The biggest compliment to Barry Richards, in the context of the Legends of Cricket series, is the fact that he finds a place in this elite list despite having played a mere four Test matches. In those four Tests - all in a home series against Australia - Richards gave more than a glimpse of just what international world cricket was missing, but his reputation as one of the very best batsmen to ever play the game was built mostly on his exploits in first-class matches - where he played mainly for Hampshire, Natal and South Australia - and, of course, in Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket. Richards finished with a first-class tally of 28,358 runs, 80 centuries and an average of 54.74, but even these numbers don't do full justice to the sort of batsman he was. Here's a sample of some of his first-class achievements:
  • Between 1968 and 1976, when Richards played in the English county championship for Hampshire, his average in the competition was in the top 20 in each season. During this period he scored 15,607 first-class runs for the county at an average of 50.51.
  • Three times he carried his bat through a completed innings in first-class cricket, including an instance for Hampshire against Nottinghamshire in 1974, when he scored an unbeaten 225 out of a team total of only 344.
  • His highest first-class score of 356 came in 1970-71 for South Australia against Western Australia, a team whose bowling attack included Dennis Lillee, Graham McKenzie and Tony Lock. Of the 356, 325 came in one day, off a mere 322 balls, as Richards slammed 44 fours and a six. Only five players had scored more than 325 in a day in first-class cricket anywhere in the world, and Richards became the third batsman to score 300 in a day in Australian first-class history.
  • Nine times he scored a century before lunch; five of those were made on the first day of the match.
  • During his time with Natal, he scored four centuries in a season four times.
  • And then, of course, there were Richards' classy performances in World Series Cricket. His knocks in first-class cricket had made him a much sought-after name, and the deal was clinched when he went to Perth to play league cricket for Midland-Guildford in the 1976-77 season. As he confirmed later, money wasn't the main reason he signed on the dotted line: "The money was only incidental to a last opportunity to play in the company of world-class cricketers again."
    In the first of the three Supertests he played that season for WSC World XI, in Sydney, Richards got starts in both innings but couldn't convert them into huge scores, scoring 57 and 48. Then came a truly magnificent display in the second match, which justified all the hype. Opening the innings with his Hampshire team-mate Gordon Greenidge, Richards scored a wonderful 207, adding 234 for the opening wicket before Greenidge was forced to retire hurt. That brought the other great Richards, Viv, to the wicket, and for the next few hours the Australian bowlers didn't know what hit them. Viv was generally a more destructive batsman, but on this day Barry outshone him, scoring 93 in the next 90 minutes, even as Viv made only 41. When Barry finally fell, the scoreboard read 369 for 1 in 60 eight-ball overs.
    In the next Supertest, Barry made a half-century in the first innings but fell for a duck in the second as WSC World XI, chasing 272 for victory, fell 41 runs short. He finished the three matches with an aggregate of 388 runs in five innings, second only to Viv's 502. (Click here for more details.)
    In the next season there was another Richards special, this time in the final of the World Series Supertests: in a tense, low-scoring game, where neither team had scored more than 219, WSC World XI needed to score 224 in the fourth innings. Richards stamped his presence on the chase with an outstanding unbeaten 101; the next-highest score from one of his team-mates in either innings was 44. At 84 for 4 the Australians had a slight edge, but Richards took on Dennis Lillee and Gary Gilmour and ultimately led his team to a five-wicket win.
    Overall Barry Richards played only five Supertests, but he clearly left his mark - in eight innings he scored two hundreds and two fifties and averaged almost 80, which was easily the highest. Since he wasn't from Australia or West Indies he didn't play as many matches as the others, but that's hardly his fault.
    Performance of top batsmen in World Series Cricket
    Batsman Team Matches Innings Runs 100 50 Average
    Barry Richards World XI 5 8 554 2 2 79.14
    Vivian Richards West Indies and World XI 14 25 1281 4 4 55.69
    Greg Chappell Australia 14 26 1415 5 4 56.60
    David Hookes Australia 12 22 769 1 7 38.45
    Clive Lloyd West Indies and World XI 13 21 683 1 3 37.94
    Gordon Greenidge West Indies and World XI 13 23 754 1 4 35.90
    Ian Chappell Australia 14 27 893 1 5 35.72
    However, in the one-dayers, called the International Cup ODIs, Richards wasn't as successful, averaging less than 24 and scoring only two half-centuries in 19 innings. As the table below shows, though, most of the other top players didn't do much better either.
    How the major batsmen fared in the International Cup ODIs
    Batsman Matches Runs Average 100s/ 50s
    Gordon Greenidge 24 694 36.53 0/ 6
    Greg Chappell 24 705 30.65 0/ 3
    Ian Chappell 21 456 25.33 0/ 2
    Clive Lloyd 24 423 24.88 0/ 3
    Barry Richards 19 455 23.95 0/ 2
    Viv Richards 25 472 23.60 0/ 4
    Zaheer Abbas 14 266 20.46 0/ 1
    And then, of course, there was the small matter of his Test record. Richards got only seven innings to prove his class in Test cricket, but he did a pretty good job of utilising those chances. His opponents in all those four Tests were Australia, who came into the series having won their two previous ones, against West Indies at home and India in India. In South Africa, though, they were no match for the home team, and Richards did his bit to vanquish the visitors. Against a bowling attack that included Garth McKenzie, Alan Connolly and John Gleeson, Richards scored 508 runs at an average of 72.57. Only Graeme Pollock made more runs - he topped the averages with 517 runs at 73.85.
    Richards scored only 29 in his first Test innings, in Cape Town, but that was to be his lowest score, as he went from strength to strength in his next three matches. His best innings of the series came in the next Test, in Durban, when he scored an outstanding 140 off a mere 164 balls, completely dominating the Australians. Just how unstoppable he was is apparent from the fact that out of a lunchtime score of 126 for 2 on the first day, Richards' contribution was an unbeaten 94. Six more runs would have made him the fourth batsman at the time, and the fifth overall, to score a century before lunch on the first day of a Test. After lunch the South African fans were treated to some of the best strokeplay seen in the country: Richards and Pollock creamed 103 runs in the hour after the break, before Richards fell for 140. Pollock went on to score 274, and the Australians were crushed by an innings and 129 runs.
    In the next Test, Richards scored 65 and 35, before finishing off the series with knocks of 81 and 126; South Africa swept both Tests by more than 300 runs. That series could have kickstarted a phenomenal Test career. Unfortunately for cricket, South Africa's isolation meant Richards joined a select band of players to have scored a century in their last Test match.
    ESPN Legends of Cricket, Geoff Armstrong

    S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo