“In an age where aggressive batting was as scarce as hen’s teeth, Richards stood as an epitome of the word with his incredible abilities with the bat”.
The name defines the real sense of the word “swagger”. When he walked in, you could see the desperation in the eyes of the opposition captain and bowlers. He would be chewing a gum, swivelling his arms ever so slowly, all the while holding a fixed, unwavering gaze.
If Curtly Ambrose decimated teams with his stare, Richards showed he meant business with his deadly glare. He would take guard, tap the pitch in front of him while ensuring to take a long, lingering look at the bowler. Arguably the most devastating batsman of all time, Richards brought a sense to the word elegance in cricket.
Long before the Sachin Tendulkars, Virat Kohlis and AB de Villiers’ roamed the earth with a willow, Sir Vivian Richards ruled the roost amongst vehement, passionate fans of the game. He was unanimously loved, admired and adored. Possibly the first time in cricket the word “superstar” was associated with a player was when Richards weaved his magic with his elan and class. Before him, batsmen were either sturdy, reliable or defensive.
Richards, much like Virender Sehwag did to Test cricket later, revolutionised the way the game was played. “My bat is my sword,” says Richards and he proved every word of that over an illustrious career where his stardom reached insane heights.
In his 17 year career, Richards never once wore a helmet. He didn’t have to. Bowlers dared not bounce Richards.
During the 1976 tour of England, the West Indian was smacked flush on his head by a bumper. By the time the bowler had reached his bowling mark, Viv was up and ready and staring into his eyes without a blink of the eyelid. Next ball was pulled disdainfully for a six and he was back to what he does best.
In an age where aggressive batting was as scarce as hen’s teeth, Richards stood as an epitome of the word with his incredible abilities with the bat. A strike rate of over 90 in ODIs at a time when 70s were the norm speaks volumes about the greatness of Richards. To put things into perspective, Sunil Gavaskar boasted of a rate of 62.26. Modern giants like Virat Kohli had a less than 90 strike rate until a year ago while Rohit Sharma still hovers in the mid-80s. Remember we are talking decades after the retirement of the West Indian.
Richards made his first-class debut in 1971 when he was still only 19 years of age and ruled the cricketing world for the next two decades. He made an appearance in four World Cups and won two of them. Captaincy eventually came to Richards and he led the incredibly powerful West Indian side of the 80s in 50 Test matches and is to-date the only Caribbean skipper captain to not lose even a single Test series.
With 8,540 runs in 121 matches at an average of 50.23 and 24 centuries, Richards’ Test record was as impressive as his ODI stats. In the shorter format, where he set a template, he compiled 6721 runs at 47.00 and smashed 11 centuries including a superb 189* which was the world record for quite some time. A handy part-time spinner, Richards had 118 ODI wickets and 32 Test scalps. He is among the four non-English batsmen to record more than a 100 centuries in first-class cricket (114). Perhaps it is his love for England that led him to breach the English record.
During his long career, Sir Vivian Richards reserved a special love for England. It all began way back in 1976 when Richards scored 829 runs in a series featuring four matches including two double hundreds. Incidentally, the mountain of runs was a slap in the face for England skipper, Tony Greig, who had said that they would make the Windies players ‘grovel’.
That year Richards was in pristine touch and amassed 1710 runs in 11 Tests at a breathtaking average of 90. He also racked up the highest individual score in ODIs against England, an epic innings of 189*, still considered as one of the greatest ODI innings’ of all time.
The belligerence reached insane levels when he registered the fastest century in Tests off a mere 56 balls in Antigua against his favourite team, England. His ton in the 1979 World Cup final won him the man of the match award and helped West Indies to back to back World Cup wins. Fittingly, his last Test and ODI came against England in England.
The elegant Sir Vivian Richards was an adored gentleman in the game where the word means volumes. Legend has it that he was offered a blank cheque way back in 1984 to participate in the rebel Windies tour to the Rainbow Nation during apartheid but the beloved gentleman chose to serve his nation and set an example for upcoming youngsters pursuing a career in cricket.
He was named as one among the greatest players of the 20th century alongside the likes of Sir Don Bradman, Sir Jack Hobbs, Sir Garfield Sobers and Shane Warne in 2000 (decided by a 100-member panel).
In 2002, Wisden rightly chose him as the greatest ODI player of all-time and ranked him at 3 – behind Sir Donald Bradman and Sachin Tendulkar – in the list of greatest Test players of all-time. 27 years since his retirement, Richards still evokes memories of a time when cricket changed forever under his watchful, deadly eyes.