Viv Richards February 22, 2010

'I felt I was an artist'

Interview by Benj Moorehead
Viv Richards, the only captain under whom West Indies never lost a series, speaks about the sense of confrontation he brought to his cricket, his first Test in Antigua and his success against England

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.

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

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Suresh on February 25, 2010, 5:31 GMT

    I accept that viv richards is King of cricket :) But Sachin is God of cricket !!! And remember that King has to worship God!!!. We grown up watching his play and if sachin wasnt in indian team most them could have not watched cricket of early 90's. He is not comparable with anybody in whole world, a true living legend. cheers

  • Woril on February 25, 2010, 4:26 GMT

    @mishvik1, u have got me. They say numbers do not lie and in my proffession, I have to trust numbers. If I was doing a curve fit with those averages, I guess I would also treat the 1979 average in Australia as an outlier. Maybe its the innings that I have seen him play, the shots I have seen him play, which to date I have seen no one bat like that again, which makes him the best of all I have seen for me. I have not seen any of Sehwags great innings, so maybe he has those kinds of shots too. I remember my brother and I watching Viv's 232 at Trent Bridge 76, where everything short went across the ropes and my brother saying, if he was England's skipper and a bowler bowls short to this man for the rest of the series he would have him dropped from the side. Its also interesting that most of Viv's peers, both West Indian and opposing players thinks he is the greatest they have seen. I do not believe they say that to be nice to him.

  • Andre on February 24, 2010, 6:42 GMT

    @ Middle stump. Look I don't rate him a higher TEST batsman than Ken Barrington and Ken played his last game in 68 and was a slower, less dominant batsman than Richards was! I've seen Viv footage, not just heard stories. Sobers to me personally is the best test batsman since Sir Don but he's 2nd on the list of the Wisden 5! Viv Richards had weaknesses like evry1, why don't persons suggest his temperament wasn't the best? Why don't you mention he should have shelved some pride and wear a helmet when he got much older? These are valid points and I won't argue them BUT talking down an avg. of 50 in the 80's at that? Very few avg. 50 during 80's-90's and even less avg 50 whilst SCORING SO FAST! Yea he may not have been the BEST at spin but spinners weren't the only bowlers around and he certainly wasn't horrible else he wouldn't have scored 100's against Ind or Pak. Also do you think if Jaywardne played against Thomo,Lillee etc he would avg 50+? When did the spin quartet bowl at Sachin :s

  • Satyajit on February 24, 2010, 6:05 GMT

    This is the problem when an article is posted about an all time great and comments are opened for all. His fans starts demeaning other greats in excessive enthusiasm and their fans then start retorting back :-) Usually nobody remains neutral (I find the nickname NEUTRAL_FAN a bit of misnomer). That is the time when you have to depend a bit on statistics. A test avg over 50 was considered excellent in those days but still not the best. Apart from that, Viv had a more mortal avg of 44 and 42 against the no2 and no3 bowling sides at that time (no1 being his own side). In ODI an avg of 47 was spectacular and best in the business. But don't forget his side started with two openers who averaged 45 (Greenidge) and 41 (Haynes) respectively in ODI. It won't be unfair to say he enjoyed the kind of support and freedom Ponting enjoyed for better part of his career. But still he had to be that good to be the biggest star of a team full of stars!

  • p on February 24, 2010, 5:31 GMT

    Enjoy Viv and his "swagger" - Fine. He was an alltime great. But going on and on about how he was "better" than a Tendulkar because he "swaggered" and "played without a helmet" (something all batsman have been doing for almost a century before Viv) and "played such awesome Hooks or whatever" just Silly- and reveals more about the mindset about ppl making these comments than about the batsmen themselves.

  • V on February 24, 2010, 1:29 GMT

    @Neutral_Fan. Nobody is trying to devaule Richards. Just the plain simple facts that his Test average is not great, he was a middle order bat who got time to rest between innings compared to someone like Gavaskar and who did not play against the fearsome fast bowlers on his side (in tests) or look comfortable against top quality spinners. To a man, the famed spin quartet from India did not rate him higher than Sobers or Tendulkar. It also seems like you have not seen or heard of one Ken Barrington. He averaged close to 59 in Tests. Take your time and do your arithmetic. You will find that 59 is higher than 50! And the spin quartet rate Barrington as the most difficult batsman they bowled against among right handers, not Viv who was always shaky and chancy against quality spin. It doesn't matter whether Viv played against his fast bowlers in first class games or in his backyard and scored hundreds. Had Viv played in the era of Warne and Murali his average might be even lower.

  • wasim on February 23, 2010, 19:18 GMT

    It is all hype and no substance! Viv Richards only average around 40 against top teams such as australia and pakistan who had best fast bowlers alongwith westindies. People who are lining up to call viv Richards are one who has only heard stories and feel compel to feel the same. It need courage to call naked king a naked king when everyone else was praising his magical cloth!!

  • Andre on February 23, 2010, 17:02 GMT

    I have to laugh at persons bringing up all sorts of petty, false information in an effort to devalue Sir Viv's status of a great! Rubbish like: "he batted 4 and 5" (for his whole career? Where does Yosuf, Sachin, Kallis and Chanderpaul bat today?), "oh he only averaged 50" (you think it was easy to avg. 50 in those days?), "he didn't have to face the W.I. pace quartet," (you think he didn't have to earn his selection playing against them? You think they all played on the same team for First Class cricket as well?) Lol, I don't think many of the critics even listen or read what they are saying or typing. They also conveniently leave out the fact that he was MILES AHEAD of his generation IN ODI's! Or that he had a better record as Captain even though his team was not considered better that Clive Loyd's line up! There is nothing wrong with criticism BUT put some effort and thought into it before you post on website!

  • Varnendra on February 23, 2010, 16:09 GMT

    Gavaskar was too slow in scoring runs to be considered a great player; Zaheer Abbas was hyped for sometime but when he faced Australia or West Indies especially away from home he froze; Greg Chappel needed too long to get going like old cars; I did not see Gream Pollock and Barry Richards; they may deserve to compare with Viv Richards; Tendulkar has always looked 2nd best to Lara; and Lara would fail a whole series. Only Bradman can be considered better than Viv; also when Viv decided to play an innings with straight bat - occassionally - even Gavaskar's bat looked angled and shallow; when Lillee - Richards equivalent in Bowling - was firing at over 90 mph Richards made him look like a medium pacer; see the WI vs Australia 1978/79 series; he batted at 3 or above between 1975 and 1981; but surely Richards makes no friends with his words; he is a little less in the upstairs!!! you would have felt that when he captained WI; the results were due to the fact he inherited a great team.

  • varun on February 23, 2010, 15:50 GMT

    @ian_ghose - y dont u step back and see all the messages. Who started to take other batsmen like SRT,SG, Viru, etc names? You throw stones on us and expect us to take hits n lie down. 'There are many things to cricket which are greater than Tendulkar, Gavaskar and India put together' - that one line is more than enough to understand how much hate you have against us. I haven't seen Viv play or SG play or bradman play, so I dont know how stylist or how great they were - they must have been awesome. I rem'ber SG talking abt Viv and his praise for Viv's style of play so Viv must hv been really cool to watch. We appreciate good things but when someone takes names of our idols when it wan't even about 'em - you cant expect us NOT to reply.

    @ NEUTRAL_FAN - comeup with better name, on one hand, you take Viru's name in your first comment and then trying to teach others in 2nd comment - talk abt being neutral - lol. @SatyajitM - very sensible comment, cheers! Lets see if my comment is posted.

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