Barry Richards July 21, 2010

Past perfect

Trevor Chesterfield
Talent, skill, cricketing smarts and a ferocious will to achieve: the world's most romanticised player had it all

There is this fascination about batting technique that tells its own story; it is one of styles and stylists, and of how each era has produced some remarkably skilled performers. Watching half an hour of Barry Richards was as much a revelation as a revolution, and that says a lot when memories of a Len Hutton innings some 20 or more summers before on a wet Basin Reserve surface were about as perfect as anything seen. With Richards, though, it was a matter of transcending the generation gap. He carried the art a little further and added his own charisma.

Richards knew the value and significance of such essential ingredients as perfect balance and classic technique mixed with economical strokeplay and footwork to match; a combination of instinctive mental and physical prowess. Sir Donald Bradman in an interview in 1992 said that he felt Richards was equal to Hutton and Jack Hobbs.

This is an interesting comparison. The memory of watching the Durban-born Richards bat on a damp pitch with awkward bounce on a blustery Southampton afternoon in May 1969 as wickets tumbled around him still provides remarkable insight into his impressive technique. He had been equally imposing three years earlier, when he was first sighted - in the nets at the Harlequins Club in Pretoria during a course for fast bowlers. Here he had an opportunity to express his uncanny, extroverted style. In both instances he gave a free-flowing and articulate exhibition.

In 1966 he drove with the aggressive emancipation of a batsman who had matured years ahead of his time: a classical example of textbook perfection. Three years later at Southampton, a century loomed as he conquered the bowling as well as the conditions, eliminating for a time the risky cut during a heavily rain-affected day.

Richards brought to the game a new dimension with his footwork. It was modern, designed to meet the demands of the varying and ever-changing pitch conditions of the late sixties and early- and mid-seventies in England and South Africa and Australia. There are purists, though, who will debate what constitutes modern techniques; of whether Richards or that other classical stylist Hutton had the better footwork. More up to date, perhaps, is Rahul Dravid, who understands equally the importance of footwork adjustment for the surfaces of Australia and the subcontinent and England.

Throughout his career Richards' manner spoke of a temperament that entertained audiences without the need to involve domination of the Australian type, with its chauvinist overtones. His ready run-making composure was evident from his pre-pubescent years. By 1963, when he led a South African schools side to England, his thinking had become well advanced, and he had developed an uncanny ability to look at a captain's field placings and know immediately the areas where he would score his runs.

Richards brought to the game a new dimension with his footwork. It was modern, designed to meet the demands of the varying and ever-changing pitch conditions of the late sixties and early- and mid-seventies in England and South Africa and Australia

It was instinctive and not something that might come from hours of studying, from a young age, Bradman's The Art of Cricket - which Richards incidentally did nevertheless. It displayed his methodical approach to the game, and of how he was smarter than the opposition captain and the bowler.

Richards also felt defence was another expression for attack; a modern captain's ideal opener. Get runs on the board and get them quickly: force the bowler to bowl the ball in the area the batsman wants, work him around and show him who is in charge.

A good example comes from his one Test series, against Australia in early 1970. It was Richards who was ahead of his more senior batting brethren when it came to unravelling mystery spinner Johnny Gleeson, who had the ability to bowl legbreaks and offbreaks with equal facility by holding the ball between thumb and folded middle finger of the right hand. Gleeson was on early in the first Test at Newlands, and while others battled long to spot the difference, it took Richards about half an hour: it was the legbreak if you spotted the thumb and finger; it was the offbreak if the bowler displayed the index finger above the ball. Others struggled until the fourth Test to untangle the finger mystery.

Richards did not have to go in search of glory or even greatness; it was always peering over his shoulder, staring at the bowler. It came from hours of practice, until what he needed was filed in his memory bank. To this he included his own addendum, the improvisation plans that were part of his ever-developing stroke-making repertoire.

It is hard, though, to compare Richards as a Test batsman to Richards the first-class classicist. He was blessed with staggering talent and an appetite for runs. No one can be judged on four Tests and a couple of centuries against what was, at best, a mediocre Australian side led by Bill Lawry. By his own admission, Richards has not been one for records. Be that as it may, first-class statistics give him 80 centuries and a career average of 54.74.

In 1970-71 it was his contributions - with an average of 109.86 - that helped South Australia win the Sheffield Shield. It was the season where his talent was given every chance to flower, and where he scored 325 (out of 356) in a day's play against Western Australia in Perth. That was his way: think big, score fast.

This article was first published in Wisden Asia Cricket magazine

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Manoj on July 22, 2010, 23:33 GMT

    If Sir. Don Bradman himself consider Barry Richards as the best right hand opener he has ever seen, who are we to argue that? In my mind, he was by far the most technically batsman in his era, I have seen some footage and that confirms it! Period!! I can vividly remember the Masters Tournament which was held in India in 1995/96, south african masters team consists all the past greats including graeme pollock and barry only played 2 matches including the match between England masters for the 3rd position playoff. Graeme pollock was the most consistent during that tournament, so he has guarded his own legend but at that time I was a mere teen boy and I was thinking this Barry guy doesnt look like the so called genius which my father told me. Well, he proved me wrong by just ONE knock!!! He was wearing sun glasses and always smiling when facing the bowlers and just hitting straight sixes, fours, dancing down the track to almost every bowler and I was HOOKED! Scored 100 from just 98 balls!

  • mahendra on July 22, 2010, 19:43 GMT

    I saw Barry Richards dispatching Ray Illingworth over mid off for 6 playing an inside out shot in a domestic final in england in the 70's , It was awesome .Most people in that generation regarded BR as the best batsman in the world at the time .However, do you remember an equally brill batsman i.e. Graham Hick . He was so brilliant at county level that most people would have bet their houses on him suckseeding at test level . Lucky for them they didn't as they still have a roof over their heads because of it .The point i'm trying to make is he unfortunately did'nt play test cricket so we will never know .We should stop speculating.Sorry to say this but the DON was only ever tested against England.Its not his fault but is that a good enough test? I don't think so .

  • Mashuq on July 22, 2010, 18:28 GMT

    I agree entirely with Chris_P, esp about the exclusion of the WSC stats. It's a cliche that these were as tough a TEST of cricketing skill as you could get. And yet they include that farcical supertest of 2005! I defied the blacklisting of SACOS on a couple of occasions just to see Richards bat - he was simply majestic! As for Ramana Madhavpeddi, have a look at his individual feats for Hampshire in county cricket against Sobers, Bedi, Daniel etc. AND he played WSC tests against WI!

  • Srinivas on July 22, 2010, 15:56 GMT

    How unlucky we are all not to see Barry Richards in full flow!! There are very few names which comes up while talking about technique atleast in modern era, i should say Rahul Dravid is the only one whoz carrying the torch of batsmen posessing gr8 technique.

  • Chandramohan on July 22, 2010, 14:30 GMT

    @ Rajesh.NJ, either you don't know or you forgot that Bradman lost his best years to 2 World Wars... regardless, South Africa themselves consider Graeme Pollock as their Player of the last Century... I have absolutely no doubts that Barry Richards was a great cricketer... but discounting someone great to praise another great, without any data to support your views, is just being agonisingly insensitive... please do not exhibit your ignorance, even while wasting your breath, talking of what has not been...

  • Peter on July 22, 2010, 12:35 GMT

    "He never played a colored team and therefore cannot be counted as a great." I wonder who was masquerading as Andy Roberts, Joel Garner, Michael Holding, Colin Croft et al when he played against them for the World XI during WSC? And this while he played in a side that included Imran Khan & Javed Miandad? I also understand that during his coutnry stint with Hampshire he played against West Indians, Pakistanis & Indians when playing against other counties as well as forming a lethal opening batting combination with Gordon Greenidge! I wonder about the thought processes some people use before penning statements as peurile as this quote.

  • P Subramani on July 22, 2010, 11:52 GMT

    We were not fortunate to see Barry Richards partly because he played only four Tests and more importantly because of South Africa's reprehensible apartheid policy of racial discrimination as the government's policy. Just how great Barry would have been is a matter we can therefore only speculate upon. In the four Tests that he played albeit against a not too potent bowling side, he showcased his skills and has left many keen observers of the game wondering just what they may have missed. He is said to have been technically perfect with the ability to attack even the best of bowling attacks. The technically perfect players around about the same time were Martin Crowe, Andy Flower, Yusuf Yohanna, Sanjay Manjrekar and Rahul Dravid. Sanjay could not make adjustments after he failed in Australia in 92, but for which he too would have been a great. Rahul made those adjustments and showed the world that one has to use his brains also to be a great.

  • Dummy4 on July 21, 2010, 23:56 GMT

    He never played a colored team and therefore cannot be counted as a great.

  • Rajesh on July 21, 2010, 21:05 GMT

    If I were to pick an all-time Test XI one of my openers would be Barry Richards..... the other would be Sunny Gavaskar !! Cricket has been poorer on not having seen Barry Richards in full flow in the international arena.......... If only he had played enough International cricket Barry would have been spoken on par with Sir Don Bradman

  • Peter on July 21, 2010, 16:55 GMT

    The cricket world missed out on seeing a genius on the test field. No one I have seen since the height of Barry Richards has executed the total domination of quality bowling over a sustained period as this guy. The grind of county cricket took the enjoyment away from him, without the lure of testing himself against the best in the world. We saw glimpses, his only series was against Australia stamped him as the "one". A season with South Australia allowed Australian audiences to savour the genius on display against consistent high quality bowling, no doubt highlighted by his 325 runs in one day against Western Australia against an attack of Lillee, Massie & McKenzie no less! His stint in WSC only served the purpose to remind us on what we missed out on but I'll always treasure his batting, with Viv Richards, against an Aussie bowling attack, in Perth, headed by Lillee that was dealt with almost total contempt. How these games have never been denoted 1st class status defies logic.

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