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Captaining Border, drinking with Viv

What's it like to have Richards buy you birthday beers?

Michael Jeh
Michael Jeh
Was Grumpy more amenable when playing under a club cricketer?  •  Fairfax Media via Getty Images

Was Grumpy more amenable when playing under a club cricketer?  •  Fairfax Media via Getty Images

Growing up as a cricket-obsessed kid in Colombo, my childhood hero was Allan Border. When he toured Sri Lanka in the early 1980s, I recall feeling so privileged to have been sitting nearby as he walked down the steps at the P Sara Stadium, barely touching distance away. Dream come true. Could it get any better?
Many years later, in Sri Lanka and India on a cricket tour that doubled up as a trade mission for the Queensland Government, I captained a team that included AB. The team also included James Hopes. We played against a young Upul Tharanga, Robin Uthappa and Shikhar Dhawan. By then, despite having played alongside AB in club cricket for many years, it was still surreal to cheekily banish my childhood idol to third man while I assumed captaincy privileges at first slip!
In the Australian film The Castle, the larrikin lead character kept saying "That's going straight to the pool room" when referring to something special. The team photo from that tour of India and Sri Lanka sits proudly in my pool room to this day, a reminder of the time when a complete "nuffie" like myself strode alongside his boyhood hero. My sons gaze upon that picture in awe, and I pretend to be nonchalant as I point to the photo that sits alongside.
It captures me at the top of my bowling action, bowling to a batsman whose unmistakable stance, posterior sticking out at a jaunty angle, can only be one person - Sir Vivian Richards.
Oxford University v Glamorgan at The Parks. The faster I bowled, the further it went. The wicketkeeper even stood up to the stumps to stop Viv from walking at me, but it mattered not. They kept disappearing.
Imagine my excitement then when I overheard Richards confiding to his batting partner, Matthew Maynard (who, by the way, savaged me even more brutally than Sir Viv did) that perhaps one of the other batsmen needed some match practice - it being an early-season outing for Glamorgan - and that perhaps he should walk past one.
I distinctly recall him saying, "This Jeh boy - he trying hard, man. He deserve a wicket." My heart leapt. Imagine telling this story to my (yet unborn) sons. The day their old man cleaned up Viv Richards with that unplayable ball (no mention, of course, of the mid-pitch conversation about throwing it away).
And then Maynard, that damn impertinent Welshman, the man who might as well have killed Bambi, told Richards that the next batsman actually had a headache and didn't really fancy batting today. Just like that, with "Okay man, I just keep batting then", possibly the biggest moment of my unremarkable career disappeared before me.
Barely an hour later, weeping over a solitary beer at the King's Arms pub in Oxford (as a student, a solitary beer was about all I could afford), I heard a deep voice behind me. "What you drinking, Jeh man? Let me buy the beers tonight. No one should have figures of 0 for 150 on their birthday, man." April 21, 1993. My most memorable birthday: Viv Richards buying me beers all night. I'd rather he missed the straight one, though. I can drink beer any day!
At the other end of the spectrum, checking into a hotel for an MCC match with one of my best mates, Dirk Viljoen of Zimbabwe, I got my own back on these damn Test cricketers. Who do they think they are anyway, playing international cricket while duffers like me tried just as hard and got nowhere?
So, having checked in, we raced each other up the stairs to try and secure the double bed. I'd started in pole position, so Viljoen was never in the hunt. As I plonked my bag on the double bed, I pointed somewhat ungraciously to the tiny single alongside.
Viljoen, cheeky, impertinent little sod that he was (and still is), never respectful of his elders, tried to pull rank. A shameless act really from a young pup. "Senior player always gets the double bed, mate," he proclaimed. "How many Tests have you played?"
At that point he had played one solitary Test, so he outranked me. Even with one Test, that was always going to be 100% more than I could ever dream of. But little did he know that I was not one to surrender my creature comforts that easily.
"Okay Dirk, you've got me there. I will give the double bed to anyone in this room who has scored more Test runs than me. Oh sorry, I forgot… you got a pair, didn't you?"
I slept like a baby that night in my big double bed.

Michael Jeh is an Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, and a Playing Member of the MCC. He lives in Brisbane