Saturday, January 7, 2012

Viv Richards

One of the first lessons you learn in Journalism is the headline is as important as the article because it catches peoples attentions and compels them to want to read.....When the topic is Cricket with the focus being the Master Blaster Viv Richards his name alone is all that is needed to catch peoples attention.


Everything about him captivated from his peerless cultured violence with the willow in hand coupled with his unique presence and pervasive charisma. He was like a translucently pure diamond that everyone was dazzled by. To the point that old men would get wide eyed waxing lyrically about him, young kids had all their bedroom walls adorned with his image and women young and old alike felt hot flushes with lurid thoughts about him and them......


All us mere mortals wanting so badly to be him, but our pay off was experiencing entertainment that had no compare every time he played....


My word could he play too, and I am struggling to know where to begin to pay real homage to his unparalleled mastery.


Ill start with the father taking his kids to the cricket story with me taking my son and daughter to the MCG in 1979 for the Australia versus West Indies ODI game. Well not really for the game, but just to watch Viv as I soon discovered when my 11 year old daughter burst into uncontrollable tears outside the ground when we heard on the radio that Viv might not play. Even grown men on hearing this were considering packing up and going home, but we all waited till the final Teams were announced with his name contained in them and then scurried into the ground.


He was stricken by a back injury, and could hardly walk, but he still swaggered to the crease in his characteristic manner to leave us all jaw dropped with an innings of 153.  One shot that he played off  the immortal Dennis Lillee reeked of sincere disdain by hitting him over his head and depositing it for 6 into Bay 13.


He often did that as seen in 1975, when both Lillee and Jeff Thomson were at their most fearsome, but he still plonked his front foot down to them and they watched the ball sail for 6


Leaving you speechless as he always did.........


In truth I could write a book on his litany of brutality, but his presence and meaning had the same pervasive meaning.
Symbolically in his infancy in the game the World all over was in a tumultuous time with the ugly spectre of Racism and discrimination being rampant. The 1960's had ended with the World being awakened by the 'Black Power' salute by Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Olympics. It seemed that this immense pride in his creed and heritage imbibed in him a burning desire to bestow real greatness for all his African brothers and sisters to be inspired by.


After the South Africa Tony Greig, who was Captain on England in the 1976 series against the young up and coming West Indies uttered that his Team would make the young upstarts 'grovel'. It was akin to flicking matches around the supreme explosive known as Viv Richards, and you knew, I mean you REALLY KNEW that it would blow up in England's face,


A series where he averaged 118.48 was defined by his very first act in the Test series where he slaughtered the attack in a masterful 232 making them for want of a better term.......grovel! It was a sincere master class that was described in this manner


Notable for brilliant strokes all round the wicket and particularly his stylish and powerful driving off the front foot. That  finished in a blaze of glory, for he hit 36 runs off the last thirteen balls he received.


This was a defiant blow that defined the series, but Richards was not finished with his fury. His exclamation mark was the 291 at the Oval that had everyone aghast at the calibre of his supreme stroke play and the sheer violence in all his strokes. Provoking this remark from his team mate Collis King at the time


On those occasions you just thanked the stars that you were playing on the same team as him because sure as hell you didn't want to bowl at that guy too often when he was in that sort of destructive form.

He left England with not only a reputation of being the Worlds greatest batsman, but a hero for the downtrodden providing them with a reason to rise.

After that he spent the next 15 years providing why he was so known as the Master Blaster.

You want any testimony to this moniker think of his 189 in an ODI against England in 1984 at Old Trafford. At 107/7 the West Indies were dead to rites on a pitch that was like a bed to lie in for pace men and spinners alike. The situation, conditions, pressure was all irrelevant to Richards as he shared in a last wicket stand with Michael Holding of 106, that Richards accounted for 93 of the runs. One of his 5 sixes sailed out of the ground after a malicious straight drive.

He seemed to enjoy victimising England as his 54 ball Test hundred at Antigua in 1986 showed
Do not think for a second he discriminated for he blitzed all equally!

Ill leave you with another MCG memory from 1979 in the 2nd Test where a fired up Rodney Hogg hit him square on the jaw making us all grasp and jump to our feet at the same time. In the knowledge that Hogg was getting the ball through at around 90 mph so we expected him to go down prostate on the turf.

What we saw left us gobsmacked with Richards not batting an eyelid with him still incessantly chewing on his characteristic chewing gum. Then when Hogg logically launched another bumper swear between his eyes all we saw was the ball sail high over the fence and into the exultant crowd!

Ill let Hogg's words recollect the act, and his summation of Richard's genius as a batsman in all regards

I kept staring at him, hoping to see the imprint of the ball in his skin before he writhed around on the pitch.

Problem was he didn't move, just kept glaring back at me while chewing gum and leaning on that Stuart Surridge Jumbo while I picked up the ball and wandered back.

Naturally enough, I gave him another short one, which went 10 rows back behind square leg. At the end of my six-over spell I limped from the ground with 0-59 and didn't play another Test for a year.

So you can see why I rate Richards the best batsman I have played against or watched in 40 years of first-class cricket.


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