11 May 1998



RAY FORD asks: can Viv Richards emulate the success of his two great predecessors

First Published by: The Cricketer International, February 1986

OF LEADERS, Field-Marshal Montgomery once said `they have infectious optimism, a determination to persevere in the face of difficulties and the composure to radiate confidence when they themselves are not too certain of the outcome.Õ One would think Montgomery had known Clive Lloyd personally, but what about Vivian Richards?

Even prior to the press release back in February 1985 which announced that he would be leading the West Indies in their home series against New Zealand, an air of speculation clouded the Caribbean cricketing fraternity. Was Richards worthy of LloydÕs office?

An early omen came last year when the respected regional journalist `RedsÕ Pererra appealed to all West Indians to abandon insularity and support LloydÕs successor - whoever that might be. Then there was the much celebrated dressing-room incident in Antigua, in which a Guyanese reporter suggested that no small-island player should succeed Clive Lloyd. In addition to that, while the west Indies were on tour in Australia in January 1985, the Jamaican columnist Jimmy Carnegie quietly politicked in one of his Sunday articles that Michael Holding and not Vivian Richards was more deserving of the Clive Lloyd mantle.

Then at last somebody was audacious enough to address the situation head on. Tony Becca, another Jamaican journalist, in March 1985 finally made these observations: `fans think he is arrogant, the establishment finds his discipline wanting, some players fear he wonÕt be LloydÕs avatar and the WICB is uncomfortable with his apparent Rastafarian beliefsÕ.

Sullied by such criticism, Richards might well be on his way to greatness. Remember Frank Worrell? He too was branded arrogant, and what about Ian Chappell? He too was labeled undisciplined. Yet both were among the best at the task.

And what does Richards make of all this? Seemingly piqued by his lengthy apprenticeship, in the Trevor McDonald biography, he intones that `they might be searching for a blue-eyed blond boy whose hair shakes in placeÕ - a suspicion that was not entirely ludicrous. The calendar has moved along, but some sentiments will never be altogether abandoned. West Indian communities, though producing some of the sharpest minds, are yet to totally relinquish the colonial mentality. If you are ever privileged to talk with some of those who played first-class cricket in the Ô40s and Ô50s, you will invariably hear who had to carry whose gear on tour or whose career was blighted simply because his color was wrong. All this aside, Richards is the most prepared to lead the West Indies at this time.

On the field he is tactically sound. At Test level, he had deputized a few times before his first full series though in the Second Test against Australia staged in Port-of-Spain in 1984, his stewardship came under fire. In the one-day matches he seems more at ease and can match wits with the Chappells and the Brearleys. Like it or not, these `pyjamas partiesÕ are contributing more and more to the coffers and Richards is not about to stem that financial flow.

To say that he is arrogant is picayune. Of course he has his style - the flamboyance, the cheek and the rest, but so did Sobers and Lillee and to a lesser extent, so do Kapil and Zaheer. WasnÕt that the same arrogance we lauded at the onset of his run rampage back on the onset of his run rampage back on the 1974-75 Australian tour? The fable goes that having been beaten for pace by consecutive Jeff Thomson deliveries, his mid-wicket conference with Lawrence Rowe went `Yagga (RoweÕs nickname)...itÕs me or himÕ; Richards, ever ready to challenge the best.

He is no Clive Lloyd, and we shouldnÕt expect him to be. He has to develop his own approach and the players will have to accommodate it. One good thing is that his personality is understood by the teamÕs current nucleus which has been fused since the early 1970s. In the heat of competition he can be acerbic and volatile, yet he is unfailingly unbiased in appraising his fellow players and is always sociable to his folk. In the McDonald biography he lavishly praises Joel Garner, but in one World Series encounter he wasnÕt quite as generous. Joel was having a torrid time facing up to a rejuvenated Len Pascoe. His defense was being breached and, understandably, Garner was more concerned with self-preservation than with contributing to the score sheet. After the ordeal, Richards, in his argot, commented: `Doc, imagine a big man like you fraid a de man, jus tek a step down de wicket and hoist him nuh!Õ No malice, just the drive in Richards. Every man must contribute.

In sports, cricket not excluded, intimidation plays a part and every team has its warheads. As Rod Marsh did his somersaults and Lillee belched his expletives, Gregg Chappell would stand at slip, hands folded, oblivious to the carrying-on. The behaviour is unsettling to the opposing batsmen, but thatÕs all part of the ploy. Lloyd did the same thing as Richards and Dujon at times riled the strikers. Of course, this riled the strikers. Of course, this role may no longer fit Richards and he might well consider delegating it.

`But what do they know of cricket who only cricket knowÕ the thought-provoking C. L. R. James asked. West Indies captaincy today doesnÕt end on the field. The current socio-political climate dictates that our leader is culturally aware and astute. In this respect Richards might be unparalleled. His feeling about South African excursions are cautious but firm. Yet, like Lloyd and unlike some, he diplomatically avoids hurling vitriolic criticisms at some of his former teammates who were not as strong.

On the Caribbean front, Richards has, by example, dissuaded insularity. In the early days of World Series Cricket, Mike Holding would amusingly tell of RichardsÕs liking for the Jamaican all-rounder Richard Austin. In years to follow, the Barbadian wicket-keeper David Murray was to be in his company more often than not. On cricket duty in Jamaica, Viv is often weighted with his favourite reggae albums. Lately he has been spurned in the press for wearing his red, yellow and green sweat band, but Richards explains that he is a man of Africa and the colours mean a lot him. It has to be refreshing to black people to see the captain of a renowned team unappeasingly proud of his culture.

Psychologists confirm that, in any occupation, humor plays no small part in relieving stress, and as Peter Roebuck notes in his book Slices of Cricket, Richards is hardly short of that sense. A typical working day for him might be similar to that Tuesday evening at Sabina park against Kapil DevÕs Indians.

ItÕs LloydÕs 50th time captaining the West Indies. Richards is hardly at ease. On this the last day of the rain-plagued match, he is suffering from a painful shoulder, furthermore his forehead is a little puffed having bumped it a few days before while getting off the team bus. In spite of all this he is jocular and determined to do well. In his last Test outing here against England, he disappointed as moments before lunch that Saturday he injudiciously flicked at Graham Dilley and was caught down the leg side for 15. Just before that he had promised so much by casually on-driving John Emburey well into the George Headley Stand. This time will be different.

After getting his physiotherapy, Richards takes the seat conveniently left beside Clive Lloyd at the boundary cordon. Nobody dares to enquire how he feels, yet deep inside everybody wants to know. Greenidge and Haynes in helmets, looking like twins, initially make heavy weather against Kapil and Sandhu, yet they must hurry if their side is their side is to get the 172 required to win in the allotted half an hour plus 20 overs. As Dev walks back to his mark, the bowler as usual, is fidgeting, tugging at his shirt. Richards breaks the silence by wondering aloud `Him have ants in dem or what?Õ In his ramblings, he does a Bunny Wailer impersonation, forcing a bemused Lloyd to query: `Who de hell dis Bunny Wailer be?Õ

Venkat relieves Sandhu, and Greenidge in particular, is cautious to the guile. Garner yawns and advises his emissary `de cricket dead, wake mi when Smokey start bat.Õ The chatter stops as Haynes is out. Richards snatches some gum from Jeff Dujon, meticulously sets his cap, then swaggers away, accompanied by a tumultuous applause. His classic 61 dashes IndiaÕs hopes and sets the stage for Dujon to `wristÕ AmarnathÕs full toss high into the Members Pavilion. Lloyd is jubilant.

Back at the Pegasus Hotel after the match, Richards is on his back, as usual graciously receiving his well-wishers. Suddenly his captain barges in, in a half serious mood. `Vivian RichardsÕ, he shouts, `Why werenÕt you at the reception?Õ `SkipÕ, Richards responds, `Yu is a sadist or what? Imagine a have a cocoa head and a half a hand and you talking reception?Õ Lloyd can only smile, he knows he is being `takenÕ. `AnywayÕ, Clive continues, `Your excuse is better than Desmond HaynesÕs, the boy claims he couldnÕt find a shirtÕ.

Quite frankly, itÕs hard to see where the captaincy has changed. Richards has not only been in LloydÕs crucible for the last 10 years, he has also been a student of life. One doubts if he will abandon `walking with kings while maintaining the common touchÕ.

No cause for alarm, West Indies leadership is in safe hands.