By Zaheer E. Clarke
Originally published March 6, 2015 (ESPN Cricinfo)
Republished March 30, 2015
He chews gum and strolls out casually into the packed arena amid deadening silence and the cheers of adoring fans. His swagger and adorning confidence grow with every step, as does the fear of his waiting opponents. The deadening silence is of his opponents questioning, what have we done? Why did we rid ourselves of Desmond Haynes or Gordon Greenidge? The cheers are from the eager fans waiting to see this “Master Blaster” surgically dissect his opponents swiftly and without mercy.
He unassumingly takes guard. You would not have guessed he was a surgeon or a batsman, but unwisely mistake him for a gardener as he attends to imperfections on the glossy pitch with his willow in hand. He looks the bowler, his next victim or patient, squarely in the eye. Life slowly drains from the bowler’s body as he turns and walks to his mark. The fielders crouch timidly: the “Master Blaster” is ready. With each stride of the bowler, the fielders’ hearts stutter, the bowler’s knees weaken, in fear of the incision they are about to receive.
This is the series of events that happened each time Antiguan, Sir Isaac Vivian Alexander Richards walked to the crease to start his innings. Commonly called “Viv” Richards, or the “Master Blaster” for short, he has been the most feared batsman to ever play Test or One Day International (ODI) cricket. I truly wish Twenty20 (T20) cricket was around in his days. Viv would have made them “grovel” and that he famously did in 1976 to his old colonial masters, the English.
South African expatriate and captain of England, Tony Greig made the statement of how he intended to make West Indies “grovel” during the 1976 series. In the end, it was Greig and the English that were left crawling on their knees. Five Tests and three ODIs later, England had not broken the duck. Two draws, six straight losses and 0 wins.
A 24-year-old Viv Richards slammed three centuries and two fifties in seven innings for a West Indian series record of 829 runs and 145 short of Don Bradman’s all-time record. Bradman’s record would probably be Richards’ had he not missed the second Test because of injury or if he had got a chance to bat in the second innings of the fifth Test.
Recently the man from St. Johns, Antigua, marked his 63rd birthday. He was as destructive a batsman in Test as he was in ODI, perhaps even more. In Test cricket, only five batsmen have peaked higher: Bradman, Hutton, Hobbs, Ponting and May. Yet Viv is the most feared of the lot. He finds himself joint-6th on the ICC Reliance Best-Ever Test Batsman Rankings with Clyde Walcott, Gary Sobers and Kumar Sangakkara.
In the ODI sphere, there has been none better then or since, despite the recent feats of AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla and Virat Kohli. His closest compatriot on the ICC Reliance Best-Ever ODI Rankings is my namesake, Zaheer Abbas, another decapitator of men, but Viv was the best and is the best we’ve ever seen.
In fact, he played the best innings we’ve ever seen in ODIs. In 1984 against the torrent at Old Trafford, with over 21,000 in attendance and 29 overs in hand, West Indies were wobbling at 102 for 7. Viv played a masterpiece and world record at the time of 189 not out – even as eight West Indian batsmen fell for single figures. With 14 overs to go, England needed 1 wicket, Viv and Holding put on 106 runs for the 10th wicket. Holding contributed 12, there was 1 extra, and 93 blistering runs came from the Master Blaster’s bat. West Indies powered to 272 and went on to win the game by a thumping margin.
Viv never wore a helmet, never backed down, not even from a sledge. If a bowler loved to talk, he would reply with both bat and words.
A famous story is told of his days playing with Ian Botham at Somerset in County Cricket when Glamorgan fast bowler, Greg Thomas beat Viv thrice in three balls. Thomas, being cheeky, reiterated a description of the ball to Viv: “that’s called the ball – its red, its round, and weighs about five ounces; you’re supposed to hit it, in case you were wondering”.
Never anger a giant they say. The next ball, Viv comes down the track and smashes the ball out of the park, some say it went into the sea. He leisurely strolls down the pitch after, transitions from surgeon to gardener and manicures the spot he just dispatched the ball from. Thomas still reeling from the incision hears Viv reply: “Greg, you know what it looks like, now go find it.”
Viv retired from the game with spectacular numbers. He scored 8,540 runs in 121 Test matches at an average of 50.23, including 24 centuries. His ODI figures read 6,721 runs in 187 ODIs at an average of 47.00, with a strike rate of 90, when his compatriots could barely reach 70. He is one of only 4 non-Englishmen to have scored a century of centuries in first-class cricket. The others are Bradman, Abbas, and Glen Turner.
For 30 years, Viv had the record for the most Test runs scored in a calendar year (1710 runs). However, he was not a man for records. His desire was to instill fear, watch his opponents mentally wither and tear them to shreds. Sir Vivian Richards is the “Master Blaster”, the surgeon, the gardener, the feared one, and a decapitator of men. Oh how I wish he was 24 again, so I could see him stroll out of the pavilion into the arena like a god and watch men quiver.
© Zaheer Clarke
From the “Lies & Statistics” Column in the Western Mirror (Published Monday, March 30, 2015)