Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Rolls-Royce and the Indian princes

(Picture above shows the first three Rolls-Royce cars owned by the Rajpipla royal family. Leading is a Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost 1921 carrying Maharaja Sir Vijaysinhji of Rajpipla and Governor of Bombay Sir Frederick Sykes, followed by Rolls-Royce 20 hp 1922, and Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost 1913, at Rajpipla. Photo copyright: Rajpipla Royal Family Collection).

Erstwhile royals rally to bring back
vintage Rolls-Royce sold overseas
by K.P. Narayana Kumar, The Economic Times, 16th June 2013

Indra Vikram Singh does not miss the title of “maharaja” that his ancestors enjoyed for over six centuries until their princely state was merged with the newly formed Republic of India in 1948.

(Indra Vikram Singh’s comment : As mentioned below, I feel titles are superfluous in a democratic republic, and use of them publicly is avoidable. In private, however, using titles to address elders as long as they are with us, is perfectly fine).

The Rajpipla family ruled from the banks of Narmada in Gujarat for over 600 years. The clan was counted among the wealthiest in the country around the time the republic came to life.

His grandfather Maharaja Sir Vijaysinhji is the only Indian owner to have won the richest horse race in Britain, the Epsom English Derby in 1934.

The family kitchen at the palace was as large as a huge hall where about a hundred people assisted a number of royal chefs who cooked only select dishes they had mastered.

Maharaja Sir Vijaysinhji is credited with introducing free primary education and scholarships, and setting up a civil hospital, five dispensaries and a veterinary hospital in the princely state.

The family also owned several cars out of which 11 were of Rolls-Royce marquee. Indra Vikram Singh prefers not to “revel in or flaunt the past” and does not use the title in any form of communication. The only occasion when he felt bitter about the transition into the new era was when a statue of his grandfather on a horseback in Rajpipla started being referred to as “Kala Ghoda chowk” (Black Horse junction); he promptly sought to name the circle after the former king. “I use titles only to address people out of respect and I find the usage of the titles in public to be superfluous.”

(Indra Vikram Singh’s comment : I do not feel bitter that the circle where my grandfather’s statue stands in Rajpipla was referred to as ‘Kala Ghoda Chowk’. Even the circle where Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad’s statue stands in Baroda is called ‘Kala Ghoda Chowk’. This is mainly out of lack of awareness, and the place should be named appropriately. Hence the family sought to have it named ‘Maharaja Shri Vijaysinhji Chowk’ as a homage to the Maharaja who ruled for 33 years).

Changing Times

After India won Independence and the privy purse was abolished, the Rajpipla family, like many other royals, had to sell off jewellery and land and opt for a less flamboyant lifestyle. They also had to sell their cars.

(Indra Vikram Singh’s comment : What I meant was that after the merger of princely states into the Union of India, the old system was dismantled, and a transition was made from a feudal era to the democratic era. In the process, lifestyles changed and in varying degrees possessions like property, jewellery and cars were disposed of in tune with the times).

Even as he remembers the glory of those days, Vikram Singh does not aspire to get back the entire property the family owned. “There is no way I can buy back everything we owned. If any one [among the erstwhile royal families] aspires for something like that, he would surely go mad,” he says.

(Indra Vikram Singh’s comment : It is neither possible nor desirable to buy back everything that one’s family owned. But it is wonderful to preserve whatever heritage that one can, be it properties or cars).

On the Rolls

But then the cars are something else and he is hopeful of locating at least a couple of the Rolls Royce models that used to grace the palace. Vikram Singh desperately wants to drive some of the vehicles that were used by his grandfather.

(Indra Vikram Singh’s comment : I am not ‘desperate’ to drive some of the cars that my grandfather owned, but it would certainly be nice to do so. I am already in the process of trying to locate some of the vintage cars owned by my family).

One of the Rolls Royce cars once owned by the family, a Silver Ghost, featured in the James Bond film Octopussy after it was bought by the Rajkot royal family. Legend has it that Vikram Singh’s grandfather asked for the car to be left behind at the Kolhapur palace after it was sent there to run an errand. Years later, the car changed hands twice and ended up in the hands of the Rajkot royal family.

(Indra Vikram Singh’s comment : This black Rolls-Royce Phantom II 1934 (NOT Silver Ghost) of my grandfather was eventually bought by the Udaipur royal family, and is in their collection now. It was NOT bought by the Rajkot family).

The government recently lifted a ban on import of vintage cars that has given hope to people like Vikram Singh. They can now track their cars and bring them back to India. The commerce ministry order issued in April allows people to import cars manufactured before 1950.

“I plan to collect details of Rolls Royce models that were once owned by our family. I am sure many of them are in Europe or the US. I hope to bring back at least a couple of them,” says Singh.

(Indra Vikram Singh’s comment : It would certainly be wonderful to bring back a couple of the family’s Rolls-Royce cars, particularly my grandfather’s first Silver Ghost 1913 or Silver Ghost 1921, if they are traceable).

The Luxe Quotient

Media reports suggest that India could become the world’s third largest market for luxury cars by 2020. Experts have pointed out that despite the slowing down of the automobile industry in the country, the luxury car segment is still growing in double digits However, this phenomenon of India being a market for luxury cars is not new and India has been a sought after destination for car-makers around the world even before Independence. Most accounts on India written before Independence seem to have overlooked the significance of the country as a luxury market.

According to estimates by experts, Rolls Royce has sold over 800 cars in the country during the first half of the 20th century. Some other accounts even suggest that a fifth of the 20,000 cars produced by the company before World War II were sold in India.

Although the exact number of cars sold in the country during the period may still be a mystery, evidence of the massive appeal of the Rolls Royce brand among the royals lies scattered across India. Experts aver that around 100 of these cars were sold overseas in the years before the ’70s when the government banned the export of vintage cars while another 200 to 250 are still believed to be with collectors in India.

The remaining cars, in hundreds, are believed to be scattered around the country with many of the owners not realising the actual worth of these vintage beauties .

Most car collectors have a stock of tales about how exquisite models of the Rolls Royce brand have been found in obscure garages around the country.

In a small town in Bihar, a derelict Rolls Royce with the springs bursting out of its leather upholstery has chicken eggs laid on the back seat, say Manvendra Singh Barwani and Sharada Dwivedi in The Automobiles of the Maharajas.

Another 1920 Rolls Royce originally from the royal garages of Nabha was retrieved by an Army general from a scrap dealer in Patiala.

“It lies abandoned in his garden since the transport authorities for the purpose of levying tax on the vehicle insist on an original registration certificate which doesn’t exist since the royal cars were not registered,” write the authors.

A variety of cars such as Manza, Buick, Cadillac, Pontiac and the Studebaker were used by the royal families. However, the Rolls Royce seemed to have interested them most and it was common for the families to own multiple cars of the brand.

Royal Connections

While the Rolls Royce seemed to have lent glamour to the Maharajas, they in return have provided the brand a place in history. In 1935, the Maharaja of Patiala is known to have returned to India with eight Rolls Royce cars. The Maharaja of Bharatpur specialised in duck shooting and used a 1925 nickel-plated 20 hp Rolls Royce that facilitated the maharaja to be driven straight up to the lake through a difficult terrain. At the lake the top would be opened for the maharaja and his guests to facilitate a good shot. Similarly, Maharaja Hari Singh of Jammu and Kashmir ordered a 40-50 hp Rolls Royce in 1926 for his coronation.

The automobile-maker has also publicly acknowledged that India has contributed much to its early success. In a writeup released to the media recently, the company said Rolls Royce owed much to India. “The sub-continent has been the ultimate destination of many of the early cars, including the 40/50 hp Silver Ghosts and Phantoms built during the first half of the twentieth century.”

The article also suggests that the connection between Rolls Royce in India could well have begun when the parents of one of the two founders, Charles Stuart Rolls, attended the 1902 celebrations of the Coronation Durbar in Delhi, two years before the formation of Rolls Royce Ltd. “They must have told their son Charles, who was selling French cars in London at the time, of the burgeoning interest in motoring amongst the fabulously wealthy Indian potentates.”

The Maharaja of Gwalior purchased the first Rolls Royce car in 1907 and four years later the company delivered eight identical Silver Ghosts at the imperial Delhi durbar. Mir Osman Ali Khan, the seventh Nizam of Hyderabad who was named as the alltime richest Indian and the fifth all-time wealthiest man to have ever lived, owned over 50 Rolls-Royce cars.

MA Faiz Khan, who hails from an aristocratic family which was also close to the Nizams, says Mir Osman Ali Khan’s father, the sixth Nizam, preferred Napiers till early 1900s. But once the brand arrived in India, he was interested in acquiring Rolls Royce cars. The prized car in his garage was the Throne Car which came with a dome and a special throne designed for the Nizam.

The car was rarely used because of the passing away of the sixth Nizam who ordered it. The seventh Nizam’s railway department was asked to redo the vehicle many years later. The car was painted yellow as it was the state colour of Hyderabad. “The seats were put up in such a way that no one was allowed to show his back to the Nizam. Even the driver’s seat propped up in a certain angle such that his back was not totally facing the Nizam,” says Faiz Khan.

The Nizam’s railway department carried out repairs in the ’30s and since then it has been kept in the garage. In recent years, the car has been restored and taken out for public viewing.

Prized Possession Still

After the ’50s, the Rolls Royce brand disappeared from India, probably because its patrons, the royal families, had begun to tighten their purse-strings as they were faced with a rapid loss of power and wealth. But after India liberalised its economy in the early ’90s and international carmakers began to take interest in the rapidly booming India market, Rolls Royce once again returned to India to sell its top-of-the line modern cars.

It was after an gap of over 50 years that the brand returned to India in 2005, opening its first showroom in Mumbai. According to Diljeet Titus, a lawyer in Delhi and one of the biggest names among car collectors in India, there is tremendous interest among the former royal families to buy back their cars.

A Silver Ghost, which was not owned by royalty, will cost anywhere between £200,000 and £2.5 million, depending on the kind of restoration work carried out, the name of the coach builder and other embellishments.

Similarly, the Phantoms cost between £60,000 and £1,50,000 whereas the 20 hp models would be in the range of £40,000 to £1,20,000.

However, if the car was ever owned by one of the royal families the price spirals by 15-30%. “Convertibles are more expensive and the golden rule is that if the top goes down, prices go up,” says Titus. The name of the coach-builder is also a matter of interest to potential buyers and influences the price.

Brand Building

Rolls Royce has a unique advantage over other luxury brands when it comes to keeping alive a vintage tradition. It is perhaps the only brand among the luxury models sold in the early years of the 20th century which is still available in the market and is also in a position to help owners trace their cars, says Titus.

“Rolls Royce has a thriving owners’ club which keeps track of all vehicles that have been bought and sold. The chassis number of the cars helps potential buyers decide whether it is the vehicle they have been looking for.” The order lifting the ban on import of vintage cars comes at a time when there is a lot of interest among the erstwhile royal families to research their history. The need to bring back pieces of lost heritage has led to the formation of a few associations of royal families in India. One of them, Royals of India, now also plans to link up with former royals in Europe.

The interaction with people around the world with whom their forefathers shared history would help families here understand those times better, says Royals of India founder Deepak Kapoor.

Almost as a corollary, meeting people with whom their forefathers did business will also help today’s generation search for their cars and many other memorabilia.

According to Kapoor, Royals of India is a voluntary coming together of erstwhile Indian royals. “We seek to extend the heritage, customs and traditions in relevant context of the present day. We will represent most erstwhile Indian royal families. Efforts are being made to link with similar networks of aristocrats across Europe and a few other geographies.”

Royal Romance

The romance of the royals with the Rolls Royce happened between the two world wars, says Indra Vikram Singh. After the merger of the princely states, the old system was dismantled and the good times began to unravel for the royalty in India. After losing power, the royalty also had to sell off property, cars and jewellery to afford the upkeep of their palaces and to retain the army of servants. A few decades later, the privy purse was also abolished, changing life forever for the erstwhile royals. According to Vikram Singh, the period between the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 and Independence was perhaps the best for royals in India. “Before that period there were too many wars between the kingdoms. Our kingdom, for instance, was repeatedly attacked by various other kingdoms and one of them even extracted a tribute from us.”

But after the British came to occupy India, the rulers settled into a more transactional and pragmatic relationship which offered some sense of stability from the point of view of the Indian rulers, he says. The absence of war also created an ambience for the Royals to indulge in some luxuries.

The prevailing peace also contributed to the fact that it was during the first 50 years of the 20th century that the sale of Rolls Royce models in India flourished. Repeated tours to London also introduced the maharaja to the ultimate 20th century marvel: the motorcar. “If you did not have connections in London then you would have to put up with some harassment at the hands of the officials in India and therefore the maharajas had to go abroad very often to do what is today known as networking,” says Singh.

(Indra Vikram Singh’s comment : One of the reasons why some of the Indian princes spent considerable time in England and bought property there was to be in touch with the powers-that-be, thereby reducing interference and pressure from the British Resident and other bureaucracy back home).

The best tale about the maharaja and his car was perhaps captured by Murad Ali Baig in Rolls Royce and the Indian Princes. According to Baig, the Maharaja of Alwar, who used to stay at Mayfair Hotel in London, once wandered into a nearby showroom and was spoken to rudely by a salesperson who thought him too shabby for a Rolls. “Fuming, the Maharaja ordered seven cars and turned them into garbage collection vans at his home state in India. Rolls Royce was appalled and, apart from profuse apologies, reportedly gave him a few cars in exchange for restoring the rest to glory.”

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Excerpts from Indra Vikram Singh's book 'Don's Century' ..... 25 - Chapter 7 : PEERLESS RUNGETTER AND OTHER MASTERS OF THE WILLOW (30. Steve Waugh)

Steve Waugh was different; cool of mind and stout of spirit, he was a fighter to the core. He left arguably the biggest impact on the game in Australia since Bradman. His predecessor Allan Border was also a gritty batsman, and became the highest run-getter in Test cricket. But Border would grind the opposition, rather than dominate them, and the one feature that characterised his batting was his propensity to sweep. When the chips were down Border would be an immovable object for the opposition, but there was nothing endearing about him.

That was not the case with Steve Waugh. He was forever proving his critics wrong through sheer strength of character. His twin Mark was far more talented with the bat as well as a fielder, and more elegant by miles. But it was Steve who first broke into the Australian team and stayed in longer. He played a key role in Australia’s first World Cup triumph in 1987 as a bowler sans nerves, and a lower middle-order batsman with an abundance of commonsense. His stock as a batsman continued to rise, and he became a reliable rungetter by the late eighties.

It was under Border’s captaincy, and with the guiding hand of Bobby Simpson, that Australia won the 1987 World Cup, but try as he might he could not turn Australia into the best in the world in either form of the game. That changed when the more genial and composed Mark Taylor took over. Steve Waugh, helped by twin Mark, stood up to the West Indies pacemen in a titanic battle at Kingston in 1994-95, which was crucial for wresting the Test series 2-1, amazingly for the first time against these rivals in nine attempts since the heady days of 1975-76. In that Test Steve Waugh scored 200 and Mark Waugh 126.

Then Australia were runners-up in the 1996 World Cup, with Mark Waugh in delightful form, but Steve not too far behind with bat and ball. Steve Waugh first took over the One-day captaincy, and then the top job in Tests as well. The start belied what lay ahead as Brian Lara’s genius denied Australia a Test series win in the Caribbean in 1998-99, and then Steve Waugh’s team faltered in the early stages of the 1999 World Cup. But Australia were unstoppable once Waugh’s fighting hundred, aided by a gaffe in the field by Herschelle Gibbs, in their last super-six match, and subsequent tie in the semi-final, also against South Africa, breathed life into the team.         

They went on to lift the 1999 World Cup, and then carve an unprecedented 16 consecutive Test victories. Steve Waugh built one of the greatest teams in history, and his own batting continued to rise to greater heights. He scored an exhilarating century at Sydney in the 2002-03 Ashes series as a scathing riposte to his critics who wanted him out of the side. When he took his final bow a year later, he was given a touching farewell.

By then he was the most capped player ever at 168 Tests, Australia’s second-highest rungetter with 10,927 runs at an average of 51.06, and their top century maker with 32, surpassing Bradman’s tally. Steve Waugh never gave in, or gave up, the quintessential warrior always searching for new frontiers. He was strong on the back foot through the off-side, and played the slog sweep better than most. More admired than loved, he had no shot that would delight the connoisseur, but he was effective. He never learnt to deal with the rising delivery, but coped well enough. If ever there was a player with little natural ability, but achieved super success by dint of hard work, resilience and determination, it would have to be Steve Waugh.

(Author Indra Vikram Singh can be contacted on email singh_iv@hotmail.com).

Friday, July 12, 2013

Experts' comments on Indra Vikram Singh's book 'A Maharaja's Turf', and its stockists in the United Kingdom


A most enjoyable and interesting book, which tells the story of the huge success in European racing of the Maharaja of Rajpipla at a time when he, and several other Indian princes, ranked high on the owners lists.”  …..Lester Piggott, OBE, one of the greatest jockeys ever, with 4,493 career wins including nine Epsom Derby victories.

Intriguing, most interesting, it brought back lots of memories.”  …..Sir Peter O’Sullevan, often described as ‘the voice of racing’, ‘the most famous commentator of the 20th century’ and ‘the true voice of the sport’.

The volume brings together an impressive range of primary material on the life and racing interests of Maharaja Vijaysinhji of Rajpipla. Anyone interested in the culture of princely India in the 20th century will find the book a fascinating read and a rich source of information.”  .....Dr Amin Jaffer, International Director Asian Art, Christie’s, London.

This is a wonderful record of a unique era.”  .....Brough Scott, UK Sportswriter of the Year 2010.

Indra Vikram Singh has told an important story well”  ......Tim Cox, highly-acclaimed historian of the thoroughbred breed, owner of an extensive library.

This book is for those who love sports, and fancy learning about the lives and ways of royalty. The Maharaja of Rajpipla had a passion for horses and sports like horse racing and polo. “Like his collection of Rolls-Royce cars and priceless properties, a part of Maharaja Vijaysinhji’s fortune was in the stables that housed some of the finest horses one would ever find anywhere.” He went on to own the Irish colt, Windsor Lad - so named as the Maharaja’s home in Britain was in Windsor - that won him the English Derby. What is singular is that the Maharaja won the first-ever Indian Derby (1919), the Irish Derby (1926) and the English Derby (1934), a unique hat-trick.” …..New Indian Express.


City Books
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Daunt Books
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The National Horseracing Museum
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(Author Prince Indra Vikram Singh of Rajpipla can be contacted on email teddy.rajpipla@gmail.com).

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Excerpts from Indra Vikram Singh's book 'Don's Century' ..... 24 - Chapter 7 : PEERLESS RUNGETTER AND OTHER MASTERS OF THE WILLOW (29. Martin Crowe)

Perhaps the best batsman New Zealand produced is Martin Crowe. A classical strokeplayer, Crowe offered a straight bat and a still head, and his exquisite timing enabled him to caress the ball to the boundary. He was fluent and very easy on the eye. One rates him so high not just because he became the highest rungetter with the best average, and notched the most centuries and top score, for his country in the 77 Tests that he played. He logged up 5444 runs at an average of 45.36 with 17 hundreds and a highest score of 299 against Sri Lanka at Wellington in 1990-91. These are fine figures, particularly for a batsman from New Zealand where the ball darts around. But Crowe’s batting transcended these numbers.

Stephen Fleming scored many more runs later, though at a significantly lower average, but he was nowhere as elegant or dominant as Crowe, nor so reliable. Fleming did not have a left-hander’s inherent grace, and his shot-selection invariably left a lot to be desired as he often lost his wicket after playing far too many cameos. Crowe had a touch of class and rarely gave the impression of being troubled by the bowling.

In One-day Internationals he scored 4704 runs at an average of 38.55, and his finest hour in this form came in the 1992 World Cup at home when he was captain. He inspired his team to seven consecutive wins before losing in the last round-robin match, and then the semi-final as well, to Pakistan each time. With the bat he was in brilliant touch, beginning with a superb 100 not out as New Zealand upset holders Australia, and then played more unbeaten innings of 74, 81 and 73, before being run out for 91 in the semi-final. Crowe hit 456 runs at an average of 114, to win the player-of-the-tournament award. Knee injury curtailed his career, but Martin Crowe shall remain one of the most classy strokeplayers the game has seen.

(Author Indra Vikram Singh can be contacted on email singh_iv@hotmail.com).

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Excerpts from Indra Vikram Singh's book 'Don's Century' ..... 23 - Chapter 7 : PEERLESS RUNGETTER AND OTHER MASTERS OF THE WILLOW (28. Vivian Richards)

A batsman who many modern observers rate second to Bradman is Viv Richards. Sir Vivian was indeed king, monarch of all he surveyed in the sheer dominance of his strokeplay. He was mesmerised by Chandrasekhar on debut at Bangalore in 1974-75, and overshadowed by another first-timer Gordon Greenidge who nearly got a hundred in each innings. Richards set the record right in the very next Test.

I was fortunate to see that knock of his at the Ferozshah Kotla. At that time we knew nothing about the awesome strokeplay that he was capable of, but his power was certainly in evidence. One shot that has remained in my memory was the one he played while batting at the pavilion end. He hit one of the spinners straight and high, up above the big advertisement hoarding perched atop the stands, landing probably in the centre of the adjoining Ambedkar Football Stadium. I have never seen a cricket ball sailing that high ever again. Brijesh Patel, fielding at extra-cover, rolled his fingers around his eyes as though spotting the little spheroid with a pair of binoculars. It was a hit nobody ever forgets.

The other thing that I noticed was his dead-bat defence. Time and again during that long innings he would drop deliveries from the spinners Venkataraghavan, Prasanna and Bedi right under his eyes. He would then either bend down and pick up the ball, or tap it with his bat, passing it to the forward short-leg fielder Solkar. Whenever I hear people talk about Richards’ tremendous strokeplay, and how they felt he was vulnerable early in his innings because he whipped balls from outside his off-stump to the on-side, I always think back to that impregnable defence. Of course he was a blaster, but he was also a master for, like all the great players, he had a very good defence. People, particularly English ‘experts’, mocked at Bradman as well early in his career. Look what he did to them.

It was indeed a delight to see Richards bring up his first Test century and go on the rampage towards the latter stages, returning unconquered with 192. It was the beginning of the Richards saga. He was soon to become the best West Indies batsman and rule the world of cricket until he called it a day 16 years later.

When the just-appointed England captain Tony Greig made a stupid statement before the 1976 series that he would make the West Indies “grovel”, Richards took it as a personal affront. He hammered the English bowling like no one else had done since Bradman in 1930. He slammed 232 at Trent Bridge, 135 at Old Trafford and 291, his highest Test score, at the Oval, aggregating 829 runs at an average of 118.42 in four Tests. Later Australia’s Mark Taylor got 10 more runs in England in 1989. Nobody has scored so many for the West Indies in a Test series. That year he hit up 1710 runs (in just the first eight months) at an average of 90 in 11 Tests with 7 hundreds. No one had scored as many runs in a year. The opposition: the great pace bowlers of Australia, Lillee and Thomson at their height, among others; the celebrated Indian spinners; and the pace and swing in England. The king had been crowned. It took another batsman, Mohammad Yousuf of Pakistan, three decades to score more runs in a calendar year, 1788 with 9 hundreds, also in 11 Tests.

A decade later in 1985-86, Richards blasted the fastest recorded hundred in terms of balls. He brought up his century in 56 deliveries before delighted home fans at St. John’s, Antigua, against England.

Richards was the first batsman to dominate in Tests as well as One-day Internationals. If his electrifying fielding turned the World Cup final versus Australia in 1975, four years later his tremendous 139-run fifth-wicket stand with Collis King turned the second World Cup final. Richards scored 138 to raise a match-winning total. In 1984, also against England, he smashed the then highest-ever One-day International score of 189 not out. Michael Holding was a virtual bystander in an unbroken last-wicket partnership of 106. In 1987 he surpassed Kapil Dev’s World Cup record innings by crashing 181 off the Sri Lankan bowling at Karachi.

He took over the captaincy of the West Indies after Clive Lloyd retired in 1985 and under him the West Indies continued to rule world cricket in both its forms. They, however, could not reclaim the World Cup after the shocking defeat at the hands of India in 1983.

When he called it a day, Richards had surpassed Sobers’ highest Test aggregate for the West Indies, finishing with 8540 runs at an average of 50.23 with 24 hundreds. A brilliant fielder anywhere, he also overtook Sobers in terms of catches, clutching 122 of his own. Add to this 6721 runs in One-day Internationals with an outstanding average of 47, and a strike rate of 90.20, the first to aggregate 1000 runs in the World Cup, and we have inarguably the best batsman in both forms of the game put together until Sachin Tendulkar took over the mantle.           

Statistics, though, scarcely tell the tale of one of the most self-assured cricketers ever. Helmets came into the game early in Richards’ career but he shunned them even when confronted with the fastest of bowlers. He would walk out to the crease proudly wearing his maroon West Indies cap, head tilted at a jaunty angle, chewing gum, as if strolling in a park looking at the birds on the trees. He could have been a character straight out of wild west movies, aware of the danger but playing it cool, mind ever alert for a swift draw of his pistol. And, man, did he shoot them down, his powerful frame steering that heavy bat with great speed.

His haughty stance itself would put the jitters in the hearts of all but the most strong-hearted of bowlers. And then he would stun them by firing a bullet from outside the off-stump, screaming to the mid-wicket boundary before the startled fielders could even react. Yes, it was like a shot from a gun, not a stroke off a bat.

Richards made strokemaking look so natural, as if it were the easiest thing in the world. He would spot the ball early and then either take a big stride forward or rock back, or even step away to leg and whack the ball away. His stunning drives and pulls would leave the bowlers looking on in despair. Richards made a virtue of backing away to leg and hitting inside-out through the line. The desperation of the bowlers and fielding captains can then be imagined. To a ball pitched on or outside the off-stump, Richards could cream it across the line to the on-side; and to the delivery on or outside the leg-stump, he might loft it through the line on the off-side. If he chose to, he would just as well slam it in orthodox fashion. That is why captains were confused as to the field to employ, and the bowlers confounded regarding the line to bowl. That is also the reason why he scored so rapidly.

They said he was vulnerable early because he was not copybook. That is only an illusion thrown up by mere theorists. Which batsman is not vulnerable early in his innings? It he were that vulnerable, he would have been sorted out early in his career by the world’s best bowlers. Instead he sorted out the greatest bowlers through his long career. Vivian Richards was an original, just as Bradman was. That is why armchair critics picked holes in their techniques as if there were a law as to how one should bat. They would do well to remember that Bradman and Richards were a law unto themselves. Just look at the scorecards, and the outstanding results their teams achieved.

(Author Indra Vikram Singh can be contacted on email singh_iv@hotmail.com).