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April 15, 1986. In the space of 58 balls, Viv Richards demolished England and essayed one of the greatest innings ever witnessed. Arunabha Sengupta looks back at the day when the master scored the fastest hundred in Test cricket.
The final punch
Those were the scary days of the 1980s, when the English teams came up against the West Indians time and again and went back dripping with tar and soot from repeated blackwashes.
It was generally the four-pronged pace attack that did most of the damage. This time was no exception. Two months ago, during the first One Day International (ODI), Malcolm Marshall had reduced Mike Gatting’s nose to a mass of blood and pulp. The fight had been knocked out of the England batsmen even before the series had got underway.
Once the Tests began, Marshall, aided by Joel Garner, Patrick Patterson and Michael Holding — and Courtney Walsh in one match — reduced the visiting batting to demoralised shambles.
When David Gower’s side arrived in St. John’s 4-0 down, they perhaps wanted the series to end without too many more devastating blows to the body and soul of English cricket.
However, the knockout thumps were twofold. Not only did the fast bowlers continue their mayhem, the best batsman of the generation blasted and bludgeoned the visitors into a state of punch-drunk ennui, where the beautiful island of Antigua looked like fortified and inhuman Alcatraz. Vivian Richards produced perhaps the most devastating innings of his career.
The stage is set
Gower enjoyed one solitary moment of triumph over his counterpart. That was at the toss. It all went downhill from there.
Perhaps Gower wanted his bowlers to exploit the moisture in the wicket following recent rains, perhaps he was not too keen on his batsmen facing Marshall, Garner, Holding and Patterson yet again if he could help it, perhaps he wanted Ian Botham to surpass Dennis Lillee’s world record wicket tally. Whatever be the reason, England bowled.
By the second morning, it looked like a good ploy. West Indies were soon 232 for five, and when Desmond Haynes fell for a polished 131, the score read 281 for six with no batsman of repute to guide the tail. However, Gower erred in bowling Botham more and more in search of the world record. And the lower-order swung their willows with gay abandon. Marshall slammed the bowling for 76, Roger Harper was even more belligerent in getting a 65-ball 60, while Holding surpassed both by creaming the bowling on his way to a swashbuckling 73 from just 63 balls with four sixes. The three men, better known for their efforts with the ball, managed eight sixes among themselves and hauled the total to 474.
Graham Gooch and Wilf Slack replied with surprising composure in front of the hostile pace. In fact, this was perhaps the one wicket in the series not tailor-made for the home bowlers. After a 127 run first-wicket partnership, the openers departed one after the other and Gower came in to strike the ball with characteristic grace. His 103-ball 90 was by far the best batting on the tour by an Englishman. But, from the moment he came in, it was more of a single-handed effort by the captain. He was the ninth out at 290. At the end of the innings on the morning of the fourth day, England trailed by 164.
The stage was set for some quick scoring, for an early declaration.
In 56 balls, the favourite son of Antigua Richards had brought up his hundred with a sweep, his second fifty notched up in 21 deliveries. It was the fastest ever in Test match cricket in terms of balls, comfortably 11-deliveries ahead of Jack Gregory’s effort at Johannesburg in 1921-22
Straightaway, Haynes and Richie Richardson went for their shots. They added 100 in just over two hours, before John Emburey got Richardson for the sixth time in that series. With short of half an hour to go before tea, Richards walked out, the maroon cap perched on his head, the customary swagger in his stride, the jaw chomping down on that gum, the mighty willow held loosely in his hands.
When he had taken over the captaincy from Clive Lloyd, there had been some questions asked. Not many West Indians had any doubt about his credentials. The queries and predictions had floated in from beyond the borders. Geoff Boycott had proclaimed that his days as a hard-hitter were over.
The West Indian captain now looked around and took guard. He allowed himself a couple of sighters. And then the strokes started reverberating around the ground.
By tea, he had batted 28 minutes and was 28 not out, having dispatched Richard Ellison’s pace and Emburey’s spin over the mid-wicket fence with equal disdain.
During the break, Gower asked his men to volunteer to bowl against the rampaging master. No one seemed too eager. Ultimately, Botham, two short of Lillee’s record of 355 wickets, decided to have a go. Emburey was asked to run in from the other end.
Richards stood at the wicket, his renowned nonchalant stance already sending a shiver or two down the bowler’s spine as he ran in. Emburey was launched into the long on stands. Quite a few strokes off the spinner went out of the stadium. One landed in the nearby prison where the great man’s father had once worked as a warden. The half-century was brought up in 35 balls.
Botham, characteristically prone to over-estimate his ability at this stage of his career, decided to bounce his great mate from Somerset. A hook from the legendary Stuart Surridge bat broke a bottle of rum in the stands. The ball was returned with a shard of glass embedded in the leather. Two consecutive balls from the all-rounder were launched into the stands, one over mid-off another mid-wicket.
As Scyld Berry recalled, “If there was any element of doubt in his innings, it was whether he would hit a four or a six.”
Emburey deceived him with a slower ball, the mighty Richards was beaten in flight. He did not get to the pitch of the ball, but the redoubtable willow still went through with the swipe. The limbs stretched out, the bottom-hand lost the grip on the handle, the stroke was completed with one hand. And the ball soared over the mid-wicket fence. Immediately, he repeated the one-handed smite, the result being a four this time. The next ball was launched over the extra cover for six. Emburey shook his head and asked his captain to change the bowling. His figures had changed from 9-0-14-1 to 14-0-83-1.
In 56 balls, the favourite son of Antigua had brought up his hundred with a sweep, his second fifty notched up in 21 deliveries. It was the fastest ever in Test match cricket in terms of balls, comfortably 11-deliveries ahead of Jack Gregory’s effort at Johannesburg in 1921-22. Parts of the Antiguan crowd streamed into the ground to celebrate.
The King played two more balls, and as was the routine by then, one went for four and the other for six. He called an end to the fireworks at this stage, his own score reading 110 from 58. During Richards’s stay at the wicket 146 runs had been added. The West Indian total read 246 for two. Botham’s 15 overs had cost 78, Ellison’s four 32.
Again, as Scyld Berry recalls: “The extraordinary, and forever memorable, feature of his innings was the way he walked off at the end. It was Caesar returning to Rome after his greatest triumph. Nobody rolled a red carpet out on to the field, but it would have been superfluous. All eyes were on Richards as he returned to the pavilion, and he paused – and batsmen don’t normally stop on their way back to the pavilion – and he looked, and he took in the whole scene. For he had created so much of what he then saw.”
Viv Richards’s days as a hard-hitter had just reached another benchmark. Anyway, Boycott never knew too much about hard-hitting.
Shell-shocked and bemused, England limped to 33 for two by the end of the fourth evening. The next day, a sizable 43 came from the extras, with as many as 21 no-balls. However, England collapsed to 170 all out, Harper’s 12-8-10-3 doing as much damage as the thunderbolts from the pacemen. The blackwash was now complete.
As Emburey later recalled to H Natarajan for Wisden Asia Cricket“ At that time there was a calypso going around in the Caribbean which had a line that went something like, ‘Captain, the ship is sinking’. David made a reference to that in a post-match interview when he said: ‘The ship has sunk and is lying 20 fathoms deep’.”
West Indies 474 (Desmond Haynes 131, Malcolm Marshall 76, Roger Harper 60, Michael Holding 73; Neil Foster 2 for 86) and 246 for 2 decl. (Desmond Haynes 70, Viv Richards 110*; John Emburey 1 for 83) beat England 310 (Graham Gooch 51, Wilf Slack 52, David Gower 90; Joel Garner 4 for 67) and 170 (Graham Gooch 51; Roger Harper 3 for 10) by 240 runs.
(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)
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