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Caesar returns triumphant

The greatest cricketer of his generation, and the moment of his fulfillment

Scyld Berry
Richards: 56 balls of pure class  •  Adrian Murrell/Getty Images

Richards: 56 balls of pure class  •  Adrian Murrell/Getty Images

It was not a great innings. England's bowling consisted of honest seam, on a pitch at the Antigua Recreation Ground which offered not the slightest seam movement, and orthodox finger-spin. But the fastest Test hundred ever recorded in terms of balls received was an historic occasion - because it was the moment that saw the fulfillment of the greatest cricketer of his generation, Viv Richards.
Everything was set up for him. West Indies had a large first-innings lead on which they wanted to build. England were already 0-4 down in the series and mentally pummelled from pillar to post by the great West Indian fast bowlers. Richards strolled out, had a couple of sighters, then drove, flicked and whipped the ball as he pleased. If there was any element of doubt in his innings, it was whether he would hit a four or a six. In 56 balls he had his hundred.
The extraordinary, and forever memorable, feature of his innings was the way he walked off at the end. It was Caesar returning to Rome after his greatest triumph. Nobody rolled a red carpet out on to the field, but it would have been superfluous. All eyes were on Richards as he returned to the pavilion, and he paused - and batsmen don't normally stop on their way back to the pavilion - and he looked, and he took in the whole scene. For he had created so much of what he then saw.
Richards put Antigua on the map. He brought Test cricket to the island in 1981 - an island of 80,000 inhabitants. Long after Stanford has come and gone, Antigua will be associated with Sir Vivian Richards. A measure of what he achieved is the decline of cricket in Antigua and the West Indies since he ceased to play. The fastest hundred, on his own home ground, was the moment of his fulfillment.

Scyld Berry is the editor of the Wisden Almanack