbean patois, like rum punch in a hammock. Culturally they were different yet they shared a love of one thing: hitting a cricket ball so hard it nearly caught fire. They were left and right, black and white, yin and yang. They are cricket's greatest master blasters.

I speak, of course, of Adam Gilchrist and Viv Richards, who thrilled two generations of cricket fans. Richards retired in 1991, aged 39, after 17 years of Test cricket. Gilchrist, who like so many kids of his generation venerated the great West Indian, made his first-class debut for NSW in 1992. Both men changed the "accepted" way batsmen bat.

Richards walked out with a strut that said: "I'm comin'". He'd swing the bat like a sword, loosening his powerful shoulders, knowing eyes were on him. It was theatre, machismo and menace. He'd take guard and wander down the pitch, patting it down, chewing his gum and eyeballing the bowler.

Gilchrist walked out with purpose, twirling the bat in his hands and taking guard with his Aussie twang: "Two centres, thanks, mate." He'd look around the field, adjust his box, bang his bat on the crease and face up, grimacing with determination. It was less obvious, but Gilchrist too relished the confrontation.

Where Richards was right-handed and imperious, delighting both purists and hedonists, Gilchrist was a left-handed thrashing machine, his high grip gaining tremendous leverage, his forearms and wrists throwing the bat like a mechanical whip. Gilchrist swung at the ball like a dervish. Richards caressed it. The result was the same.

Richards' balance and footwork were pure, beautiful things; he'd keep his head still and rely on his wonderful eye and timing as the likes of Dennis Lillee, Jeff Thomson and Mike Procter roared in, looking to dislodge the felt West Indies cap he never replaced with a helmet. Summing up length in a nano-second, he'd languidly hook or pull, on-drive or cut. And as the ball raced to the fence he'd cruise up the wicket, looking at the bowler again, smiling slightly, eyes hooded, the coolest guy in the neighbourhood. The tough guy. The man.

Gilchrist, conversely, was a nerd. With his sticky-out ears and skinny-lean frame, he was Shane Warne's embodiment of the "Richie Cunningham type", the kid you took home from school, who your mum said was a lovely boy. He married his childhood sweetheart and captained his country, celebrating with the best of them but never "crossing the line"; the teacher's pet, the anti-Warne.

Both men are in most judges' Best Ever World XI - Richards at No. 4, Gilchrist as keeper-batsman. Richards was sorely missed by West Indies, his retirement the beginning of their decline. Gilchrist's departure wasn't as cataclysmic for Australian cricket. But it hasn't been great. For so long Australia knew that even if they were 150 for 5 they were still a chance of making 400 when Gilchrist came out.

In the second Test against Pakistan in Hobart in 1999-2000 - Gilchrist's second Test - he and Justin Langer chased down 369 after the side were 126 for 5. He finished 149 not out. In 2002 in South Africa, he smashed the then fastest double-century of all time, in 212 balls. No one had ever thought it possible for a No. 7 to do this.

The West Indians, meanwhile, just knew Viv always had a good chance of scoring runs, and of scoring them quickly and brutally, so scarring some bowlers that they'd be beaten before he walked out. Viv Richards could beat some bowlers just by being Viv Richards.

Gilchrist: a left-handed mechanical whip  © Getty Images

Richards' signature shot was a nonchalant and exquisitely timed front-foot swipe across the line that sent good-length straight balls over midwicket. Former Australian paceman Rodney Hogg told me once, "Viv was the best batsman I bowled to by a mile. When I was young I was taught if you bowl at off stump, short of a length, put a bit on it, then you were a pretty good show; that most batsmen would defend or get out. Well, Viv would smash you over midwicket. So you'd be walking back to your mark, thinking, 'I've just bowled my best ball and he's hit it for six. Where am I going to bowl the next one?' And the answer was: 'f***** if I know.'"

Richards remains the owner of cricket's fastest Test century, taking 56 balls to plunder three figures against England in 1986. Gilchrist owns cricket's second-fastest Test century, taking 57 balls to reach the mark against England at the WACA in 2006.

Gilchrist hit 100 sixes in Test cricket, still the record ahead of Kallis (97), Sehwag (91), Gayle (89), Lara (88) and Cairns (87). Richards is next with 84.

So, safe to say they could bat - and throw the bat - more than a bit. And today when you turn on your computer and head to ESPNcricinfo and find a photo of AB de Villiers in golden pads and a golden hat, reverse-sweeping for the Royal Challengers Bangalore in a T20 win over Pune Warriors, you think: times have changed.

It was Richards and Gilchrist who changed them.


Matt Cleary writes for several Australian sports and travel magazines. He tweets here

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Keywords: Technique

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by Noboundary on (May 6, 2013, 2:55 GMT)

Viv did not change the modern game... his was so unique that no other batsman had the eye, reflexes and skill to attack any kind of bowling anywhere. Viv had the ability to quickly get into an attacking position whether it was express pace or spin. As far as limited over games are concerned New Zealand captain Martin Crowe should be credited with pioneering a new approach to batting. NZ were the first to open with attacking batsmen (Lairns Cairns) and take advantage of field restrictions early in the game. Jayasurya and Kaluwitharne later perfected it. The old West Indies batsmen always approached test matches like one day games.. they were nor known for grafting!

Posted by   on (May 5, 2013, 5:49 GMT)

I accept Gilchrist is the finest wicketkeeper Batsman that world got. but if we talk only about Hard Hitting. even MSDhoni can compete him but not in totallity just due to lack of technique, but we must say MSDhoni has got the best concentration power which helps him to become brutul hard hitter

Posted by   on (May 4, 2013, 22:37 GMT)

If you're looking for the most consistently dominant and domineering batsman of all times - it'd have to be Viv. Imran Khan, one of the game's men among boys, confessed to only ever being intimidated by one batsman and John Emburey say a mishit off his bowling hit for a one-handed six. But if you're looking for people who changed how batting is today - it has to be Jayasuriya, Gilchrist and to a lesser extent - Afridi. Their record and consistency is what must be regarded as prelude to T20 leagues of today.

Posted by lebigfella on (May 4, 2013, 22:19 GMT)

Great piece as always. Both influenced the game... most keepers may never forgive Gilchrist for raising the bar so high. He was a tremendous batsman and exuded a frenectic energy at the crease. He also hit the ball a long long way. IVA was the first great ODI batsman who set the tone and pushed all to raise their game. And lift the run rate. I remember that 189*... nearly 30 years on. Brutal and beautiful. Still can't understand why some people always have to refer to SRT though. .. maybe they just don't get the point.

Posted by   on (May 4, 2013, 18:22 GMT)

Intests it is Sehwag who made mokery of new ball no other test opener has S/R >55 yet Sehwag has 80.......................Gilgrist was just an avg player both in tests & ODI withavg 50 below in tests with S/R 60 and modest 35 in ODI with S/R it to Sachin's 44 avg @ S/R 86

Posted by   on (May 4, 2013, 14:35 GMT)

Both had poor technique as both played across the line & were highly prone to lbw but in Richards era umpires were tooooooooo lenient on lbw & Richards would always survive plumb lbws

Posted by   on (May 4, 2013, 14:17 GMT)

Great read, Matt, and splendidly written anecdote, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Posted by Game_Gazer on (May 4, 2013, 13:44 GMT)

Jayasuriya & Sehwag can't be compared along with Gilly & Viv. No doubt they were/are greats in their own right, but, for the pure presence, audacity & the excitement they create while playing top-class fast bowling, Gilly & Viv do stand out way above anyone else...

Posted by doubtingthomas on (May 4, 2013, 11:19 GMT)

Viv is the king. Such charisma, confidence and power never had, or will grace the cricket field. There can be debates on whether he was the best batsman or not, but when it comes to persona, he was the stuff out of the legends, the kind of man who could inspire people to take up the sport.

Posted by CricketPissek on (May 4, 2013, 10:15 GMT)

There have always been aggressive batsmen. Even in the 90s, if you look at the 1992 WC team for New Zealand, Mark Greatbatch was a bit of a biff. Sanath with Kalu was able to sustain the hitting for a much longer period, which is why he will be always associated with that paradigm shift. However, Gilly could do the same in 90 test matches all around the world. While keeping wickets too which is a damn tiring thing to do! I am not convinced Viv and Gilly are that comparable, but I think the author deserves credit for his work here. It's such an immature thing to comment saying "Sachin is the best" "Sanath is the best" etc etc etc. Getting really tired of that

Posted by SachinLara1 on (May 4, 2013, 9:16 GMT)

when it comes to sir viv no one can be compared to him. hail KING VIV... sanath gave the idea of scoring freely in powerplays but Sir VIV is always aggressive and nightmare for bowlers irrespective of the conditions

Posted by   on (May 4, 2013, 9:16 GMT)

indeed king viv. Is the greastest odi batsman ever played ckt. and gilly was exceptional in pressure circumstances ,who can forget 151 matchwining against akram ,sqlain and co. cheers from J & K ,..

Posted by mcsdl on (May 4, 2013, 8:55 GMT)

It was Sanath Jayasuriya who made the difference.... Gilchrist had to face no presure because he played with Hayden, Ponting, Bevan, Clarke, Martin, Hussey, Langer... Jayasuriya smashed opposotion bowlers when his team was under so much pressure..! Jayasuriya changed ODI cricket, Gilchrist is nothing comparing to him

Posted by   on (May 4, 2013, 8:06 GMT)

Richards and Gilchrist were class combined with Brute force. They were exceptionally entertaining batsman and great personalities

Posted by   on (May 4, 2013, 7:16 GMT)

@Bryan Mcbean - Sehwag no good against fast bowling??? He whipped the Aussie, SA, and, Pak attacks mercilessly on their own soil. Are there fast attacks more potent than these teams? Old Hats like Ian Chappell think that Sehwag redefined the art of Opening batting - that is high praise indeed. Guys like you and me should cut the chatter, and, just listen when cricket greats say something about cricket - dont you think?

Posted by   on (May 4, 2013, 7:10 GMT)

@PurplePrince1979 - Viv himself said that Sachin is the best - so will you advise him to stop watching cricket? Viv and Sachin are different type of batsmen. Viv is one of the most destructive master-blasters. It can be argued that cricketers like Sehwag and Hayden were as destructive as Viv, however for a shorter period of time. Sachin is the most complete batsman ever. He can play anything - defense, attack, tricky pitches, flat pitches, anything! He is not the best player under pressure - that is his weakness. So why compare two different players? It is a pointless discussion. When Don Bradman himself said that Sachin is as good as him - what more is there to discuss?

Posted by thalalara on (May 4, 2013, 4:30 GMT)

@Shehan, we totally agree SJ changed the modern day cricket and proved that any T,D &H can score aggressively in sub continent conditions the list goes like this Dilshan, Afridi, Sehwag, Pathans, Mahela ( who scores runs only in his neighbourhood ).

This article is about two classic, all time favourite batsmen, the matter ends there.

Posted by aarifboy on (May 4, 2013, 4:00 GMT)

The guy could have compared ViV with Lara or with Sobers.Gilchrist was more of Jayasurya type batsman not like Viv.When Sobers went Viv came and when Viv went Lara came.All of three were more destructive than Sachin,Ponting and Kallis.

Posted by Meety on (May 4, 2013, 3:53 GMT)

I know the angles aren't great, but look at the different sizes of the bats in the file pics! Sir Viv looks like he is holding a toothpick & Gilly is swinging a meat axe! Could we all just stop to just THINK what Sir Viv might of done with a modern bat? Maybe clear the Great Southern Stand @ the MCG?

Posted by Meety on (May 4, 2013, 3:50 GMT)

Good article. Not tying to say who was better should take out some of the nationalistic crud that invades these articles. In pure batting terms, Sir Viv is the King, but Gilly made it a more refined affair that almost made it unfair to bowlers. Both would be in my alltime XI Test & ODI side. I won't name those sides because I would select my favourite player in the Alltime ODI XI ahead of an idolised great!

Posted by Poholiyadda on (May 4, 2013, 3:42 GMT)

It was Sanath Jayasuriya, who changed the style of modern day cricket. Gilchrist, Afridi, Sehwag, all copied his attacking style in their own version. To people who say that SJ didn't perform in tests, he has scored two double centuries in pacer friendly conditions in England and Pakistan and His first test hundred was scored at Adelaide on a fast track. Sad to see that People tend to forget his heroics and his effect on modern day cricket because he came from a small country.

Posted by Uppercut07 on (May 4, 2013, 3:24 GMT)

@Mcgorium, RE: Jayasuriya is a flat track bully: Sanath's 1st ever Test century was in Adelaide, against Australia. 21 out of 28 of his ODI hundreds were scored away from home. It's true Gilly's Test average(47) is higher than Sanath's(40), but Gilly almost always batted in the MIDDLE ORDER facing the older ball, while Sanath had to face the new swinging ball as a openner in Test cricket. With his style of batting i wudn't say 40 is a bad average for him. Even Viv had a GREAT openning pair to protect him Greenidge & Haynes, but there i agree Viv is the BOSS

Posted by Princepurple1979 on (May 4, 2013, 3:18 GMT)

If any one has seen Richard's bat and still claim that Sachin is a better batsman, I would have ask them to stop watching cricket all together. Viv was the best batsman since the 80's followed by Lara. I haven't seen Sobers / Don bat, so no comments on pre 80's era..

Posted by thalalara on (May 3, 2013, 23:42 GMT)

Sensible article in the recent time.

Posted by   on (May 3, 2013, 23:41 GMT)

@Mcgorium, I'm a gigantic cricket nerd, who follows up on most records, history, statistics and information about world cricket, but sadly have only been watching cricket live for 10 years now, since i was 11,in that time alone watching cricket I have seen Jayasuriya hit 3 ODI centuries down under, two against Australia and one against Engalnd. I knw Jayasuriya has scored centuries in England, New Zealand and South Africa as well (countries which have more pacier/ green wickets in general), and has scored several against them in general.

Posted by   on (May 3, 2013, 21:19 GMT)

i cant believe a real cricket fan would compare shewag and anwar with viv richards...i have been watching sehwag for years batting and whenever a genuinig fast bowler concentrates on bowlig short of a length in his body waist up he has absolutely no clue what to do...the australian pacers are doing the same thing to him in the ipl at present and he looks like a fish out of water..lost..he is no good..sure he has some real good shots wide of off stump but everyone in india does...he is no good

Posted by senior_admin on (May 3, 2013, 20:51 GMT)

Gilly is a great batsman. But if you ask me who is the best left handed batsman of our times...I would say with out any doubt.. its LARA. Gilly is aggressive and Lara is class.

Posted by   on (May 3, 2013, 17:38 GMT)

Sir Vivian Isaac Alexander Richards is still the most popular human being alive. King Viv live forever.

Posted by SPotnis on (May 3, 2013, 17:31 GMT)

ah na; Shewag is not even close to Viv but probably as good as Gilly. Yes for Shewag it is tremendous achievement to score triple hundred and all that more when you have three but triple and double hundreds don't define your class. To be honest Shewag can be deadly but he has patches however I would consider Brian Charles Lara to be more dangerous than Shewag for his ability to play spin and fast bowling with equal ease. Sir Viv is far ahead by miles than anyone in cricket for his sheer ability to dominate any type of bowling and destroy. Gilly can do as well and hence both these are the most destructive batsmen world has ever seen.

Posted by Beertjie on (May 3, 2013, 17:19 GMT)

Thrilling to watch that double century in 2002. Was aiming to hit the pylons which would have made him an instant millionaire! Viv was a right-handed Sobers!

Posted by amumtaz on (May 3, 2013, 17:11 GMT)

clearly you have not seen Saeed Anwar bat. Yes, the same bloke who scored a blistering knock of 194 in ODI against India in India.

Posted by McGorium on (May 3, 2013, 16:28 GMT)

@Uppercut07: Sort of, but Jayasuriya never managed to do it in tests with any degree of consistency. Jayasuriya was the ultimate flat-track bully: he'd absolutely destroy you on low, slow pitches, but put him on a fast track or a swing/seaming track, and he'd be on his way back to the pavilion before you knew it. Now Gilly wasn't particularly great on pitches where the ball turned square, granted, but those sort of pitches are rare in the modern game. And even there, I'd bet Gilly would go better on a crumbler in (say) Columbo, than Jayasuriya on a fast wicket at Perth. Gilly had the general technique to handle spin; Jayasuriya didn't have a technique or temperament against pace. Not much of a Viv was before my time, so I can't really comment on his consistency in all conditions.

Posted by Paulk on (May 3, 2013, 16:14 GMT)

Yes thank you. Finally an article about Viv Richards and Adam Gilchrist together. In my book they were two of a kind and captured the imagination, at least my imagination in a way no other twosome has. One thing that was unique to Viv Richards is that in his era no other batsman played even remotely close to the way he played, Tests and one day, while maintaining such a high average. Gilchrist had the advantage of helmets, newer bat technology and arguably less intimidating fast bowlers. And this was probably why no one in Sir Viv's era would or could play the way he did.

Posted by obaidulmasum on (May 3, 2013, 14:48 GMT)

Why Viv and Gilly are considered so special than other batsmen. Because they are both equally strong on both front foot and back foot. If fast bowler bowled them bouncer they could send them to the midwicket, fine leg or square leg. It's a unique qualty that you have never seen batsman like Shehwag or Jayasurya. Bowlers can intimidate them to bowl short and fast. But did bowlers dare to intimidate Gilly and Viv like that way? I think if they tried to do like that they would welcome their misfortune in the cricket field. Ask Lilee, Thomson, Shoaib, Harmisson and Flintoff and they will tell you the truth. Don't bowl them short and don't sledge them. otherwise they will destroy on the pitch. I think Petersen has the same quality.

Posted by   on (May 3, 2013, 13:52 GMT)

Iam not seeing Hayden Out there! Gilly and Haydos equally the best ! And one of the most Lethal openers ever! It is still a good comparison though, but lots of batsmen have changed the way players play these days, but the earliest one(I remember) was Gary Sobers!! And then came Alvin Kallicharan! Sanath Jayasuriya!! There have been considerable contributions to the "Modern" batting by lots of them. Even though these two have Strong Records to prove them as Game Changers, lets not forget the others. Frankly speaking, the whole West Indian top order during the 70's and 80's were quite Lethal

Posted by Cric_fan_since_1989 on (May 3, 2013, 13:43 GMT)

Sorry Matt Cleary .. an article talking about explosive batting - with a point of view of game changing in an Era - and NOT include Sehwag is a Meaningless article .. There are renowned authors who have written about the same context and put Sehwag on top of their list .. The Jayasuriyas, Haydens, Galyes does not come in comparison - if any doubt, check their Strike rates

Posted by   on (May 3, 2013, 12:53 GMT)

Thin this article misses out a number of players like Herschelle Gibbs, Trescothick, Slater, Jayasuriya, Sehwag, Pietersen and of course Matty Hayden, all of whom in test cricket have played extremely aggressively at the top of the order. If they came along today, i'm sure some of them would be fast tracked to the T20 lane.

Think it is perhaps also worth mentioning that with T20, a number of players that perhaps 10 years ago would be picked for England in a test match because of their aggression, are now being turned into T20 and ODI players.. most notably guy like Alex Hales, Michael Lumb, Jos Buttler (for England).. are now not picked BECAUSE of their supposed aggression. Think we all need to remember that test cricket needs these kind of aggressive players still to survive. It is what makes the game so interesting.

Posted by Punter_28 on (May 3, 2013, 12:30 GMT)

What about Sehwag? The man who has scored triple hundreds at will with a test strike of over 80 , he has redefined batting.

Posted by king_julien on (May 3, 2013, 12:23 GMT)

Its hard to imagine an article on explosive batsman who changed the game, which doesn't talk about Sehwag. Sehwag has much better strike rate than Gilchrist or Sir Viv in both tests and one-dayers. His has a strike rate in tests better than most ODI greats have in one-dayers. Taking nothing away from Gilchrist (I have liked since his debut year)....but the time he used to come to bat, the bowlers were more tired then when they are after bowling out an entire team (after getting rid of the formidable batting line up)...his task was to get quick runs to put the opposition in, which he did. Its not only about sixes either (chris cairns has more sixes per match), but the number of boundaries. Sehwag has almost double the number of fours that Gilchrist has and close to 300 more than Sir Viv in lesser matches, and He was a makeshift opener facing bowlers at their freshest.

Can't leave Jayasuriya out too..if one talks of changing the face of ODI batting

Posted by Sir.Ivor on (May 3, 2013, 12:11 GMT)

Viv Richards was belligerence personified even if he would smile at the goings on. The hubris that came along with him was not a put on. I understand he had been through an accident when he was young and that led to a disability that caused what is referred to as his swagger. The chewing gum probably a bit more than what most players masticate at a time made it look the stuff made for men. The physical similarities to a welterweight boxer gave Viv the persona to match his immense ability of timing power and guts. He was not a brute as he is made out to be. On-driving Dennis Lillee for a six and repeating it requires a special skill particularly with Dennis bowling round the wicket. He enjoyed everything he did on the field.He was just a brilliant athlete who was as if born to play cricket. There have been others like Adam Gilchrist, Jaysuriya and Viru Sehwag who matched Viv's ability to hit a cricket ball. But it is not just that. A superman laying to sword all comers is what he was.

Posted by athem79 on (May 3, 2013, 11:57 GMT)

I somehow agree to Uppercut07 . . . the trend of hitting from the start was started before Gilchrist. Greatbatch started the trend in the early 90's and the trend came in lime light in 1996 WCup when Jayasurya mastered it and helped SLanka win the WCup. Gilchrist was fortunate to play a longer inning in the test cricketing world and hence he is more recognized.

Posted by waspsting on (May 3, 2013, 11:19 GMT)

I'd throw Sehwag in here for having the same effect.

I rate Richards considerably higher, and Gilchrist slightly more so, but as a "Master blaster", I feel Sehwag takes the cake.

Viv and Gilly both intimidated the opposition, but face it, their teams would have run over the world if they were equally effective, but more passive of style.

Its style that's key here - no one will bring Dravid and Kallis into this discussion.

Sehwag, at the top of the order batting like he did - he was the biggest match shaping batsmen I've seen (albeit only on subcontinent, but as he's a subcontinent player, that means in more than 50% of his matches, he was that crazy danger man)

Pietersen might get a mention too, his style reminds me very much of Viv, though Viv had more non-batting "style" (swagger, gum chewing, eyecontact etc)

Viv and Gilly - both awesome players, lovely read

Posted by Uppercut07 on (May 3, 2013, 10:15 GMT)

Didn't a guy called Sanath Jayasuriya do the same thing before Gilchrist???

Posted by criteek on (May 3, 2013, 9:42 GMT)

Add to them that they both put the opposition on defensive, finished the games, score all around the world and delighted spectators everywhere. And ofcourse both have to their credit World Cup Final winning 100's.

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Matt Cleary
Matt Cleary reckons he watched more of the 1978-79 Ashes series than any eight-year-old. Despite this punishment - Geoff Boycott batting for days - Cleary was hooked. As a journalist he's written about sport, travel, beer, wine, swimming with stingrays in the Alice waters of Bora Bora, and touring Australia on a four-month lap, playing golf. Yet he counts doing ball-by-ball commentary for ESPNcricinfo as the most fun he's had with a keyboard. He writes for several of Australia's sports and travel magazines, notably Inside Sport, Inside Cricket, Golf Australia and Rugby League Week. @JournoMatCleary

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