Richards The Perfectionist - A Genius of His Generation - Imran Khan (Pakistani Cricketer, Oct 1993)
I was privileged to bowl to some of the greatest batsmen during my 21-year international career. Each had some outstanding qual- ities that made them so successful. Sunil Gavaskar had the most compact defence and managed his in- nings better than any other batsman of his time. Javed Miandad and Allan Border were great accumulaters and, like Gavaskar un- derstood the art of making runs. Gordon Greenidge had an orthodox defence, yet when it came to attack was devastating. Ian Chappell was best in a crisis, pos- sessing mental strength, while his brother Greg was a powerful driver off the back foot. Barry Richards was the most orthodox batsman of my time, who never seemed out of balance and played his strokes with the minimum of effort. Zaheer Abbas was the best timer of the ball. Compared to Vivian Richards, however, all those were mere mor- tals. He was the only true genius of my time. He never had the defence of Gavaskar or the balance and poise of Barry Richards but the Almighty had gifted him with reflexes that no other had. These lightning reflexes enabled him to get into position so quickly that bowlers never quite knew what length to bowl to him. His other strength was that he combined timing with brute force. Zaheer Abbas, Barry Richards or Majid Khan were great timers of the ball but on slow wickets, where the ball did not come to the bat, they were neutralized. Viv Richards could be devastating on all types of surfaces. Because of these unique qualities of extraordinary reflexes and the combination of power with timing, Viv Richards could get away with a faulty batting technique. He would commit himself on the front foot much too early yet he was gifted enough to move on to the back foot and still play a stroke with time to spare. In 1976, I had an opportunity to bowl to the two great players of the time, Viv Richards and Greg Chappell. Both were predom- inantly front-foot players but the difference was that while I could surprise Greg Chappell with a bouncer, it was completely wasted on Richards. No matter how much I disguised the bouncer he still had time to lean back and hit it over midwicket. He would come so far on the front foot that it was virtually impossible to get him lbw with my wicket-taking delivery, the inswinger. I could only command respect from him when a few years later I perfected the leg- cutter. Richards was the only batsman who took on fast bowlers and des- troyed them. Sheer pace was cannon fodder for him. Because of his tremendous reflexes he was the best hooker of my time. Con- sequently, pace bowlers had a very small margin of error. In World Series Cricket from 1977 to 1979 all the top batsmen, with perhaps the exception of Gavaskar and Geoff Boycott, were on show. Never were so many fast bowlers gathered in one country at the same time. Many batsmen were injured and helmets began to be worn for the first time. The only batsman to take on the fast bowlers was Viv. All the others just tried to survive. I admired him because he loved challenges. The bigger the oc- casion, the more he loved it. The more demanding the occasion, the harder he tried. And often, when there were no challenges, he would entertain the crowd and get out rather than play to im- prove his average. This is why, for me, statistics are meaningless. They can nev- er reflect the true genius of Viv Richards. Had he wanted, he could easily have scored twice as many Test runs as he did. There were times when his 60s and 70s were far more useful to his team than big 100s scored by others. In the 1980 match against England at Old Trafford, he scored a 60 so violent that it shattered the confidence of England's main strike bowler, Bob Willis. Richards' strategy was simple: he would come in at No. 3 and launch an all-out offensive against the opposition's main strike bowlers. It was not uncommon to see a one-day field setting shortly after the fall of the first wicket on the first morning of the Test. He never used to rely on his defence. Instead, he would put the bowlers on the defensive. Once he had achieved that, he would relax and pick off runs. His onslaught was of enormous benefit to his team. It would demoralise the opposition's strike bowlers and take the pressure off his team. His innings never followed the pattern like, for instance, those of Gavaskar and Boycott. The last two would get themselves in, pick off the bad balls adn defend themselves against the good ones. They would also know the bowlers they wanted to score off and the ones they had to keep out. If there is a pattern with Richards it ws the complete opposite to that of Gavaskar and Boycott. He would take on the strike bowlers and try to hit everything, including the good-length deliveries, then suddenly decide to become defensive and start harmless half-volleys. Then, as if he had enough rest, he would resume the offensive. I felt that he was never as effective at No. 5 as he was at No. 3. When he took over the captaincy, No. 5 was even more of a pressure position for him and since he did not have a strong de- fence he would at times fall between two stools. As an all-round fielder, I felt he was again the best of my time. He could catch and throw as well as anyone. Often with his quick reflexes he would run out batsmen from midwicket when they had backed up too far. His strategy as a captain was straightforward: to lead from the front. But as with Gary Sobers, the problem was that a genius always struggles to deal with mere mortals. They also make less use of their brain, and function more on instinct. He could get impatient with his team-mates who could not live up to his high standards. His explosive temper would put them under pressure when things were not going well. As long as he was a genius, the players accepted it, but after 1988, as often happens in life when the power of a strong individual begins to wane the discontent began to surface. His personality was a bit more complex. To understand it fully one must read C.L.R. James's book Beyond A Boundary. He epitom- ises the West Indian who, through sport, wanted to dispel the sense of inferiority suffered by blacks in the Caribbean through years of colonialism. Therefore, the No. 1 rivals for him were England and he took great pride in establishing supremacy over there. The second most important were Australia, mainly because of the humiliation suffered by the West Indies from Jeff Thomson and Dennis Lillee in the 1975-76 series. Not that he spared other nations. He was the most competitive cricketer I played against. I found him shy, and to cover it he would appear arrogant at times. I also found him to be tense at the beginning of his innings. To cover it up he would exaggerate his swagger and put on a snarl. When he became captain he had the pressure to preserve Clive Lloyd's record of West Indian invincibility and to protect his own legendary status. Because of this, he became more prone to outbursts, never more visible than on England's last Caribbean tour. I know it is the most difficult decision for any sportsman to know when to leave and it is always sad to see geniuses reduced to the level of mere mortals. Romantically, I would have like to have seen Viv Richards leave cricket in 1988. Since then, although he played some great innings, the reflexes were not as sharp and playing fast bowlers off the back foot, he became much more vulnerable. Sportsmen often hang in there because they feel they do not have a better alternative, even though they are way past their prime. Although he has said that he would consider offers to play for a new county after Glamorgan, my suggestion to Viv is not to fall into the trap and do something like go into politics in Antigua. For me, he remains the greatest batsman of my generation. The one stroke I will always remember was in a one-day match in Aus- tralia in 1981 when he advanced down the wicket at Thomson, at his fastest and armed with a new ball. He smashed a short ball from him to the mid-on fence.