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).

No comments:

Post a Comment