Essays, reflections and more

You came, I saw, you conquered

Gum-chewing, ball-thwacking, awe-inspiring superstar Viv Richards is sixty today

Sriram Dayanand

March 7, 2012

Comments: 68 | Text size: A | A

Viv Richards relaxing with a cold drink after his 291, England v West Indies, 5th Test, 2nd day, The Oval, August 13, 1976
Back in '76: Richards after his 291 at The Oval © Getty Images
Enlarge
Related Links
Features : All hail the king
Interviews : 'I felt I was an artist'
The Best I've Watched : Caesar returns triumphant
My Favourite Cricketer : Emperor, empowerer
Players/Officials: Sir Viv Richards
Teams: West Indies

Sixty.

That would be around the time the opposition shook themselves out of their discombobulated stupor and contemplated the reality of their situation. Or the hopelessness. You blazed up to and past that number nonchalantly oh so often. You were never one for the numbers, were you?

Sixty today. In the theatre of life. Sixty candles to blow out. Hope you remember to lose the gum you've been chewing before you do. The gum that accompanied the swagger. The swagger that spooked out teams; that prefaced the gaze you trained on the bowler at the top of his run-up. Looking into his eyes as you patted down random spots on the pitch, having just taken guard. Sending chills down the spines of all who were watching. Starting with that day in Bangalore.

It wasn't just your debut, it was mine too. I had never watched a cricket match in the flesh till then. It would be the day scrambled myths in an impressionable mind met reality - the sea of faces, the green grass and the magical figures in whites. I still cannot believe my luck that you were one of the first cricketers I set eyes upon. On my very first day of watching cricket! Yes, we were veritably blessed in Bangalore. Also four years later, when I watched Macko bowl his first ball in Test cricket.

I grew up with you. Ventured forth into cricket with your shadow over me. "De cricket is dead man. Wake myself up when Smokey start to bat," was Big Bird's purported request in the pavilion before dozing off. You sure did wake me up to cricket, and for that I owe you. After Bangalore, you widened my eyes a week later in Delhi and then grabbed me around the shoulders and took me on the journey of my life.

I never dreamt of batting like you in street-side cricket matches, you know. Your feats seemed so out of reach. But I did try to chew gum like you. Even wanted to sweat like you. Beads of sweat that clung to the brow and forearms like drops of oil. Sweat that made those muscular shoulder blades sheen through your white shirt. Lillee had his one-finger windshield wiper to flick the sweat off his brow. You deployed your biceps and forearms. But you did flick Lillee right off your brow, into the stands, with your Slazenger. Thommo and Lenny too.

Ah, Lenny. Who once stopped inches from your face after sending one whizzing past the regal nose - and traced out a crucifix on your forehead. And you followed him all the way back to the top of his endless run-up. To brandish your fist in his face, glowering. Then walked briskly back to the crease to smash him straight for six the very next ball. "He destroyed you physically, mentally and emotionally," Lenny was to say later. You were all deeds; words and theatrics you dispensed with. "My bat is my sword," you said.

Antigua, I missed out on. And Old Trafford too. I went mad reading the match reports. It was agonising that I had not lived them as they occurred. I was intensely jealous of those who were fortunate to be there. I felt cheated. For I had a stake in you that entitled me, I thought. Proceeded to wear out a VHS tape of that innings - watching you plant your foot three feet outside the leg stump as you bludgeoned Willis and Beefy into the stands at cover. Lord's 1983; again the fates conspired. The TV signal blacked out nationwide during your manhandling of Madan Lal. But I do admit, that was probably the only time in my life I prayed that you failed miserably.

 
 
I never dreamt of batting like you in street-side cricket matches, you know. Your feats seemed so out of reach. But I did try to chew gum like you
 

You were to become the "you" in YouTube. I turned scavenger when it arrived. Was there a backlog or what. Endless nights spent searching for imagery to accompany your music in my head. You had unfurled mainly in crackly sound when it all happened. Television was non-existent in Bangalore then. It was the BBC, the ABC and good old All India Radio we had to cope with. Late nights, Cozier, Arlott, Johnston, Benaud and McGilvray.

"Huccha, huccha," ("Lunatic, lunatic" in Kannada) my grandfather would splutter as I sat grasping the antenna on that shortwave radio way past bedtime, cajoling out an audible signal. But he always sat down to listen, didn't he? Eyes closed. Awaiting.

To this day, I look for the scores of Somerset during the season. Still get a kick out of them beating up on any other county. You did that to me. Not Sunny. Beefy and you (and Big Bird too) together as teenagers there. Rabble rousers, the two of you, especially out in the middle. Ah, Beefy. The times he got into dust-ups in pubs, trying to take out everyone in sight after hearing a racial epithet hurled in your direction. Even tried to climb into the stands seething at a yobbo with a coloured mouth once.

You even made me a fan of Jeffrey Archer. Not for his books, just for siring a son who would make a memorable observation about you during the Brixton race riots. Much later I would read Lester Bird, your prime minister, say, "Richards represented that touchstone: he was the embodiment of an opportunity for a whole nation to be galvanised for a single purposeā€¦ he personified what we perceived ourselves to be: young dynamic and talented, but yet unrecognised in the world."

I would read Michael Manley too. And Hilary Beckles. Lap up Bunny Wailer's tales. Bristle and sneer at David Frith for haranguing on about your Rastafari wrist-band. The one Bob Marley gave you. And oh, Bob! You were intertwined in his music irretrievably for me. You were Burnin'. Your every rumble was a Rastaman Vibration. You even shot the sheriff, and his deputies, in 1976.

I spot you now and then these days behind the glass in some pavilion out yonder - hands clasped behind back, the same smouldering eyes - watching your team impassively. Legacy is an oft-misused word in sport. But what you left behind and is being tarnished now is much more than a legacy. If only they would take an iota of it to heart, wonders could ensue.

Enough of that. This is a special day.

It may be mighty presumptuous of me as I say these words. But I still do feel like I am entitled, can still claim to have a stake in you. That first ball you faced in Bangalore under my gaze validates my right to say this. Sixties are nothing to you, Viv. A number you never really cared for. You just go on, you emperor.

Shine on.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by vivek464 on (March 9, 2012, 2:46 GMT)

My West Indian Coaches here in the states always tell me, Viv Richards. Great Maan. Their list of batsmen is always: 1. Gavaskar 2. Richards 3. Tendulkar/Lara (Some reason, many don't like Lara). ANywasy, Happy B'Day Viv. Long Live the KIng

Posted by   on (March 8, 2012, 16:53 GMT)

one of my favourite . many happy returns of the day viv!! no modern batsman can even hold a candle to u!!

Posted by mamboman on (March 8, 2012, 10:54 GMT)

Incomparable. Utterly incomparable. he was mighty in his pomp and he was terrifying in his pomp. Whats often forgotten about him as the spell he had at Queensland in 1976 - flogging a sixer out of the old Gabba onto the roof of the tyre depository across the road. This guy was the real deal and then some, not one of the media confections that pass as great batsmen today.

Posted by KiwiRocker- on (March 8, 2012, 8:38 GMT)

Only Sehwag: NEVER ever compare Sehwag to the Great King..This is highly disrespectful. Sehwag has been dropped out of Indian team- There was Only one real King....The one who conquered all and won over hearts. King Richards did not play for himself but he played for his peaople..He was humble and gracious even in defeats. Sehwag is an over rated flat track, flat footed bully who will be forgotten by 2014.

Posted by timmyw on (March 8, 2012, 4:59 GMT)

I just commented on an article that was arguing about who was the best modern great. In my opinion, none of them hold a candle to this man. I agree, second to Bradman! Happy birthday Viv, one day I will get your autograph!

Posted by   on (March 8, 2012, 4:24 GMT)

Remember the times when we'd pray that Kapil Dev did not pick up Haynes' or Greenidge's wicket by fluke so that we'd not have Viv to smash the ball everywhere? I miss those times.

Posted by   on (March 8, 2012, 2:51 GMT)

Evocative! Full of yearning...keep them coming

Posted by Gerry_the_Merry on (March 8, 2012, 2:06 GMT)

Alexander the Conqueror. Nay, Alexander the Emperor. Issac Vivian Alexander Richards.

Posted by only_sehwag on (March 8, 2012, 1:53 GMT)

only sehwag can come close to Sir Richards !!!

Posted by rett on (March 8, 2012, 0:27 GMT)

Happy birthday Champ! One aspect of Viv that is rarely noted is his generosity off the field. At an extremely crowded book signing in Sydney he spotted my grandmother waiting in the very long queue. He called her to the front of the line and spent several minutes chatting to her. The Viv poster on her wall assumed an even greater importance after that day.

Comments have now been closed for this article

FeedbackTop
Email Feedback Print
Share
E-mail
Feedback
Print

    Top dog of the underdogs

My Favourite Cricketer: Jack Russell brought a neatness to the keeper's art that was matched by his meticulous scruffiness in other regards. By Scott Oliver

    Rewarding times for Hashim Amla

Numbers Game: The rate at which he has accumulated ODI hundreds and MoM awards is among the fastest in history

'Ponting was an instinctive, aggressive player'

Modern Masters: Rahul Dravid and Sanjay Manjrekar discuss Ricky Ponting's technique

    MacLeod spells hope for Scotland

Allrounder Calum MacLeod's return from a faulty action is key to Scotland's World Cup hopes. By Tim Wigmore

How boring is boring cricket?

Probably not as much as boring periods in the likes of rugby, football and tennis, Russell Jackson thinks

News | Features Last 7 days

Manic one-day chases, and daddy partnerships

Also, most brothers in a Test XI, and the fastest to 20 ODI centuries

Has international cricket begun to break up?

The gap between the haves and the have-nots is growing wider, and the disenchantment is forcing a devaluation of Test cricket among weaker teams

Well worth the wait

Zulfiqar Babar missed five seasons between his first two first-class matches, and was 34 when he finally made his Test debut, but he is quickly making up for all the lost time with his artful left-arm spin

Younis Khan and the art of scoring hundreds

Out of 70 batsmen who've scored 15 or more Test hundreds only five are from Pakistan, but Younis Khan's appetite for hundreds matches that of some of the top contemporary batsmen

Australia outdone in every way

Surviving into the final session of the last day cannot disguise the fact that Australia's continued inability to play spin contributed to an all-round thrashing

News | Features Last 7 days

    Has international cricket begun to break up? (83)

    The gap between the haves and the have-nots is growing wider, and the disenchantment is forcing a devaluation of Test cricket among weaker teams

    Lyon low after high of 2013 (51)

    The offspinner was Australia's highest wicket-taker in 2013, but his form has dipped sharply this year

    Australia outdone in every way (51)

    Surviving into the final session of the last day cannot disguise the fact that Australia's continued inability to play spin contributed to an all-round thrashing

    Well worth the wait (36)

    Zulfiqar Babar missed five seasons between his first two first-class matches, and was 34 when he finally made his Test debut, but he is quickly making up for all the lost time with his artful left-arm spin

    No Ajmal, no problem for Pakistan (33)

    When a team loses its best bowler, it is expected that the team's performance will suffer. As usual, Pakistan defied the expectations