By Ned Vessey
Lockdown did have some positives. For cricket badgers, foremost of these was the release by the BBC of highlights from four classic England vs. West Indies Test matches. The first of these was the Lords Test of 1984, certainly up there as one of the most thrilling games ever.
The game featured too many heroics to list here, and besides, they are not the reason I am writing this article. The reason is to write about Sir Viv Richards.
So much has been written about the former batsman and captain that there is little point in trying to repeat it. Yes, he is one of the greatest batsmen to play the game. One of the most iconic. One of the most legendary. You can look up his stats on Cricinfo, or read about wider exploits such as his last hurrah with Glamorgan in the early 90s.
Albeit 36 years late, what I want to try and write about is the impression that watching Richards bat had on me. I had seen footage of his batting before and was familiar with how he looked – the gum, the cap, the SS Jumbo bat – but I had never watched him play within the wider context of a match.
In that match 36 years ago, England had managed 286 in their first innings, and the West Indies were struggling at 35/3 when Richards walked out. He swaggered out to the wicket, gently windmilling his arms, looking as though he were going for a casual net rather than walking to the crease in a Test match at Lords.
He took guard, and then proceeded to dispatch the English bowlers to the boundary with what seemed too great a regularity even for a highlights reel.
His backlift was low, the bat only being raised at the very last moment, yet he still struck the ball with obvious power. Anything full and straight was flicked away through the legside, while if the bowlers strayed too short and offish, Viv cut them away through point.
All the while he chewed on his gum, and somehow managed to look even calmer than he had when he first walked out. That might sound obvious, but given how relaxed he seemed to begin with, it isn’t. The only time he appeared ruffled was when he was dismissed, falling LBW to Ian Botham as one of the all-rounder’s eight victims.
Richards top-scored with a 94-ball 72, an innings that certainly wasn’t among his greatest, but which nonetheless will always stay with me as the first time I properly came face-to-face with Viv’s greatness. Much more of it can be witnessed through YouTube, and I would urge anyone to go and have a look. You will not be disappointed.
Even through the grainy old footage, the sheer coolness of the man, as well as his obvious cricketing ability, stand out. Rightly is he remembered as one of the greats of the game, and during lockdown we were lucky to get to see him again, all these years later, putting the English bowlers to the sword at Lords in 1984.
Image: Rock Portrait Photography via Creative Commons