He chews gum and strolls out to the middle amid deadening silence and wild cheers. His swagger and confidence grows with every step, instilling fear in the opposition ranks. The deadening silence is of his opponents questioning, why did we rid ourselves of Desmond Haynes and Gordon Greenidge? The cheers are from eager fans waiting to see Viv Richards surgically dissect the opposition without any mercy.
He takes guard rather unassumingly. He looks at the bowler in the eye. The fielders crouch timidly and the Master Blaster gets ready. With each stride of the bowler, the fielders' hearts stutter.
Arguably, Viv Richards is the most destructive batsman to have played the game. I wish T20 cricket had sprung up in his days. Viv would have made them 'grovel'. Tony Greig had sounded a warning of how England wanted to make West Indies 'grovel' during the series. In the end, England were left crawling on their knees. Five Tests and three ODIs later, England had not broken the duck. Two draws, six straight losses and 0 wins.
Viv Richards, 24 then, slammed three centuries and two fifties in seven innings for a West Indian series record of 829 runs and 145 short of Don Bradman's all-time record. Bradman's record would probably be Richards' had he not missed the second Test because of injury or if he had got a chance to bat in the second innings of the fifth Test.
Today, March 7, 2015 marks the 63rd birthday of Viv Richards. He was as destructive a batsman in Tests as he was in ODIs, perhaps even more. Test cricket has witnessed Donald Bradman, Len Hutton, Ricky Ponting, Garry Sobers, Sachin Tendulkar and Kumar Sangakkara. Viv Richards, though, still stands as a cut above the rest.
Coming to ODIs, there has been none better then or since, the recent feats of AB de Villiers, Virat Kohli and Hashim Amla notwithstanding. Viv played the finest innings I have seen in ODIs. West Indies were reeling at 102 for 7 against England at Old Trafford in 1984. Viv took control and played a blinder - 189* off 170 balls - even as wickets kept tumbling. He struck 93 in a tenth-wicket partnership of 106 with Michael Holding as West Indies powered to 272 and went on to win the game by a thumping margin.
A famous story is told of his days playing with Ian Botham at Somerset when Glamorgan seamer Greg Thomas beat Viv thrice in three balls. Thomas, being cheeky, reiterated a description of the ball to Viv: "that's called the ball - its red, its round, and weighs about five ounces; you're supposed to hit it, in case you were wondering".
Viv was fired up. He came down the track and smashed the next ball out of the park, some say it it went into the sea. He leisurely strolled down the pitch and threw a reply to Thomas: "Greg, you know what it looks like, now go find it."
Viv retired from the game with staggering numbers. He amassed 8,540 runs Test runs to add to 6721 ODI runs.. He is one of only four non-Englishmen to have scored a century of centuries in first-class cricket.
However, Viv was not a man for records. His desire was to dominate the opposition. Here's wishing the great Viv Richards a very happy birthday. Oh how I wish you were 24 again, strolling out to the middle like a god and making mortals quiver.
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