The swagger, the aura, the swinging of those powerful Antiguan arms, the invincibility , the sheer power and timing……was never to be forgotten, whosoever has witnessed amongst the ardent of the cricket lovers. The man you had never seen with a helmut or guards, no matter whom he was facing, whether the likes of Thomson, Lillee and Imran or his own Holding, Roberts and Marshall. Whatever the situation was, he was as cool as a cucumber. I have never seen that disdain for the opposition from even the likes of Tendulkars, Laras or Pontings, they have all been dancing at some point of their lives to the tune of bouncers and yorkers by great fast bowlers of their era. There was no respite for the opposition once Greenidge was gone, the gum chewing Viv’s arrival was dreaded by everyone. He had the eye of a hawk, his reflexes supreme and it seemed he had all the time in the world to wait for the ball, whether to play on the backfoot or front, hitting through the covers or over the bowler’s head or hooking it out of the park. True the numbers don’t tell us the exact story to the statistician cricket fans especially the younger generation who might think, he was just another swashbuckler in the long line of West Indian greats. Just another is quite an understatement!
Sir Isaac Vivian Alexander Richards was one of a kind, a rare breed. He came to a West Indian side, made up of small Islands, full of greats but not always fulfilling their potential. The bigger islands of the likes of Jamaica, Trinidad and Barbados ruled roost in the cricketing hierarchy, similar to the dominance Lahore and Karachi held over the rest of the cities in Pakistan. Richards along with Andy Roberts was the first notable Antiguan to play for the West Indian team. It is no doubt difficult to unite people from so many different islands. The overwhelming defeat of the West Indies by the Australians orchestrated by Thomson and Lillee turned the tide in the cricketing world. The Windies were humiliated but they came back with a vengeance under the leadership of Clive Lloyd and there was no looking back. They gained strength from strength and after Lloyd’s retirement, Richards took over the reins and West Indies never lost a series under him. Only Pakistan genuinely posed a threat to their dominance in the decade that followed. There are so many innings which are worth mentioning; the last wicket partnership with Holding scoring 189*, hitting England all over the park, scoring the fastest hundred in test matches when no one played aka Gilchrist, Hayden or Afridi and the bats were not as light as these days. We can certainly remember the 181 scored versus the hapless Sri Lankans, also Thomson and the Australians being smashed all over in the 1983 world cup. Not only his batting, but his useful off spin was quite handy especially in one dayers. He was a great leader too, uniting the Caribbean islands, also promoting the smaller islands which produced great players in years to come. Richie Richardson, Curtly Ambrose to name a few of prominent Antiguans who put Antigua on the World map. Viv has been a great ambassador of sport, a vocal supporter of human rights and anti racism and respected world over for his views. In fact I was proud to see his photograph and remarks when I visited the Slavery museum with a special exhibit on West Indian Cricket in Liverpool.
West Indies had come a long way from the slaves brought over in ships from West Africa in subhuman conditions via the slave traders at the Albert Docks at Merseyside. The plantation owners were defeated by the capable strong slaves in their own game, the supremacy shifted from the untainted white to the brash dark skinned! The pendulum was shifted and the downtrodden ‘Jamaicans’ in UK could once again own an Antiguan as one of their own kind who made them proud. I have seen no one from that era who had watched the great Viv, whichever country he belonged to, not to have adored this cricketing legend. Never before, any cricketer was so admired universally and idolized perhaps after Bradman and Sobers, children copied his style and swagger, the way he entered the cricketing field, looking up at the heavens, chewing a gum always swinging his arms, giving a warning shot to the opponents; here comes Viv, the fear was instantly instilled and the crowd expectant with enthusiasm for strokeplay mastery never seen before.
And boy were they ever disappointed…Seldom!