Dave Richardson © Getty Images
Dave Richardson © Getty Images

Dave Richardson, born September 16, 1959, was a permanent fixture behind the wicket for South Africa after they came back into the fold of international cricket in 1991. Arunabha Sengupta looks back at the career of the quietly efficient wicketkeeper who is a qualified lawyer and currently holds the post of the CEO of the International Cricket Council.

The dark suits accentuate his suave polish, and the spread of dignified grey on the crown radiates wisdom and acumen. Dave Richardson seems the ideal man to sit on important board meetings, bringing his vast experience and acute business sense to bear upon important decisions.

And in so thinking one would not be far off the mark. The chief executive officer of the International Cricket Council (ICC) is a qualified lawyer and had been a business agent for several cricketers after his retirement from cricket in 1998. It was little wonder that he was appointed the first general manager of ICC in 2002. Ten years later he became the CEO.

The ever present fixture

However, before turning into the dapper diplomatic image of the executive, Richardson was immediately recognisable under the broad white sun-hat and those brown wicketkeeping gloves as he crouched behind the stumps for South Africa. As the Rainbow Nation returned to the international fold, he was a permanent fixture on the field, standing back for the excellent array of fast bowlers, performing his role with minimum fuss and maximum efficiency.

The quality of bowling induced plenty of edges, deflections and snicks, and almost all of them were taken with absolute assurance, even dying catches plucked from in front the slips seeming the most staid and expected of results.

The most enduring image of Richardson is perhaps of the slight frame walking out to resume the innings in the proud green colours beside the enormous form of Brian McMillan, in the World Cup semi-final at Sydney, 1992. There was a bemused expression on his face as the scoreboard displayed the target of 22 runs in one ball.

Excellent gentlemen that the two were, they took the ridiculous rain-rule in their synchronised dignified strides. McMillan quietly turned the final Chris Lewis delivery to the on side for a single and the sides walked back, the slightly uneasy Englishmen sheepishly acknowledging the words of congratulations.

The pair had come together after Jonty Rhodes had departed after a 38-ball 43, with 47 runs to get from five overs and a ball. McMillan and Richardson had obtained 25 from three overs with an excellent mix of calculated risks and common sense. Another 22 had remained of 13 balls when the showers had interrupted and Graham Gooch had latched on to the umpire’s offer and taken his troops out of the ground.

Richardson had scored 13 from 10 deliveries, and as always had been the scrapper in front of the wicket. What is not so well remembered is his excellent keeping when England had batted earlier that day. McMillan and Richardson had combined even earlier in the match. With England cruising on 110 for 2, the big all-rounder had made one leave the batsman and Alec Stewart had snicked. Richardson had flung himself to the right and had caught it inches from the ground in front of where first slip would have stood. He was always understated, but could often be brilliant.

The isolation years

As he made through the ranks, Richardson was an exception. Most of the top-level cricketers of South Africa emerged from the Nuffield Week — an event that brought together the best schoolboy cricketers in an annual tournament. Mike Procter got there from Hilton College, Barry Richards from Durban High School. Later, almost all the cricketers who made their mark were discovered through this impeccable system. Allan Donald, Hansie Cronje, Jonty Rhodes, Daryll Cullinan, Richard Snell, Mark Rushmere all played in the Nuffield Week. By 1992, even the non-white Herschelle Gibbs had got there from the Diocesan College.

However, alongside Jimmy Cook and Brian McMillan, Richardson was the only other cricketer of his day not to have made his way up this system. He first kept in a First-class match for Eastern Province B against Orange Free State at the age of 18 in early 1978, and by the end of the year he had become the regular stumper of Eastern Province.

Those were the days of isolation from world cricket, but arrangements were afoot to lure international sides to play in the country. After an English side under Graham Gooch had visited in early 1982, the Arosa Sri Lanka side toured in November 1982.

The specialist wicketkeeper in the South African side was the veteran Ray Jennings, but Richardson got his taste of international cricket when Arosa played against Eastern Province at Port Elizabeth. After a day had been washed out by rain, Richardson snapped up three catches in the Sri Lankan innings and then opened the batting to score 134, his maiden hundred in First-Class cricket.

Another hundred was scored for Northern Transvaal against Natal the following year, and the bowling that he faced that day included Mike Procter.

A strong West Indies side toured in 1982-83 and then again in1983-84. Richardson played against them as a specialist batsman, opening the innings for Northern Transvaal and standing up to Ezra Moseley and Colin Croft, scoring a solid 47.

In the fourth ‘Test’ against the West Indians at Port Elizabeth in January 1984, the selectors boldly replaced Jennings with Richardson. It was a tense, low scoring affair which the visitors won by six wickets. Richardson’s counterpart David Murray pouched six catches in the first innings and four in the second. In contrast, no edge came the way of the young wicketkeeper playing his first game under the Springbok cap. However, he did impress with his keeping and was earmarked for the future.

Some spectacular glove-work got Richardson back into the South African XI after three seasons. For Easter Province against the Impalas in the Benson and Hedges limited overs trophy of 1985-86, he kept superbly to be named the Fielder of the Match. The next season, playing against Border in the Nissan Shield limited-overs tournament in November 1986, he snapped up three catches to be named Fielder of the Match yet again; for good measure, he also top-scored in the game with an unbeaten 57.

A month later he played Hughes in the first ‘Test’ at Johannesburg against the visiting Australian rebels led by Kim. This time, he contributed with a couple of gutsy knocks of 29 and 33 in another low-scoring thriller of a match, and caught Steve Smith off Clive Rice to register his first catch for the national team. The South African side won by 49 runs. Richardson went on to play the remaining three matches of the series.

The rebel tours grew less regular, but Richardson kept impressing with his work behind the stumps and often in front of it. In the Nissan Shield semi-final in February 1988, he scored 49 on a difficult wicket and a Western Province attack boasting Garth le Roux and Adrian Kuiper to enable a heart-stopping one wicket win. He was named the Batsman of the Match for this effort. In the same tournament, against Border in the following season, he snapped up four catches to underline his credentials as the best ’keeper in the country.

As the movements to get South Africa back into the international arena continued, Richardson kept performing with exceptional brilliance. In the Castle Currie Cup match against Western Province in early 1991, he scored an unbeaten 40 and 39 against McMillan, Craig Matthews and Meyrick Pringle, and proceeded to hold eight catches in the match, at least half of them extraordinary efforts. He was named Man of the Match for his all-round performance.

When South Africa emerged out of the wilderness after 21 years of isolation, it was Dave Richardson who kept wickets © Getty Images
When South Africa emerged out of the wilderness after 21 years of isolation, it was Dave Richardson who kept wickets © Getty Images

Back in the international fold

Thus, when, on November 10, 1991, South Africa emerged out of the wilderness after 21 years and played their first international match against India at the Eden Gardens, it was Dave Richardson who squatted behind the stumps. And off the fifth ball in international cricket, he caught an Allan Donald delivery travelling at white hot pace off the edge of Ravi Shastri’s willow. Later he stumped Mohammad Azharuddin off Tim Shaw to leave India struggling at 60 for 4 before an 18-year-old Sachin Tendulkar conjured up the magic to take India to victory.

Five months later, South Africa played their first Test since return at Bridgetown. Even as the Barbados crowd stayed away to protest against the West Indian selection policy, the match turned out to be another edge-of-the-seat thriller. In the end, Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh removed the final eight South African wickets for just 26 to beat the Proteas by 52 runs. Richardson’s first Test catch could not have been more illustrious as he pouched a snick from Brian Lara off Tertius Bosch.

South Africa soon got back to the winning ways they were used to before isolation and Richardson continued to be the trusted man with the big gloves. By the time they had drawn two riveting back to back series against Australia in 1993-94, the Australian captain Allan Border was induced to pay gracious tribute to the guts they had displayed on the field. Richardson was marked out for special praise, and coach Mike Procter voiced that he was as good a keeper as Ian Healy and in the late order as useful with the bat.

Phase of brilliance

The 1993-95 period probably produced some of Richardson’s best performances with the willow. He scored a First-class century after a decade when he notched up 128 for Eastern Province against Border in the Castle Cup. Against Natal, he scored 67 and picked up crucial and brilliant catches to get the Man of the Match award. When the sides met for the Total Power Series semi-final, Richardson clutched five edges and was named Man of the Match yet again. In the Tests in England in the summer of 1994, he hit 48 at Leeds and 58 at The Oval as South Africa squared the series.

The 1993-95 period probably produced some of Dave Richardson’s (right) best performances with the willow for South Africa © Getty Images
The 1993-95 period probably produced some of Dave Richardson’s (right) best performances with the willow for South Africa © Getty Images

Returning home, in the Castle Cup of 1994-95, he took six catches in the match against Transvaal while hitting 68 and 72 not out for yet another Man of the Match award.

The great form continued when New Zealand visited for a Test series in late 1994. Dion Nash bowled Richardson for a magnificent fighting innings of 93 at Johannesburg. It did not help the South African cause as New Zealand won the match by 137 runs. The following Test at Durban brought a crucial 39 not out and four second-innings catches in an eight-wicket win. And finally at Cape Town, he conquered his nerves to bat for five hours and three minutes, notching up his only hundred in Test cricket as South Africa took the series with a seven wicket win. Richardson bagged both the Man of the Match and Man of the Series awards.

He ended 1995 with 84 at Port Elizabeth against England and started 1996 with a crucial 54 in a series clinching win at Cape Town.

The much awaited dismissal

Richardson never quite regained the same batting brilliance, but a delicious treat was awaiting him.

At Cape Town, in early 1997, as India stared down the barrel at 147 for 9 in the second innings, Venkatesh Prasad stepped out to launch left-arm wrist-spinner Paul Adams into the stands. The ball turned the other way and a gleeful Richardson whipped off the bails to win the match and the series. It was his first stumping dismissal after 119 catches, coming as late as in his 33rd Test match. He effected another in his final series when Greg Blewett was deceived in the air by Pat Symcox.

Richardson called it a day after the Australian tour of 1997-98, having held 150 catches along with the two stumpings in 42 Tests. With the bat he scored 1,359 runs at 24.26 with a hundred and eight fifties. The gloves were taken off and passed to the supremely capable hands of Mark Boucher.

The dark suits accentuate ICC chief executive Dave Richardson's (left) suave polish, and the spread of dignified grey on the crown radiates wisdom and acumen © Getty Images
The dark suits accentuate ICC chief executive Dave Richardson’s (left) suave polish, and the spread of dignified grey on the crown radiates wisdom and acumen © Getty Images

Richardson also represented South Africa in 122 One-Day Internationals (ODIs), accumulating 148 catches and 17 stumpings. In First-Class cricket, he played exactly 200 matches, scoring 6,981 runs at 26.95 with six hundreds and 37 fifties, and boasting a final tally of 579 catches and 40 stumping dismissals.

He continues to serve the game today in his capacity of the CEO of ICC. His poise, tact and the rare ability to articulate his views succinctly have been much needed additions to that severely criticised organisation.

In photos: Dave Richardson’s cricketing career

(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://twiter.com/senantix)