At Gloucester Park, Perth, on January 27, 1978, Barry and Viv Richards plundered huge scores and put on a mesmerising master-class of batting brilliance. Arunabha Sengupta looks back at the rare occurrence of the two best batsmen of the world batting together in sublime form.
It was a bad toss to lose. Ian Chappell knew it. Dennis Lillee was back in the side for the fifth Super Test, but Gloucester Park was airless, the pitch at its best on the first day, and the temperature was predicted to hit 42 degrees Celsius during the day.
Tony Greig, having done his bit with the coin, returned to the dressing room with a wry smile and put his feet up.
Barry Richards, opening the innings for the Rest of the World, sometimes failed in such conditions. But, roommate Allan Knott vouched for his total immersion in the World Series contests in Gideon Haigh’s The Cricket War: “He practised and trained with one hundred per cent dedication, long after others were done. You were always worried when he asked you to bowl at him at the nets, because he would go on and on.”
Yes, the Kerry Packer series was perhaps the highest level this phenomenal batsman could play in. He had plundered runs for Hampshire, but with the seclusion of South Africa, his Test appearances had been limited to four. And there were increasing doubts whether he would ever add to that number.
Barry Richards, who had shaved his experimental beard because it itched under the helmet, now walked out with his Hampshire opening partner Gordon Greenidge. For Hampshire, the promising Greenidge was often allowed to take the upper hand in the partnership. Here, however, Barry Richards was in his element. By lunch, Lillee, Gary Gilmour and Max Walker were scratching their heads, sweating under the Western Australian sun. Greenidge had already carved 51 from 98 balls, having hit his first six when on 29. Barry Richards had upstaged him, batting on 60 from just 87. While drives and cuts had thundered from the willow of the Barbados batsman, the South African had more often caressed the ball, but destruction had been written all over the approach. A long day loomed ahead of the Australian rebels.
Barry Richards waited till he was 84 before lofting his first six. In the same over of Ian Chappell’s innocuous leg spin, he reached his century, in 170 minutes. Greenidge got there soon enough , but consumed 30 more deliveries.
Both batsmen were on 114 when Greenidge started hobbling. Ross Edwards claimed, “Gordon had a habit of retiring when he felt like a bit of rest.” Indeed, with the score 234 without loss, Greenidge limped off. However, Barry Richards did not need abreak.
Richards and Richards
Joining him at the crease was his namesake and the only man on earth who could challenge him for the crown of batting brilliance. Max Walker knew there was a problem. “The papers were asking who the best batsman of the world was. Richards or Richards? Black or white? Barry had already got a hundred when Viv got out there and we knew we were not going to get Viv for much less than 200.”
Barry Richards enjoyed batting with Viv. He claimed that it reminded him of batting with Graeme Pollock. “The main difference was that Graeme was always keen for a single at the end of the over. So, Graeme would try to hit five fours and a single every over. Viv on the other hand tried to hit all six balls for fours.”
But, by the time Viv settled down, Barry was already soaring at almost the platonic ideal of batsmanship. An hour-and-a-half of enthralling stroke-play followed before the beleaguered Australians trudged back for tea. During that esoteric period, Barry had scored 93 to Viv’s 41. The entire period seemed to be traversed without raising a sweat for the batsmen even in that stifling heat. The only time Barry Richards seemed to make an effort was when he ransacked Ray Bright for sixteen from three deliveries. The last ball, his fourth and final six from an on-drive of a kind seldom seen before or since, did look a trifle pre-meditated.
“Never a dull moment that day,” Bright recalled later. “I reckon a few blokes down the order would have been fast asleep waiting for a bat by then.” And Bright was the only bowler who seemed to bother them once in a while, the left-arm spin not coming on to the bat at the same benign hittable pace as the offerings of the fast men.
At the other end, Viv was putting on his classiest show, rather than donning his pulverising image. Elegant drives and pulls etched his innings as he was content to play second fiddle.
Finally, a miscued lift off Bright landed in Greg Chappell’s hands at deep mid-off, ending Barry Richard’s innings for 207. “Only someone with Greg’s concentration could have taken that catch. Everyone at the boundary was thinking of stopping fours and getting those sixes back,” Bright remembered.
Barry Richards had conserved his energies. Just one three had been run in the entire innings, while 28 fours and four sixes meant 136 needed no shuttling about across the pitch. After a mere 60 overs, the score was 369 for one.
As he walked back, the only cause of regret for this sublime Richards and Richards show was that just 3150 spectators were scattered around the galleries to watch it. Even Kerry Packer himself was in Sydney visiting a WSC coaching clinic. The great 296 minutes of batting extravagance had been lapped up by just a handful of fans. But, those few would never forget what they had witnessed.
The day ended with Viv Richards on 72 and the total at 433 for one. The next day, Tony Greig allowed his full card to scribble their scores on a tale of mammoth proportions, and the innings ended at 625. Compared to Barry Richards, Viv had been almost subdued, but, nevertheless, he had belted 177 with 27 fours in four and a half hours, although, strangely for him, without a six.
The Rest of The World won by an innings.
(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)