Sir Vivian Alexander Richards just celebrated his 70th birthday on March 7th. It is difficult to have an adjective that would do proper justice to his impact as a cricketing colossus.
No batsman ever in terms of pure domination or ferocity penetrated intensity as Viv Richards who in full flow looked like a bomber destroying an airbase. –placing the best of attacks into submission.
No batsman ever had such a sharp eye, who saw a cricket ball like a football. Viv took cricketing competitively or combat in sport to realms rarely ever scaled.
The best-of-pace bowlers were taken apart in the manner of a sword ripping flesh by Viv, who delivered a knockout punch with a level of contempt and conviction unmatched.
Even high-class bowlers looked like convicts crucified on a cross. When striding out onto the field no one more exuded the vibrations of an emperor in full command.
No one was ever an equally good exponent of the hook shot as Sir Viv. On the front foot he was an absolute champion, and even against express pacemen never wore a helmet.
He could stretch so far forward he could place his left foot outside the line of off stump, eradicating the chance of lbw and formulating a leg stump line of his very own. Wherefrom he would remorselessly send the ball crashing through midwicket or coasting through extra cover.
Even if appearing violent or destructive his strokes possessed shades of finesse, grace or artistry, and was not all brute power. In my view against express or pure pace, Viv was the best bat ever.
Brief Career Summary of The Undisputed Master
Viv made his debut in India in 1974-75, he scored 192 at Delhi in his 2nd match, but was hardly so consistent in the series, falling under the trap of Chandrasekhar.
In 1975-76 in Australia, he gave flashes of his brilliance with a string of useful scores in the final games, facing Jeff Thomson at his quickest. There were glimpses of the finest counter-attacking batting when he hooked Lillee and Thomson all over the place, scoring 101, 50 and 98 in his last 3 innings. West Indies were vanquished by a 5-1 margin, but an ornament was founded.
In 1976 at home against India Viv came into his own, scoring 3 centuries at an average of 92.5. His 142 at Barbados and 177 at Trinidad devoured the Indian spinners like no batsman ever.
The 1976 tour of England saw Viv Richards traversing realms in batting domination in regions of the sublime, emulating Sir Don Bradman more than anyone.
No West Indies batsman be it George Headley, Everton Weekes, Frank Worrell or Gary Sobers was as imperious or majestic as Viv.
In many ways, Viv was like a medley of all those greats. His figures were staggering compiling 829 runs at an average of 118.42 with 3 centuries but more than the records it was the effortless ease with which he batted.
Viv demonstrated an aura of invincibility like an emperor plundering territory after territory. On his way to his 291 at Oval, no one ever looked more on the trail towards surpassing the world record Test score of 365 at that time.
Never had batsmen on an English tour blended power and imagination to such a degree. I cannot forget his blazing cover drives and onside strokes. His 232 at Nottingham was a masterpiece on a difficult wicket.
I doubt ever good or moving deliveries in England were treated with similar contempt as Viv. In 1976 he aggregated a record 1710 runs for a calendar year.
Viv was not successful in the home series against Pakistan in 1977, which was one of the hardest-fought contests.
Still, in Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket super tests he dominated the opposition in the manner of a combing operation of an army. No player ever displayed such an extent of superiority over his contemporaries, be it the Chappell brothers or Barry Richards. In the 1st year of 1977-78, he averaged 86.2 scoring 4 centuries, playing against Australia and the Rest of the World.
Arguably no overseas batsman ever was as majestic as Viv in Australia then. The likes of Dennis Lillee and Imran Khan were played like spinners.
In 1978-79 in Australia and 1979 at home, Viv was not so prolific. Overall Viv scored 1281 runs at an average of 55 in WSC super tests with 170 as his highest score.
In the 1979 Prudential World cup, his match-winning knock of 138 in the final against England took batting audacity and temperament to rarely-scaled regions. Viv confirmed his prowess as a great match-winner.
On the 1979-80 tour of Australia in official test and ODI cricket, Viv batted even more majestically, He averaged 96.5 in the test matches and over 85 in the ODI triangular tournament.
When scoring 140 in the Ist test at Brisbane,76 and 74 at Adelaide and 158 in an ODI against Australia, he took batting demolition to simply majestic heights almost unparalleled in Australia.
No one in sheer onside play exhibited as much prowess or no overseas batsmen since Walter Hammond in 1929-30 was as much an epitome of consistency.
In England in 1980 even if not statistically so great averaging around 63, the manner he executed his run simply sent tremors in the camp of the opponents.
When scoring 145 at Lords and scoring 65 of 53 balls at Old Trafford he made the bowlers look as if they were walking towards a funeral.
Although he failed at Oval and at Headingley rain robbed him of the opportunity to prove himself to his full capacity.
In Pakistan in 1980 on turning tracks, Viv displayed great skill averaging over 70. His 120 at Multan was one of the most majestic centuries on turning tracks. It was a revelation witnessing Viv tackle Imran at his fastest.
At home against England, he averaged above 85 including a classic 182 at Kensington Oval and 114 at Antigua.
In 1981-82 Viv’s form declined in Australia, although he was ever consistent in ODI’s.
In 1983 in the home series against India he averages under 50, but was at his best when scoring a match-winning 61 not out at Kingston and a century at Georgetown, proving why he was head and shoulder above any batsmen.
In the 2nd half of the 1983 World Cup, he looked as invincible as ever when taking apart India, Australia and Pakistan, with respective scores of 119, 90* and 80*.
Sadly in the final, he simply went overboard, when holing out to Kapil Dev for 33. Overall he averaged 73.60 in the tournament.
In India, in 1983-84 although overshadowed by Greenidge and skipper Clive Lloyd, batted like a king when scoring 120 at Mumbai and an unbeaten 149 in an ODI.
A home series versus Australia in 1984 was not so good in terms of consistency, but when scoring 178 in the final test blazed away like a Prairie fire.
On the English tour of 1984 made a spectacular start being virtually unstoppable when scoring an unbeaten 189 at Old Trafford in an ODI and 117 at Edgbaston.
However, he lost form after the 2nd test and was overshadowed by Gordon Greenidge.
When scoring 189 Viv virtually resurrected his side from the grave to achieve the pinnacle of glory, taking ODI batting genius to regions of divinity.
In Australia, in 1984-85 he was not so prolific but when scoring 208 at Melbourne in the 4th test, produced a masterpiece.
Career Since Becoming a Captain:
After inheriting the throne from Clive Lloyd as a skipper in 1985 although not as spectacular as before, Viv was an embodiment of consistency.
He averaged above 67 against New Zealand at home in 1985, above 60 against England at home in 1985-86, close to 50 in Pakistan in 1986, around 59 in India in 1987-8, 69 versus Pakistan at home in 1988, around 41 in England in 1988 and around 55 in Australia in 1988-89.
He relatively lost form from 1989 in series against India, England and Australia on home soil before making a recovery in his final series in England in 1991.
As a skipper he batted at his best when scoring a match-winning 108 at Delhi on a turning wicket, 146 at Perth in 1988-89, 125 at Trinidad v Pakistan in 1988, 110 at Antigua v England in 1985-86 and an unbeaten 73 at Edgbaston in 1991.
In 1985-86 in the manner of dynamite exploding scored a century of 56 balls against England.
In a run chase, his unbeaten 108 at Delhi resembled a surgeon performing a successful operation against all odds while his 146 at Perth exhibited mastery on a difficult track.
Viv never lost a test series as a skipper and emulated his predecessor Clive Lloyd by leading his team to a series win in England and Australia. Unlike Clive he could not lead his team to series wins in India or Pakistan or to winning a world cup.
In county League tournaments like Gillette Cup, Viv played many a cavalier knock like his 117 in the 1979 final.
Is Viv Richards The Greatest Batsman of All Time?
Overall in his test career, Viv averaged 50.24, scoring 8,540 runs with 24 centuries in 121 test matches and 182 innings.
However adding WSC Supertests Viv aggregated over 9200 runs with 28 centuries, at an average of 52. In ODI Viv scored 6721 runs at an average of 47 and a strike rate of 90.20.with 11 centuries.
What stands against Viv was his relative lack of consistency, in the 2nd half of his career and his not having had to face his own lethal pace bowlers.
Unlike Gavaskar, Border, Lara and Tendulkar, Viv championed the cause of a world champion team and was not put to so much test in a crisis, to singlehandedly carry games on his shoulders.
Viv was not also at his best against spin bowling and was foxed by the likes of Chandrashekar and Abdul Qadir. Without a doubt, Tendulkar and Lara were much better players of spin bowling.
Overall in mere test cricket by a whisker, the likes of Lara, Tendulkar and Sobers may just get the nod above Viv, when you consider batting averages and situations faced.
Technically Viv did not equal the likes of Barry Richards, Sachin Tendulkar or Greg Chappell and was not as graceful as Brian Lara or Zaheer Abbas.
Based on mere statistics, Viv would not rank as the best ever after Bradman or the equal in test cricket of Tendulkar, Lara, Hobbs, Sobers, Steve Smith, Sunil Gavaskar or even Greg Chappell.
Viv Richards was a perfect illustration of how statistics hardly tell the complete story as in a computer analysis where he may not rank even in the top 5 batsmen of all time overall and top 10 best ever in test cricket.
However, when one respects his relative impact on matches and the extent of demoralising opposition, no one was closer to him.
Viv could change the complexion of the game more than anyone, being more intimidating than even Bradman.
In Viv’s days, Greg Chappell had a better average and more centuries adding unofficial games and was more correct, but could never desecrate an attack in the manner of Viv or was equally imaginative.
Sunil Gavaskar was statistically better than Viv, but not as good a match-winner or destroyer of pace bowling. Even with arguably equal potential as Viv, Barry Richards was not as completely tested in International Cricket.
Considering the standard of opposition and adding Packer cricket I will rank Viv in the peak period from 1975-76 to 1981 as the best after Bradman in the longest format of the game, who averaged 60.48 with 11 centuries.
From 1976 to 1988 Viv averaged 55.31 scorings 7091 runs, by a whisker outscoring Greg Chappell.
Overall, I will rate Viv as the best batsman of the 1970s and ’80s, the best West Indies batsman ever and the 2nd best right-handed test batsman ever at one down position after Don Bradman.
Ponting had a better aggregate and average than Viv but was not as successful as Viv overseas or destroyed bowling as mercilessly.
In more recent times Virender Sehwag, Chris Gayle or Adam Gilchrist may have been as brutal or even more than Viv, but none in my view could equal Viv’s performances against top-class pace bowling.
Viv is probably the best-ever ODI batsman if you assess his impact and strike rate during his time, match-winning efforts and performances in ODI finals.
In ODI’s won by West Indies, he averaged almost 57 and all his 11 centuries took his team to victories. No batsmen averaged more than Viv in world cup cricket.
Combining Test and ODI Cricket Viv is a strong candidate for the best batsman ever, considering his great match-winning prowess.
Viv could turn the course of games with a greater degree of conviction than both Lara and Tendulkar, or even Virat Kohli today. Batting wickets and bowling attacks were more challenging in Viv’s era.
Amongst the greatest cricketers ever there is a strong case for Viv Richards being ranked just below Bradman and Sobers.
Viv has been ranked in 9th place amongst the 100 best cricketers ever by Cristopher Martin Jenkins, in Eighth place by John Woodcock and fifth place by David Gower.
It must be mentioned that Viv is rated even higher than the likes of Lara, Tendulkar or Ponting by not only players of his era like Ian Botham, Allan Border, the Chappell brothers, and Barry Richards etc, by players of later eras like Wasim Akram, Inzamam Ul Haq, Shane Warne, Saed Anwar etc.
It is notable the awe with which Imran Khan, Ian Botham and Dennis Lillee rate Viv the best batsman they ever saw.
Even if not as technically sound or artistic as some, Viv was greater torn in the flesh than anyone.
Michael Holding felt that Viv had the potential of breaking any batting record if he wished, but he never pursued them.
Significant that in Richard Sydenham’s list of all-time XIs Viv has garnered more votes than any batsman, with 64 players choosing him, 11 more than even Bradman.
Mike Selvey and Mark Nicholas rate Viv a more impactful cricketer than even Sobers, but I strongly disagree with this statement.
Above all we must treat him as a human being and not an apostle, who stood up for the glory of the Afro-American race, by opting out of the tour of South Africa 1981-82, being an outspoken critic of racism, upholding the spirit of sport and escalating joy to the game.
I can never forget my personal very short meeting with me at JW Marriot hotel three years ago when he smiled from his very soul, just like when he batted.