By Karthik Parimal
“Champions aren’t made in the gyms. Champions are fearless. They are made from something they have deep inside them — a desire, a dream, a vision.” - Muhammad Ali
It was on this very day (March 7) 60 years ago a genius was born in St John’s, Antigua who would go on to change the face of international cricket. Isaac Vivian Alexander Richards redefined thinking how to play the game. He was destined for greatness, and this was evident in his very second Test in which he scored an unbeaten 192 in that 1974 debut series against the likes of Bishan Bedi, EAS Prasanna and Srinivas Venkataraghavan at Delhi’s Kotla. With every Test he played, the aura of invincibility got increasingly stronger.
He never wore a helmet in his life, yet right from the time he emerged from the pavilion with that characteristic swagger; his presence was intimidating to the finest and fastest bowlers in the world. Richards could hit where he wanted and how he wanted. There was no bowler in the world who could say that he wasn’t worried by the menacing presence of King Viv on the field.
Steve Waugh wasn’t the quickest of the bowlers by any means but had the ability to bowl at a decent pace that could catch the batsman unawares. In his autobiography Out of my comfort zone, Waugh fondly recollects his encounter with Viv Richards. As usual Richards had just come out to bat and assumed ownership of the ground, taking control of the tempo and mood of the game from the first ball he faced, playing whatever shot he felt like whenever he deemed it appropriate. So Waugh decided to increase his run-up speed and quicken the movement of his shoulder to add a yard more pace. Richards was caught off-guard as he was a split second late with his shot, taking the full impact flush on his forehead. Everyone waited for the Master Blaster to crumble under the impact. Instead, he responded to Waugh’s “Are you okay?” with “No problem, maan. It got me in the hard spot.”
Steve Waugh and the Australians couldn’t help but be impressed by the man’s body language and strength of character. Richards was a very, very proud man and it showed in everything he did – on and off the field.
Later, in a series that was dominated by the West Indian bowlers, owing to an untowardly comment by Tony Grieg that fuelled them further, Viv Richards offered them no respite with the bat as he plundered the English attack mercilessly. In that 1976 Wisden Trophy, ‘Smokin Joe’, as he was fondly called, had amassed 829 runs from seven innings at an average of 118.42. He scored 291 in the first innings of the fifth Test. Eight years later, the English bowlers bore the brunt of his wrath yet again when he scored an unbeaten 189 in a One-Day International (ODI). This innings is still considered by many to be the greatest-ever ODI innings.
No position was hopeless; it welcomed it as a challenge and turned into a positive force. When he got going, he took the bowlers to the cleaners. David Acfield, who never played a Test but had the experience of 420 first-class matches, famously said once, “If I glared at Viv Richards, he’d just hit me even further.” It was apparent that Viv left no stone unturned to strike fear in almost all bowlers of his time.
More than two decades have passed since the end of his playing career, yet the awesome aura of Richards lingers around the cricketing world. There have been many great players like Sachin Tendulkar, Jacques Kallis and Ricky Ponting after him to achieve incredible feats, but none could replicate the aura or strike fear in the bowlers like Viv Richards did. We will forever be indebted to him and his contribution to the game of cricket.
Happy Birthday, Sir Viv!
(If cricket is a religion and has many devotees, Karthik Parimal would be a primary worshipper. This 23 year old graduate student, pursuing his Masters in Engineering, could be an appropriate example of how the layers of what inspires, motivates and keeps one happy run deeply in our daily lives. He, unlike others, is not too disappointed about not making it big by playing for the country, but believes that he plays the sport every day with his heart by watching and writing on it)