Barry Richards: 10 facts to know about the South African legend

Barry Richards, born on July 21, 1945, is one of the best batsmen the world has seen. In an era that saw South Africa’s isolation from international cricket due to apartheid, Richards played only four Tests and showcased his calibre by amassing over 500 runs against Australia. In First-Class cricket, he smashed 28,358 runs in 339 matches with 80 centuries — including a breath-taking 356 against Western Australia, 300 of which came in a day. Such numbers only bear testament to the fact that international cricket missed out on a great. Nishad Pai Vaidya delves into the book ‘The Barry Richards Story’ and presents 10 facts to know about the former South African batsman.

1.  Grandfather’s influence and an early lesson: Richards grew up in Durban and his maternal grandfather Percy had a great influence on him in his early life. At the age of 10, Richards scored his maiden 50 while playing for his school’s under-13 team. His grandfather was at the ground to watch him and once the innings was declared, the young boy ran to hug him.  However, he was surprised when he grandfather reprimanded him “not raising his bat and touching his cap” on reaching the milestone and acknowledging the crowd’s appreciation. “To this day, every time I walk out you will see me touch my cap; for a second or two I’m reminded of a much-loved mentor.”

2.  Mike Procter’s presence: Richards has known Mike Procter since childhood and shared a cricketing journey through to the highest level. Though they started off as opponents in school days, they later became teammates for Natal, South Africa, Rest of the World XI etc. In fact, they also played for Gloucestershire Second XI together as unheralded youngsters. In his book, Richards says that the first meeting between them was in a school match around 1958. Richards scored 60 in that game.

3.  Meeting Muhammad Ali: In 1963, Richards was a member of the South Africa Schools side on the tour to England. At the same time, boxing great Cassius Clay — this was before he changed his religion and became Muhammad Ali — was in London for a bout against Henry Cooper. The young schoolboys were fortunate to have met him in a gathering. Richards and his teammates were approaching him nervously when their wicketkeeper went forward and asked Clay for an autograph.

Clay asked him which country he was from. When he heard the words “South Africa”, Ali’s expression changed. He handed the autographed paper and then greeted another part of the crowd. “No more than three feet away from his face, I had perfect view of his distaste at the mention of my country,” writes Richards describing the incident as a sort of an eye-opener to the situation in South Africa and the international reception to it.

4.  Working for an insurance company: Although Richards looked at cricket for a career as a youngster, he had to pick a job to earn money before he made it through professionally. He worked for the South Africa Mutual Insurance Company as a clerk as he set his cricketing ambitions in place. However, that stint was cut short when Gloucestershire offered him a chance to play for their Second XI. Procter was with him through their sojourn at Gloucestershire. He did return later, but not for very long.

5.  Losing out on playing for South Africa early: In 1966-67, Richards was in the hunt for his maiden Test cap when the Australians were touring South Africa. In a game for South Africa XI against Australia, he scored a century which put him firmly in the hunt. However, he was in for a rude shock due to his own actions. In a chapter titled “Kicking Away My Chances,” he describes the incident. One evening the teams were invited to a local hotel for a cabaret. Richards and a few other players went there, but were not given entry despite having an invitation. While they tried to convince the gatekeeper to allow them in, things heated up and Richards kicked a big vase that was close-by. The vase lost its balance and fell to the ground. The hotel authorities wanted to call in the police, but a South African selector was around and settled the issue. That incident cast a shadow on Richards’ young career. In the second essay of the game against Australia, he was asked to bat down the order. He made it to the Test side, but only as a 12th man.

6.  West Indies dressing room attendant: In 1966, while Procter and Richards were away in England for their stint with Gloucestershire, they got an opportunity to be dressing room attendants for the West Indies team during a Test match at The Oval. Since the youngsters could not afford to buy a ticket to watch the game, they agreed to be attendants. Richards got a chance to rub shoulders with Rohan Kanhai, Conrad Hunte, Seymour Nurse, Wes Hall, Lance Gibbs and Garry Sobers to name a few. A few years later, Richards played for the Rest of the World XI alongside Sobers, Kanhai and Gibbs.

7.  Bold prediction: In 1968, Richards was signed by Hampshire as their overseas player. At the age of 22, he was playing county cricket before he got the chance to represent his country. He confidently said in an interview that he aspired to score 2000 runs that season. It was a bold declaration, but he went on to score 2395 runs at an average of 47.90 with five hundreds.

8.   Amazing debut Test series: Richards’ only Test series was against Australia in 1970, which was also South Africa’s last before isolation. In those four Tests, Richards gave a glimpse of his greatness scoring 508 runs in four Tests at an average of 72.57 with two hundreds.

9.  “I thought this bloke was supposed to play a bit”: In 1970-71, Richards was in Australia playing club cricket when he was picked for South Australia in the Sheffield Shield. Richards’ magnum opus came against Western Australia at Perth, when he smashed 325 not out in one day, against an attack comprising Graham McKenzie, Tony Lock and a young Dennis Lillee. He went on to score 356, which remains his highest First-Class score. Richards had played and missed the first ball of the match from McKenzie. Wicketkeeper Rodney Marsh remarked to John Inverarity, “Geez, I thought this bloke was able to play a bit.” Once Richards had plundered over 300 that day, Inverarity told Marsh, “I suppose he can play a bit!”

10.  Opening the batting with Gordon Greenidge: Richards was part of the Hampshire setup in the 1970s when Gordon Greenidge joined in. The two went on to have a very successful partnership at the top. Richards saw Greenidge grow from the other end: “Our [Hampshire] batting had always been our strength, with Gordon Greenidge making a huge stride forward from a cavalier but careless cricketer into a world-class opening partner.” Greenidge went on to play for the West Indies in 1974 and forged a successful career at the highest level.

(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Mumbai-based cricket journalist and one of the youngest to cover the three major cricketing events — ICC World Cup, World T20 and under-19 World Cup. He tweets as @nishad_45)

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