'I felt I was an artist'
What was it like having all those great West Indian fast bowlers to face in practice?
You may say it was good enough practice. But I've never enjoyed being in the nets, because I felt enclosed. My batting practice would be a guy throwing balls in the way in which I liked it. It was all about getting ball on bat, rather than something whizzing past your ear. Each bowler has his own pride when bowling in the nets but it's vital that you get ball on bat and then you are ready to use the opportunity when you are out in the middle.
In 1969 you refused to walk when given out in a match for Antigua, sparking crowd trouble. How do you look back on that now?
It was a difficult start to my career, but if you are confident enough about the decisions that you make and about how you can correct them, then it becomes history. It's all about pushing on and learning from mistakes. You are going to have some hiccups, especially as a young man. I felt I wasn't out at the time and I stamped my feet - I've seen people not be banned for worse. Obviously this sent a message to the crowd that all wasn't well. The crowd reacted and I was responsible. I paid my dues - I was banned from first-class cricket for two years. If you do a crime, you must do the time.
What was it like arriving at Somerset in 1974?
There seemed to be a lack of self-esteem with certain individuals at the club. You heard about Somerset not winning anything in over 100 years. I've always been a competitive guy. I want to win. I want to make an impact. At the time I was on the fringes of the West Indies team and I was going to a club that knew nothing about me. I felt I could bat. I looked around the county circuit and saw the professional cricketers and I'm saying, "Wow, I could do a little bit better than that." I tried to pump that motivation into my team.
What was Brian Close like as a captain?
Closey is someone I have an enormous amount of respect for. I was fortunate to have him around at that time. He was instrumental. I felt he saw something in me. He took me under his wing and I would travel with him on most occasions. In those days county cricketers travelled their own way. I was Closey's co-pilot. During the long journeys around the country we would talk about the game, about what I could do to move forward. He taught me about being tough with your decisions and fighting hard. Closey did not reap the success of the team and the characters he built. In came Brian Rose and by that time the players were ripe. They were battle-hardened by playing under one of the hardest skippers I'll ever know. It was the perfect platform. And in the end it came good for Somerset. We became a fancied county. The Garners and the Bothams came on board and we had a good connection.
You were more successful against England than against any other Test side. Was there added motivation?
When I first came to this country there were folks who felt I was coming from a hotter climate so I wouldn't adapt to English conditions. They thought I wasn't going to do well because of my style of play - of hitting across the line. I didn't call it hitting across the line. I felt it was inventive. If you stay to the basics - hitting the ball in the V - it would be a rather boring game. I felt I was an artist. If I hit a fielder I wasn't doing my job well enough. It was all about avoiding fieldsmen and scoring runs. No one was going to put me off my plan.
I could have hit the ball through the off side as well as any. I know that. It was my choice when to and when not to. So I wanted to prove these guys wrong, prove that I am a soldier where the bat is concerned. Wherever the fight is, I'm going to be fighting. I didn't want to be rude to anyone, but anyone who is rude to me, then I was going to be rude in the right way: my bat was going to tell the story. You had guys who didn't believe in the black man. If you feel you are superior to me, then you should be knocking me over every goddamn time. There were a few ass***** out there. All these factors were a motivation for how my innings would go.
Perhaps Tony Greig's promise in 1976 that the West Indies would "grovel" helped too?
I'm not into the talk stuff. You have guys who talk a lot but cannot deliver. Tony was talking himself and England into believing what they could do. Maybe he took the wrong route. I'd played against Tony a few times and didn't see anything that was extra special, apart from the lip he had at the time. I felt he was a guy who knew he didn't have any trump cards and was bluffing.
Did anyone dislike your famous leisurely walk to the crease?
There were crowds who wanted to test me, especially in a hostile environment like Yorkshire. "Hurry up!" they'd say. That's why, when you look at the records and see Vivian Richards' record against Yorkshire, I think I could be high up where averages and runs are concerned. Sometimes you get crowds who give you that opportunity to hate everyone. My beef was with them. And it was the guys who were representing them on the field who were going to suffer. That was a simple, plain fact.
What about bowlers who confronted you?
I love a guy who is up in my face. I didn't like it when a guy would beat my bat and just smile. I wanted him to say something, to give me something to fuel my emotions. Guys used to tell me to eff off when I was out. I enjoyed that. I wanted to come back every time. I thought, "Have your day. You knock me over, it takes only a couple of seconds to walk off, but I tell you, I back myself enough to know that so long as I'm batting you are going to see my face for a long time and it's going to hurt. Big time."
What are your memories of Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket?
It was the hardest cricket I played in my life and I loved it. There were no prizes for coming second. That period had the best fast bowlers in the world. Everyone had somebody. I got a few centuries and I think it's unfair that they are not officially recognised. There was no cricket like that. I hope that the establishment look back and provide some sort of clemency.
What was it like scoring a hundred in 1981 in the first Test to be played in Antigua, where you were born?
My game was all about emotion. There must be something on the line - then Viv Richards is at his very best. Some people are weak in situations like that; they need a second chance. But sometimes there is no second chance. This was a great opportunity to prove myself. A Test in Antigua - wow! We in the Caribbean are pretty hard to convince. The people had listened to John Arlott and heard I was okay, but they wanted to see for themselves. The whole persona of that innings was about how I felt and what I wanted to achieve. You dream of these things: scoring a Test hundred in front of the folks you grew up with.
How did captaincy suit you?
I didn't quite have the numbers as captain. In those days we didn't have all these coaches; the captain and manager were responsible for keeping everyone fit and arranging practice. With captaincy you tend to ignore yourself a little. I didn't do enough work on my batting because I had to channel my energies into the team. Captaincy slowed me down and put my thinking cap on, but it also took away what I contributed as a player - like being in the field, running around and picking the ball up. I loved my fielding. As captain I had to be a bit closer to the activity and I missed being in the outfield. I was pretty handy out there as well.
What is your greatest achievement as a cricketer?
I don't look solely at what I achieved. I look at what the Caribbean and the other guys achieved in showing what teamwork can do. We all think so differently in the various parts of the Caribbean. We each have our different spices, we boast about them and other things because we are from another country and we represent that country. Being able to be in the same team as all these guys, to know the differences between us but still fulfill your goals - that to me was the greatest achievement. On a personal note, I didn't wrap myself up in cotton wool - with a helmet, a chest guard, an elbow guard - I did it the way men should and I'm proud of that. When the helmet came into play it helped a lot of careers. Batsmen felt they had this suit of armour on. Guys who could never hook a ball in their lives suddenly felt they could do it. That's when you started getting more injuries.
Do you have any regrets about your career?
I may have regrets but I hate to lament them because it could have been much worse. Today I walk in the streets and people remember me for my style of play. I'd like to be playing today. That's the only thing I'd love to change. If I was playing today, I would have been seriously rewarded for what I feel I would have given to the game.
Viv Richards was in London as a representative of the Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority for the World Travel Market exhibition. This article was first published in the February 2010 issue of the Wisden Cricketer. Subscribe here