ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / Features

The emperor in winter

Viv Richards may be in the commentary box these days, but the aura still endures

Mark Nicholas

May 31, 2012

Comments: 108 | Text size: A | A

Viv Richards ploughes on and on ... finishing with 291, England v West Indies,  The Oval, August 1976
Bringing the carnage: at The Oval in 1976 © The Cricketer International
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Viv Richards is 60. It happened on March 7th and you would have to see it to believe it. He looks 50, or better. The Master Blaster is in England, adding muscle to Test Match Special's coverage of the series.

You would think he lived life on a cross-trainer but he doesn't, just keeps an eye on himself. Standing on the square before play the other day, we pushed him to say how he thought he would cope if he strapped them on now for a hit against England. He rocked back and laughed. Teeth are perfect. Nose ever more Roman, set beneath those killer eyes. We tried again; he relented. "Thirty maybe, or even 50." Said without a hint of malice to the modern game but with a great dollop of the old defiance. Of course, 50! I cannot be beaten. Why not more? Maybe more. Such unconditional self-belief. The court of King Viv is barely less absorbing now than it was then.

He started Test cricket in 1974 and finished in 1991, playing many of the most remarkable innings of the age. He is a shoo-in for just about everybody's all-time team - five-day and one-day. Had there been an IPL auction sometime then, the bids would have bust the bank: in modern speak, imagine the "maximums" and imagine the brand! At The Oval in the heat-strewn glory of 1976, when he made 291, John Snow bowled a short ball. Jim Laker, in his yeoman Yorkshire drawl, described it thus: "Not really a bouncer from John Snow, more a long hop, and suffice to say, Viv Richards simply crucified it."

The summer of '76, Viv's Kingdom of Days. Eight months around the world that year brought him 1710 runs at an average of 90. John Arlott wrote, "He exerted a headlong mastery even more considerable than Don Bradman at the same age." The bats were balsa wood compared to now, and the boundaries bigger. His leg-side play became legend but it was the power of the riposte, the sense of vengeance for a people suppressed that rang out. Unsurprisingly Bob Marley's "Redemption Song" is a favourite.

Richards' presence at the wicket was almost frightening. No, not almost, it was frightening. Opponents looked upon him with awe and he upon them with scorn. The eye of a hawk, the speed to strike of a snake, the pride of a lion. Wherever he went, he could part the sea. In that time, only Seve Ballesteros had such aura. They were cut from the same cloth, playing their games with a similarly irresistible mix of brooding venom and unbridled joy.

After dazzling Taunton, Richards moved briefly to Wales to light up Glamorgan days. On strike to Malcolm Marshall in a county match in Swansea, something disturbed him. He pulled away with a regal sense of theatre and then walked - if we can call it that with Viv - down the pitch, past Marshall, past the umpire and towards the many steep and famous steps that brought pain or pleasure to the climb of returning batsmen. Suddenly, in no man's land, he stopped. "Hey you, you, yes you," he shouted with withering accusation to an alarmed spectator above the sightscreen, who was idly thumbing the pages of the Daily Telegraph. "You got David Gower at slip, Robin Smith in the gully, Malcolm Marshall is bowling to Vivian Richards, and you reading the effing newspaper!"

He played the greatest county innings we ever saw, again for Glamorgan, oddly enough, at the old Southampton ground in 1990. On a flat deck we set Glamorgan 364 on the last afternoon and had them quickly five down for not many.

Viv blocked in disgust at the ruin around him. Until the last over before tea, when he followed through on one of those forward defensives and hit the thing into Northlands Road. That shut us up at tea time. After that, it was carnage. We came to the last over of the game, Glamorgan seven down, needing 14 to win, Viv 150 not out and on strike once again to the best bowler on the planet, Malcolm Marshall.

He whipped off his gloves, shook a few hands and said, "Great declaration, man. Let's go have a beer." Yes sir, of course, sir. Ye gods! There can never have been so destructive a batsman and so dominant a personality

We placed every man on the boundary. "Give him the single, Macko, you can bowl at Metson and then knock over Dennis and Watkin to win us the game, easy," said the Hampshire captain. Off stump, good-length ball. Four, before either fielder at extra cover or deep point had broken stride. "Er, a single, Marshy boy, bowl at Metson, knock him over, then Dennis and Watkin etc" Bouncer. Six, lost ball over the flats at midwicket. I kid you not.

Four to win, four balls left. "Macko! Give him a damn single, bowl at Metson, then Dennis and Watkin, then we win, get it?!" Attempted yorker, gun barrel straight. Drilled wide of mid-on, like a shell from a gun. Four. Game over. He whipped off his gloves, shook a few hands and said, "Great declaration, man. Let's go have a beer." Yes sir, of course, sir. Ye gods! There can never have been so destructive a batsman and so dominant a personality.

Briefly, the captaincy of West Indies gave him gip. Clive Lloyd rode roughshod over all-comers for so long that the act was hard to follow. Moreover, big names had hung up boots and young faces kowtowed. In 1988, England won all three preamble one-day games and this on the back of West Indies failing to win any of the previous four Test series under Richards' command. The smile had turned scowl. Not for long, though. Not only did West Indies tear England apart and win 4-0, they crushed the notion of leadership - a supposed British specialty - watching in glee as Mike Gatting, John Emburey, Chris Cowdrey and Graham Gooch all had a crack and failed. Viv silenced everybody with that one.

Back to pitchside at Trent Bridge. Is there a secret, Viv? "Keep it simple, stay still, watch the ball. These fellas these days, they want to over-complicate this thing which is batting. Come forward, come at the face of the man against you and spring back if you must, to show him who's boss. Be the boss, man, because if you don't think you are, no one else will, true huh true." And off he goes upright, strong and defiant, to Aggers and Co in the commentary box. Emperors, kings, they always have the last word.

Mark Nicholas, the former Hampshire captain, presents the cricket on Channel 9 in Australia and Channel 5 in the UK

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Comments: 108 
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Posted by Bennett on (June 3, 2012, 14:58 GMT)

Numbers are meant for mathematicians. Greatness supersedes the collection of numbers - and Viv was beyond the accumulation of numeric data. What he did do was to pulverize the opposition and wrest control, thereby demoralizing them and making it easier for his fellow batsmen to follow in his wake - an attribute some of the so called modern greats are unable to do as they bat in a bubble oblivious to the demands of the team and solely focused on the next personal number to attain

Posted by Harsh on (June 2, 2012, 12:17 GMT)

What is important to note is that Viv batted at one down unlike Kallis,Tendulkar or Lara.It is Dravid and Ponting who batted one down and performed heroically.After Bradman ,Viv was the best one down batsman.In Viv's era at one down his greatest competitor was Ian Chappell,the best batsman of his time in a crisis.In the one day game Viv was the best batsman of all time.

Overall,in pure test match cricket Sobers and Lara may edge Sir Viv because of their performances under pressure and ability to make the mammoth scores.However in combined cricket Viv was the best West Indian batsman of all and the golden question is whether he would have scored 100 centuries in the modern era.I may have backed him too.The man was simply such a genius and had the great player's ability to rise to the occassion.

Posted by Harsh on (June 2, 2012, 12:10 GMT)

@Maui3 -I feel your comments are unfair about King Viv.In this era with the flat tracks and weaker bowling attacks Viv would have devoured the opposition and averaged around 57 runs.There are so many more games today that Viv may have conquered all the batting records like Tendulkar.Both Lara and Tendulkar did not posess Viv's match-winning ability and ability to dominate great pace bowling.Be it Ponting,Kallis,Tendulkar or Lara they have not equaled Viv's achievements from 1976-81.Imagine Viv played Imran and Lillee like spinners.

I agree that Viv was not fully tested in a crisis and in that light Lara and Tendulkar have performed better.Kallis is the best batsman to bat for your life but not a great match-winner like Ponting.As a player against genuine pace bowling Ponting compares best with Viv,closely followed by Inzamam ulHaq.Ponting also batted at one down that is significant.

Ultimately it is wrong to compare and each era has it's own champions .Don't forget Rahul Dravid.

Posted by Devavrat on (June 2, 2012, 9:24 GMT)

@Mark Nicholas: A good read, I fancy the subtlety of the writing and the folklore like presentation. I hope the other writers in Cricinfo read this article and learn; about how to make a simple easy to read article enjoyable with out histrionics, politics, malice, sensationalism. @Maui3: Do you have to drag comparisons in ? Everybody enjoys a good display of game, it doesnt matter if it is Sachin or Sehwag etc., But mind you, the era to which players like Viv, Gavaskar, Zaheer Abbas, GR Vishy, etc. belong to, was the time when bouncers were free for breakfast, lunch and dinner; there were no helmets, arm guards, thigh guards etc.; bowlers like lillee, botham, Sarfraz, Andy, Malcolm, Garner, Thompson, Snow, and many more, were at their peak; this was the time, when ppl would love to seee blood on pitch - literally. So put your comparisons to rest and pay your respects - solemnly - to the Viv the King; a package like him will never be.

Posted by George on (June 2, 2012, 7:55 GMT)

I remember that game in 1990, but with the greatest respect, I think your recollection is a little awry: as I remember it, Metson was actually on strike for the last over & took a single off the first or second ball to give the king the strike before the 4/6/4 finish. It was a great innings form Richards though, on that we are most definitely agreed!

Posted by Amit on (June 2, 2012, 0:12 GMT)

I followed Richards career very closely from his 3 and 4 on debut, followed by 192 not out in next test at age ~21. And every time I read an article his aura seems to get bigger. Which is fine, Viv was the best of the era, but what gets misrepresented is how great the current batsman are. Sachin would 'easily' be better that Viv. Ponting and Lara are at Par. And if you look at pure effictiveness, Kallis isn't far behind. Viv's success has a lot to do with the fast bowlers he played with. Richard had a lousy last couple of year, which not many talk about. Richards was great, but dont lose out on enjoying the Sehwags, Kallis, Tendulkar and Pieterson in the process.

Posted by robert on (June 1, 2012, 23:51 GMT)

VIV - skillful brutality personified never duplicated before or since - why do men have to get old - what a shame!!!

Posted by Michael on (June 1, 2012, 22:53 GMT)

Some players one never forgets. Never could. Viv Richards tops that list. But I have to ask whether if he were playing in this era what the remarks of some people would be. The 'Ego'? Never thinks of anyone but himself? Too arrogant for words? Only cares about himself? Seen these remarks somewhere else perhaps about a contemporary player ??

Posted by Dennis on (June 1, 2012, 21:36 GMT)

gotta agree rather watch IVA Riichards bat any day , He would walk out rolling his arms bat in hand , chewing gum , no helmet ,that swagger ,yeah the bowlers knew who was boss , I,m sure that 189 no v England in 1983 with todays heavy bats and small boundries ,power plays he would have got 250 plus .

Posted by seb on (June 1, 2012, 21:19 GMT)

The greatest, simply the greatest. How small these Tendulkars and Dravids look next to him - both as cricketers and as men.

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Mark Nicholas A prolific and stylish middle-order batsman for Hampshire, Mark Nicholas was unlucky never to have played for England, but after captaining his county to four major trophies he made his reputation as a presenter, commentator and columnist. Named the UK Sports Presenter of the Year in 2001 and 2005 by the Royal Television Society, he has commentated all over the world, from the World Cup in the West Indies to the Indian Premier League. He now hosts the cricket coverage for Channel Nine in Australia and Channel 5 in England.

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