In a league of his own
There are very few batsmen about whom it can be said that their impact on the game was greater than the sheer weight of the numbers they achieved. Viv Richards was surely one of them.
This isn't to say his stats aren't impressive - a Test aggregate of 8540 at an average of 50.23 and an ODI average of 47 at a strike rate of 90 are outstanding numbers in any era, and more so during an age when bowling attacks and conditions were far more challenging than they have been over the last decade. Over and above these numbers, though, was the manner in which Richards approached the game: his swagger and sheer presence at the crease unnerved the best bowlers. He revolutionised the art of batting during his era, with his sheer aggression and the intent to dominate bowling attacks. That he achieved such outstanding stats despite this approach speaks volumes for his skill with bat in hand.
Richards scored only seven runs in two innings on his Test debut in Bangalore in 1974, but an undefeated 192 in the next Test was an emphatic way to announce himself on the world stage. The next year was disappointing, but that only slightly delayed his reign on the world stage. Nineteen-seventy-six was his watershed year: he scored 1710 runs, including a remarkable 829 in the series in England despite missing one Test match. This aggregate in a calendar year remained a record till it was surpassed by Mohammad Yousuf in 2006. Richards made two double-hundreds in that England series, which included his personal best of 291 at The Oval, as West Indies trounced England 3-0. In World Series Cricket he was the best batsman on view against top-quality fast bowling, scoring over 1200 runs at an average of almost 60.
His average dropped marginally over the next five years after 1980, but he scored centuries in 10 out of 12 series between 1980 and 1986. His form fell away drastically towards the end of his career, though, and he averaged only slightly over 36 in his last 19 Tests, with just one century and 10 fifties. Over this period his career average dropped from 52.88 to 50.23.
Richards' best years were between 1976 and 1988. In 92 Tests during this period he scored 22 hundreds and was the only batsman to average more than 55 (among those who scored more than 4000). That was an era when several all-time greats were around - Greg Chappell, Allan Border, Sunil Gavaskar and Javed Miandad are all listed in the table below - but Richards' average was marginally higher than theirs (though he obviously didn't have to face his own bowlers, who were easily the most fearsome attack during that period). He averaged more than 50 in 13 out of the 23 series he played during this period.
The table below summarises Richards' career series averages. Of the 29 series he played, 14 times he averaged more than 50, and less than 30 on just seven occasions, most of them coming either during the early years or at the end.
|Total no. of series||Ave > 70||Ave between 50-70||Ave between 40-50||Ave between 30-40||Ave < 30|
Of the 24 Test hundreds he scored, 12 were in wins. Between 1974 and 1991, which is when Richards played his 121 Tests, only Greenidge scored more centuries in wins. Richards also averaged nearly 54 with six centuries in away wins. Unlike some batsmen who struggle to score in the last innings of Tests, his stats were remarkably consistent over the four innings of a match: his average in the first innings of matches was 53, while his average in the fourth innings was nearly 48, which represents one of the lowest variations among top batsmen. (Click here for his career summary.)
Richards saved his best for England, against whom he scored 2869 runs at an average of over 62 with eight centuries. Among those who've scored at least 2000 runs against England, only Don Bradman has a higher average. Richards also leads the list of batsmen with the mosthundreds against India - he added seven more to the century he scored in his second Test. His most destructive knock against them, though, was arguably in Kingston in 1983, when he scored a rapid 61 off 36 balls to lead West Indies to an unlikely win; his fifty came off just 32 balls in that innings.
Richards batted at various positions during his career but was at his best at the pivotal No. 3 spot. Of all the batsmen who've played a minimum of 50 innings in that position, only Bradman and Wally Hammond have a higher average.
In the 1985-86 home series against England, which West Indies won 5-0, Richards smashed the fastest Test century, off just 56 balls, in Antigua, which remains the quickest in terms of balls faced. He stands fourth on the all-time list of batsmen with the most sixes in Tests.
Richards took over the West Indies captaincy following Clive Lloyd's retirement in 1985 and led them in 50 Tests, winning 27 and losing 15, but more importantly he didn't lose a single series. Among captains who have led in a minimum of 50 Tests, Richards' record as captain is next only to Steve Waugh's and Ricky Ponting's.
Richards' style of batting suited one-day cricket perfectly. He set himself apart from the rest of the top batsmen of his era with his exceptionally quick scoring in a period where the average rate was much lower. The table below compares the strike rates of top batsmen between 1975 and 1991. Richards was by far the most dominant of the lot, and among players to have scored more than 2000 runs in ODIs, he still remains the only batsman to average more than 40 and possess a strike rate of over 90.
|Batsman||Matches||Runs||Average||Strike rate||% better than average SR for period (65.92)|
Richards played 187 ODIs in all, but only 33 of those were in the West Indies. On the other hand, he played more than twice that number in Australia, where he scored 2769 runs in 73 matches. He was by far the finest overseas batsman in Australia between 1975 and 1991.
Throughout his ODI career, Richards was the man for the big occasion. He scored a brilliant unbeaten 138 in the 1979 World Cup final, and played several crucial knocks on major occasions. His overall ODI record and performance in World Cups and finals is summarised below. He averages the highest among batsmen who have scored over 1000 runs in World Cup matches.
In the 1984 series against England, Richards made an extraordinary unbeaten 189 out of a total of 272, which is still the highest percentage contribution to a completed team innings. He shared a last-wicket stand of 106 with Michael Holding, which is a record for the 10th wicket. In fact, West Indies did not lose a single ODI when Richards scored a century.
While batting was clearly his best suit, Richards was also a more-than-useful contributor with the ball, especially in ODIs. He picked up 99 wickets at an average of 32.05 and an economy rate of 4.43; against India his 33 wickets came at fewer than 20 runs apiece. In 1987 against New Zealand, he became the first player to score a century and pick up four wickets in an ODI.
Richards has the astonishing record of winning 31 Man-of-the-Match awards in just 187 games, which is one award every six games, easily the highest among all players to win more than 25 awards. The table below summarises this record for the top players and clearly establishes Richards as one of the greatest match-winners in ODIs.
|Player||Total Matches||MoM awards||Matches per award|