CRICKETER OF THE YEAR 1992

Richie Richardson

For the West Indies on their 1991 tour of England, the satisfactions were not so numerous as usual. Carl Hooper developed a measure of consistency, and Curtly Ambrose was as accurate as fast hostility can be, but nobody made a great leap forward--nobody, that is, except their No. 3 batsman, Richie Richardson. As the season went on, and he finally adapted to English conditions, the Antiguan in a maroon sunhat progressed from cold to hot like the summer itself. And in the autumn Richardson's career could also be said to have reached fruition, when he was appointed to succeed Viv Richards as captain of West Indies.

Richardson arrived in England in May with two distinct reputations. One was for being the most brilliant hard-wicket batsman of the moment. Against Australia in the immediately preceding series, he had scored 182 at Bourda in Guyana during only 70 overs at the wicket. After Australia had been dismissed for a fairly safe total of 348 on the second afternoon, Richardson blazed away at a match-winning rate until the athleticism of Australia's fielders counted for nothing, and he continued the next morning. "It was like being in a trance," Richardson recalled, "and it was one of those rare occasions when it carried on overnight." Whatever it felt like, the innings not only won the match but also, by demoralising his opponents, the series.

On the other hand was Richardson's second reputation, for being no sort of soft-wicket player. He had never done anything of note in England; and until he had done something, he was going to be denied the accolade of world-class batsman. His chances were understandably few on his first tour in 1984, for Larry Gomes was preferred for his solidity and his experience of English conditions. But in 1988, even after several seasons in English and Welsh leagues, Richardson again had a lean time, before injury cost him his place in the last two Tests. In the thoughtful, open, yet undemonstrative way that is his style, he admits that he listened to too many people advising him to push forward to stifle seam movement. By last summer he had worked out that he could still play his blazing, bottom-handed square-drives and slashes, so long as he was patient and waited for the ball to reach him. The result was that he became the leading run-maker on either side in the series and emerged as a world-class batsman, the heir to Weekes, Worrell, Walcott, Kanhai, Sobers and Richards himself as a strokeplayer of the highest quality and entertainment.

Richardson's scores through the summer tell of his advance. He made 3, 13 and 41 in the one-day internationals. In the Tests he scored 29 (run out) and 68 (top score of the innings) at Headingley; 57 and 1 at Lord's; 43 and 52 not out in the nine-wicket victory at Trent Bridge; 104 and 0 in the seven-wicket victory at Edgbaston; and 20 and 121 at The Oval. Both of his centuries were of the grafting type, though in the Fifth Test he did spurt from 85 to 99 off four balls from David Lawrence. In fact, England had to be grateful that Richardson was never offered a match situation in which he could blaze away without restraint. The failure of Phil Simmons meant that the No. 3 never had the platforms which Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes had customarily given him, and this made his advance the more creditable.

Bowlers who have been ferociously square-driven -- according to Ian Chappell, Richardson at Bourda gave the finest exhibition of square-driving since Everton Weekes -- might be surprised to learn that Richardson was a defensive batsman as a schoolboy. Born in Five Islands, Antigua, on January 12, 1962, RICHARD BENJAMIN RICHARDSON grew to be the captain of the first team at Ottos Comprehensive School, batted at No. 4 and never made a century. The circumstances, however, explain a lot: school matches in Antigua consisted of one day's play and two innings per side. In any event, he was noted by the coach, Guy Yearwood, who worked on further tightening his defence.

The strokes -- those uninhibited strokes, in which he seems to throw the kitchen sink as well as everything else at the ball -- were developed in the nets and in the middle, when Richardson, initially an opening batsman for the Leeward Islands, found that a succession of fast bowlers gave him few chances to score conventionally. He learnt to use the hook as a most productive stroke, especially on West Indian grounds with their short boundaries, but circumspectly. Yet he has never worn a helmet or a chest protector to date, like his strokeplaying predecessors of yore, but like Viv Richards alone among contemporary Test players.

However, there has been another quality in Richardson's cricket, in addition to his batting and the excitement which it can generate. On his Test début, against India in 1934-84, he hit his second ball into his pad, and after an orchestrated appeal by the close fielders, supported by much of Bombay, he was given out leg-before. It was a forlorn figure who walked back to the pavilion, not a petulant one; and ever after Richardson has been as sportsmanlike as any of his peers. While batting, or in the slips, he has not indulged in those marginal practices which have made a code of conduct necessary. "Fairness comes from within," says Richardson, whose upbringing was informed with his family's Christianity, and so far he has suited the action to the word.

When Richards broke a finger on the first day of the 1989-90 domestic season, Richardson took over the captaincy of the Leeward Islands until Richards's return, for the final game. By then, winning their first four matches, the Leewards has already claimed their first title in the history of the Red Stripe Cup, or the Shell Shield as it had previously been. Enjoying the responsibility after early nerves, Richardson was the leading run-scorer in the competition, with an aggregate of 421 runs at 70.16. And while he was fortunate to have two experienced bowlers in Ambrose (his room-mate on West Indian tours) and Eldine Baptiste, Leeward islands teams had boasted greater talents in the past without translating their potential into victory.

It might have been politically expedient if Desmond Haynes, as a Barbadian, had taken over from Richards as the West Indian captain, if only as an interregnum between the two Antiguans. But the West Indian Board was sufficiently impressed by Richardson's attributes to invest in him, just as he has prudently invested for the future in a duty-free shop and a sports store in the Antiguan capital of St John's. By the age of 29 the man in the maroon sunhat had become an outstanding batsman. He also had it in him to become an outstanding leader.

© John Wisden & Co
 
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