The King on the move: there has been only one Viv Richards © Getty Images
The King on the move: there has been only one Viv Richards © Getty Images

Eye-witnesses often swear by Viv Richards. For them, he was the most menacing batsman of his era, and for many the greatest since Don Bradman. Abhishek Mukherjee analyses his performances against quality pace.

There was a reason they referred to Viv Richards as King. The swagger to the crease, the calm, ruthless machismo with the bat in hand, biceps bulging from shirts too tight to contain them, a glare that often sent a chill down the spine of the bowler, the rhythmic, waiting chewing of the gum — they all killed the bowler psychologically even before the first ball was delivered. The battle was half won by the time he started the run-up.

Richards was special, and that is an understatement. Despite the greatness of his contemporaries (Greg Chappell, Sunil Gavaskar, and Javed Miandad, to name three) Richards’ impact has been the most. None of the others intimidated bowlers to the extent King Viv did: it needs an eye-witness to describe his feats.

A question commonly asked by fans, however, is: how good was Viv against fast bowling? Was he as good when it came to handling a pace battery consisting of four fast bowlers the way his contemporaries had to? How would he have fared against the likes of Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Joel Garner, Colin Croft, and most significantly, Malcolm Marshall?

Let us find out. After all, he did take him on at domestic level.

Against the fast bowlers

How good was Viv in West Indian domestic cricket? How did he do against the champions of West Indies? Richards played First-Class cricket for Combined Leeward and Windward Islands (26 matches) as well as Leeward Islands (28 matches). How did he do in these outings?

M

R

Ave

100s

Combined Leeward and Windward Islands

26

1,661

35.34

5

Leeward Islands

28

1,669

45.11

4

First-Class cricket in West Indies

54

3,330

39.64

9

[Note: Some of these matches were played against touring sides.]

That does not look too encouraging, does it? But then, how had Richards’ contemporaries fared in West Indies against their fearsome fast bowlers? Let us go through this excellent research from Arunabha Sengupta for further details. Here is a list of batsmen against West Indies in West Indies:

Batsman M R Ave 100s
Steve Waugh

6

461

76.83

1

Mohinder Amarnath

6

697

63.36

2

Wasim Raja

5

517

57.44

1

Michael Atherton

5

510

56.66

2

Allan Border

10

796

53.06

1

Majid Khan

5

530

53.00

1

Mark Waugh

9

607

50.58

2

David Gower

9

746

43.88

1

Graham Gooch

11

864

41.14

2

Alec Stewart

9

647

40.43

2

[Note: The list is restricted to batsmen who had scored at least 300 Test runs on West Indian soil. The period considered for analysis is April 21, 1976 to April 29, 1995 apart from eleven Tests played by a depleted side between March 3, 1978 and February 2, 1979.]

Richards’ numbers does not look impressive compared to some others. It is to be noted that Richards almost never faced four quality fast bowlers in the same match, which is something these men had to. Mohinder Amarnath, who seldom got a taste of a fast bowler (let alone four) or bouncy tracks in his home conditions, deserves a special mention here.

Talking of fast bowlers, let us check Richards’ numbers against each opposition:

Opposition

M

I

NO

R

Ave

100s

Fast bowlers

Barbados

13

23

1

601

27.32

1

Keith Boyce, Malcolm Marshall, Joel Garner, Wayne Daniel,

Ezra Moseley, Sylvester Clarke, Franklyn Stephenson

Guyana

9

15

658

43.87

2

Colin Croft

Jamaica

11

20

1

661

34.79

3

Michael Holding, Courtney Walsh, Patrick Patterson

Trinidad and Tobago

11

17

2

813

54.20

3

Bernard Julien, Tony Gray, Ian Bishop

Windward Islands

5

7

295

42.14

Winston Davis

[Note: Vanburn Holder, despite being a top-notch performer, was fast-medium.]

Trinidad and Tobago seems to be the only opposition against whom Richards had thrived. It is to be remembered that Andy Roberts, Eldine Baptiste, Winston Benjamin, and Curtly Ambrose were his teammates, which meant that he was spared at least four men. He did not have a good time against Barbados and Jamaica, which have traditionally been the breeding grounds of Caribbean fast bowlers.

Bernard Julien, Tony Gray, and Ian Bishop were fantastic bowlers for Trinidad and Tobago, but there was a catch: Julien’s First-Class career ended in 1982; Gray’s career lasted from 1983 to 1995; and Bishop’s from 1986 to 1999. Unfortunately, both Gray and Bishop were extremely injury-prone, and did not have very long careers in West Indian domestic circuit — but they were still as menacing as any fast bowling pair.

Let us consider another parameter, then: how did Richards perform against the West Indian sides at their dens? Richards had played 25 away First-Class matches on West Indian soil: let us do a match-by-match break-up (the bowlers mentioned above — let us call these “star” bowlers — are marked in red).

 Season Opposition Ground Seamer 1 Seamer 2 Seamer 3 Seamer 4 Innings 1 Innings 2
71-72 Windward Islands Roseau Norbert Phillip Grayson Shillingford David Defoe

20

26

71-72 Jamaica Sabina Park Uton Dowe Cecil Lawson

15

32

71-72 Guyana Skeldon Sydney Matthews Keith Glasgow

23

59

72-73 Barbados Kensington Oval Vanburn Holder Colin Payne Stephen Farmer

11

52

72-73 Trinidad and Tobago Queen’s Park Oval Bernard Julien Prince Bartholomew

5

0

73-74 Jamaica Sabina Park Michael Holding Uton Dowe

40

7

73-74 Guyana Rose Hall Philbert Blair Keith Cameron

4

78

74-75 Barbados Kensington Oval Keith Boyce Vanburn Holder Greg Armstrong

13

54

74-75 Trinidad and Tobago Queen’s Park Oval Bernard Julien Prince Bartholomew

14

10

76-77 Barbados Kensington Oval Joel Garner Vanburn Holder Stephen Farmer

124

45

79-80 Jamaica Sabina Park Ray Wynter Clement Thomson

1

0

79-80 Barbados Kensington Oval Joel Garner Malcolm Marshall Sylvester Clarke

0

3

80-81 Trinidad and Tobago Queen’s Park Oval Alec Burns Eric Audain

168*

1

80-81 Barbados Kensington Oval Malcolm Marshall Sylvester Clarke Wayne Daniel Hartley Alleyne

4

13

81-82 Windward Islands Roseau Winston Davis Norbert Phillip

92

1

81-82 Jamaica Sabina Park Courtney Walsh Ray Wynter

73

50

82-83 Barbados Kensington Oval Malcolm Marshall Wayne Daniel Hartley Alleyne Neal Phillips

0

45

85-86 Jamaica Sabina Park Michael Holding Courtney Walsh Patrick Patterson Aaron Daley

2

5

85-86 Guyana Bourda Collie Solomon Mark Grenville

32

87-88 Barbados Kensington Oval Malcolm Marshall Joel Garner Victor Walcott

70

89-90 Barbados Kensington Oval Ezra Moseley Franklyn Stephenson Sam Skeete Anthony Johnson

25*

89-90 Jamaica Sabina Park Courtney Walsh Patrick Patterson

16

17

90-91 Trinidad and Tobago Queen’s Park Oval Ian Bishop Tony Gray

12

90-91 Windward Islands St George’s Cameron Cuffy  Ian Allen Wesley Thomas Neil Williams

73

90-91 Guyana Bourda Barrington Browne Calvin Belgrave

0

Indeed, barring the 124 and 45* against Garner at Kensington Oval, Richards has seldom played a quality innings with even one “star” bowler at their den. His other hundred, 168*, came against two seamers who were not quite regarded as “stars.”

Let us now do a break-up of Richards’ away career on West Indian soil:

  M I NO R Ave 100s
Away career on West Indian soil

25

44

2

1335

31.79

2

Against three away “star” seamers

3

6

27

4.50

Against two away “star” seamers

5

7

1

185

30.83

1

Against one away “star” seamers

7

14

528

37.71

Against no away “star” seamer

10

17

1

595

37.19

1

But then, there was the County Championship in England (where he had always thrived — albeit under different conditions), where Richards scored 17,548 runs for Somerset and Glamorgan at 49.43 with 55 hundreds. But the question remains: did he ever have to play four, even three, or even two West Indian fast bowlers at the same time, even in the Championship?

Let us check the counties the “star” seamers played for:

County Fast bowler 1 Fast bowler 2 Fast bowler 3
Lancashire Croft (77, 78, 80, 82) Holding (81) Patterson (84-90)
Northamptonshire Davis (87-90) Baptiste (91) Ambrose (89-96)
Derbyshire Holding (83, 85-89) Bishop (89, 90, 92)
Glamorgan Davis (82, 83, 84) Moseley (80, 81, 86)
Gloucestershire Stephenson (82, 83) Walsh (84-87, 89, 90, 92-94, 96, 98)
Hampshire Roberts (74, 75, 77, 78) Marshall (79, 81-83, 85-87, 89, 90, 92, 93)
Kent Julien (71-75, 77) Baptiste (81-87)
Essex Boyce (68-77)
Leicestershire Roberts (81-84)
Middlesex Daniel (77-88)
Nottinghamshire Stephenson (88-91)
Somerset Garner (77-79, 81-83, 85, 86)
Surrey Gray (85-87, 90)
Sussex Stephenson (92-95)

[Note: Garner played alongside Richards for Somerset.]

It is to be noted that Richards played in the County Championship for Somerset (1974, 1975, 1977 — 1983, 1985, and 1986) and for Glamorgan (1990 — 1993).

The only seasons when two West Indian fast bowlers played for the same county were:

- 1989, when Holding and Bishop both played for Derbyshire. Richards did not play that season.

- 1989, when Davis and Ambrose both played for Northamptonshire. Richards did not play that season.

- 1990, when Davis and Ambrose both played for Northamptonshire. Richards played one match against them that season, in which Davis did not play.

There is no real need to elaborate any further. The numbers do the talking.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Editor and Cricket Historian at CricketCountry. He blogs here and can be followed on Twitter here)