Vic Richardson © Getty Images
Vic Richardson © Getty Images

Vic Richardson, the former Australian captain, was born on September 7, 1894. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at the career of one of the greatest sporting all-rounders of all time.

Victor York Richardson was a dashing fielder. On one occasion in 1928 he put up such a masterful display of fielding at cover that Sydney Morning Herald ran a simple three-word header to an article: “Is Richardson human?”

Richardson was an outstanding fielder. He used to move like lightning, pounced on the ball in a flash, and threw the ball with the speed and accuracy of a marksman in one fluid motion. Watching him prowl in the cover was a treat for the eye, though he could field at any position and could also double up as a reserve wicket-keeper.

He was, however, not the most attractive batsmen, counting more on a grim, determined approach than fluent strokeplay. He could drive and hook the ball really hard and never hesitated to take the attack to the fastest of bowlers.

Richardson had rather ordinary numbers to show for his batting: 706 runs at 23.53 with a single hundred from 19 Tests do not speak too highly of him, though he had held 24 catches. From 184 First-Class matches Richardson had scored 10,727 runs at 37.63 with 27 hundreds and had 211 catches and four stumpings to his name.

His main claim to fame lay in his all-round sporting skills:

– He led Australia in cricket;
– He won the Magarey Medal, the SA (South Australia) Football League’s highest individual honour while acting as the captain-coach of Sturt;
– He won the SA state tennis title;
– He played for Australia in baseball;
– He represented SA in golf;
– He played lacrosse for his district;
– He was also a champion at basketball and swimming.

Early days

Valentine Yaxley Richardson, Vic’s father, was an all-round professional — an accountant, a house-painter and decorator, and even a temperance union secretary. The mother, Rebecca Mary Richardson née Malloney was possibly the only one who was satisfied with a one-dimensional life.

Vic studied at Kyre College (which later became Scotch College) at Unley Park and joined the State Public Service. However, due to his amazing talent the focus was on sport, and he often ended up playing multiple sports on the same day during weekends.

His career was delayed by World War I, and it was not until an age of 24 that he could make his First-Class debut. In his first match he scored 72 and 48 against a strong Victoria outfit comprising Ted McDonald and Warwick Armstrong at the MCG. It turned out to be his only match of the season.

The maiden hundred came the following season against Victoria at MCG. Trailing by 358 runs, Algy Gehrs asked Richardson to open with him. SA were 9 for 2 before Richardson added 200 with Dave Pritchard and he eventually fell as the fourth batsman after scoring 134. He finished the season with 284 runs at 40.57.

He was sent on a series of unofficial ‘Tests’ to New Zealand next season. Grabbing the opportunity with both hands Richardson scored 112 in the second ‘Test’ at Eden Park.

By now the captain of SA, Richardson hammered 100 against Victoria at MCG and 135 against NSW (New South Wales) at SCG in the last two matches of 1923-24. In the first match of the following season he scored 123 against Victoria at Adelaide in his second match.

He was picked against the touring MCC at Adelaide; however, when on the notoriously unlucky Australian score of 87 he was hit-wicket against Arthur Gilligan. He made up for the failure by scoring 100 and 125 at SCG as SA followed-on and lost. He won a Test cap immediately afterwards.

Test debut

Richardson made his debut in the first Test of the 1924-25 Ashes at SCG. Coming out to bat at a relatively safe 286 for 4 Richardson scored 42 and followed it with 18 in the second innings as Australia went 1-0 up in the series.

The hundred did not take long to arrive: Australia were reduced to 47 for 3 before Bill Ponsford and Johnny Taylor lifted them to 208. Richardson matched Ponsford stroke by stroke, and was eventually run out for a 217-ball 138 scored out of a total of 216 during his stay.

He batted aggressively during the innings, those strong forearms leading to booming drives past the bowler; the highlight of the innings, however, was an outrageous hook that soared into the stands crossing the humongous MCG. It would remain his only Test hundred. He did little else of note as he finished the series with 210 runs at 35.00.

The first comeback

Richardson had to wait for four years to make a comeback to Test cricket. During this period he also registered his highest First-Class score — a 231 against an MCC attack comprising of Harold Larwood, ‘Tich’ Freeman, Jack White, and Wally Hammond. The innings got him a Test recall.

A certain debutant called Don Bradman had failed at The Gabba and Richardson replaced him in the second Test at SCG. However, 35 runs in four innings did little good to him and he was dropped after two Tests. Despite his failure Richardson was a part of the Ashes tour of 1930.

To be fair to Richardson he began well. After having a quiet match against Worcestershire at New Road he led the tourists against Leicestershire at Aylestone Road. In a rain-affected match he scored 100 and dominated a 179-run partnership with the youngster called Bradman.

He did not do a lot on the rest of the tour barring a fighting 116 against Northamptonshire at Northampton after Australia were bowled out for 93 and had to follow-on. He played four Tests in the series, scoring 98 runs at 19.60, and 832 on the tour at 26.83. His fielding, however, remained top-notch as usual; he also performed his second role with efficiency, keeping wickets to provide Bert Oldfield with much-needed rest.

Richardson was not picked for the series against South Africa and West Indies, but he regained his form in 1931-32 — a season where he scored 873 runs at 54.56 with three hundreds, which brought him into contention yet again. He began the next season with a bang, scoring 134 in an innings defeat against the touring MCC. He handed Harold Larwood, Bill Bowes, Hammond, and Hedley Verity quite well, and suddenly the selectors took notice of him yet again.

In the next match against Victoria at Adelaide he scored 203 out of 403 and 55 out of 144 for 7 as SA pulled off a three-wicket victory. It was virtually a single-handed victory against bowlers of the quality of Ernie McCormick and ‘Chuck’ Fleetwood-Smith. His next match was the first Ashes Test at SCG as the sixth batsman — perhaps at the cost of Bradman, who had pulled out due to a conflict with ACB.

Second comeback: Bodyline

The Australian top-order was no match against Larwood and Bill Voce, who soon removed the top four with 87 on the board when Richardson joined Stan McCabe. McCabe scored an outstanding 233-ball 187 not out, but Richardson had his contribution too, scoring 49 in 108 balls with five fours. Together they added 139 runs in 120 minutes.

Australia were bowled out for 360 by Larwood (5 for 96) and Voce (4 for 110). In response Herbert Sutcliffe and Hammond scored hundreds, but the really painstaking innings came from the debutant Nawab of Pataudi Sr, who scored 102 in 380 balls with only 6 fours.

When Pataudi scored 25 in a period of close to 100 minutes Richardson walked up to him:

Richardson: Pat, what’s wrong? Aren’t you seeing them too well?
Pataudi: I’m waiting for the pace of the wicket to change a bit.
Richardson: Good God! It’s changed three times while you’ve been in!

The sledge did not help: England took a massive lead, Larwood picked up 5 for 28, and England were faced with a target of a single run in the fourth innings.

The next Test at MCG saw Australia square the series. It was a low-scoring affair where Australia scored 228 and 191 but England had no response to Bradman’s 103 and Bill O’Reilly’s 10 for 129. Richardson played his part, scoring a 66-ball 34 in the first innings. The real contribution came in the second where he scored a 48-ball 32 and outscored Bradman in a 44-minute partnership of 54.

Hell broke loose in the third Test at Adelaide. Woodfull and Oldfield were felled by Larwood, and the relationship between the sides reached a new low. Larwood and ‘Gubby’ Allen ran through the Australians twice and led the tourists to an innings victory. Once again Richardson chipped in with 28 and 21, and did a decent job of standing up against Bodyline.

Things almost got out of hands with Woodfull famously denying Pelham Warner entry to the Australian dressing-room with the historic words “There are two teams out there. One is trying to play cricket. The other is not. This game is too good to be spoiled. It is time some people got out of it.”

During the Test someone in the Australian side called Larwood a bastard in a somewhat loud voice. A fuming Douglas Jardine rapped on the Australian dressing-room door. The knock was answered by Richardson with a towel around his waist. “I would like to speak to Woodfull. One of your men called Larwood a bastard. I want an immediate apology, demanded Jardine.”

With an almost ridiculing look, Richardson turned towards the dressing-room and asked, somewhat loudly: “Hey, which of you bastards called Larwood a bastard instead of Jardine?”

Bill Woodfull (left) and Vic Richardson walking out to open the batting in the final Bodyline Test. Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons.
Bill Woodfull (left) and Vic Richardson walking out to open the batting in the final Bodyline Test. Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons.

Jack Fingleton had looked all at sea against Larwood, and was replaced by the 38-year-old Richardson at the top. For once Australia had a decent opening stand with Richardson and Woodfull putting up 133 in 159 minutes. Richardson top-scored with a 146-ball 83, and followed it up with 32 more in the second innings. However, Australia scored 340 and 175 and conceded the Ashes.

He lasted only 6 balls in the final Test, registering a pair as England pulled off an 8-wicket victory, winning the Ashes 4-1. He finished with 279 runs at 27.90.

Captain of Australia and tussles with Bradman

Richardson was dropped for the 1934 Ashes but was recalled for the 1935-36 tour of South Africa. With Woodfull retiring and Bradman pulling out of the series the 41-year-old Richardson was appointed captain for the tour.

By now Richardson had been replaced by Bradman as the SA captain; this was not taken by the senior man too lightly. There was already an anti-Bradman camp forming in the Australian side — led mainly by Bill O’Reilly and Fingleton; Richardson became the new addition.

The hosts were no match for the Australians and lost the five-Test series 0-4. In fact, the only Test South Africa had managed to draw was at Old Wanderers where McCabe went on a rampage after Dudley Nourse’s 231 had set them a target of 399. When Australia were 274 for 2 with McCabe on 189 the South African captain ‘Herby’ Wade called for bad light and the Test was called off.

Richardson himself failed with the bat, scoring 84 runs at 16.80 (though his tour wasn’t that bad: he scored 443 runs at 34.07). However, as Arunabha Sengupta mentions, “The tour was very successful and senior players like O’Reilly openly said that they enjoyed playing under Richardson.”

Towards the beginning of the next season there was a match between Don Bradman’s XI and Vic Richardson’s XI. Richardson’s team was virtually the same as the one that toured South Africa: it included O’Reilly, Clarrie Grimmett, McCormick, McCabe, Fingleton, Bill Brown, and Arthur Chipperfield. After Richardson’s XI managed 363 Bradman came out at 51 for 4 and scored 212 in a team score of 385.

Bradman’s side won by six wickets. The great man commented that Richardson’s South Africa-conquering side was perhaps not as great as the fans thought they were. In retaliation, Richardson commented: “We could have played any team without Bradman, but we could not have played the blind school without Clarrie Grimmett.”

The tussles continued. In Chappelli Speaks Out Ian Chappell recalled a conversation between Bradman and Richardson soon after Gilligan was appointed the President of MCC:

Richardson: Good thing they don’t work on the Australian system.
Bradman: Why’s that, Vic?
Richardson: In England the president is picked by his friends. If they had that system in Australia, you’d never get a vote, you c**t.

Richardson retired in 1937-38 after a match at Adelaide against — Don Bradman’s XI. In a rain-washed affair Richardson might have had some consolation in the fact that his side scored 380 for 9 after Bradman’s XI got 184, and that he scored 42 while Bradman got 17.

Bill Woodfull (left) and Vic Richardson walking out to open the batting in the final Bodyline Test. Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons.
Vic Richardson (left) with Don Bradman. Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons.

Post-retirement and personal life

Richardson had married Vida Yvonne Knapman (what was it about the family fixation with a middle-name that began with a Y?) on January 29, 1919 and had a son and three daughters. Vida passed away in 1940 and Richardson remarried Peggy Patricia Chandler née Herbert on May 30, 1946.

One of his daughters, Jeanne, married Martin Chappell and gave birth to three Test cricketers — Ian, Greg, and Trevor. Keeping up the family tradition Ian Chappell also had his days of disagreements when he was the captain and Bradman was the Chairman of Selectors for Australia.

When he was dropped during the 1928-29 series Richardson was appointed as a radio commentator and stuck to the job. He later toured England as a commentator and forged a memorable partnership with Gilligan, with the “What do you think, Arthur?” and “What do you think, Vic?” exchanges turning out to be immensely popular.

Richardson’s sporting achievements made him a friend of the Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies. He became a prominent local Liberal-Country League Member and unsuccessfully contested a few elections.

Richardson was awarded an OBE in 1954 Queen’s Birthday Honours for services to cricket. The Adelaide Oval honoured him by naming its gates after him.

Richardson passed away on October 30, 1969 at Fullarton watching — rather fittingly — sport on television.

A footnote

In 1974-75, Greg Chappell, grandson of Richardson took 7 catches against England in Perth. Richardson had held 5 catches in an innings at Durban in 1936, against South Africa a world record that was never bettered but equalled. The 6 catches that Richardson held was a world record which was bettered by Greg.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is a cricket historian and Senior Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He generally looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – though not as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the sport with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers that cricket has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in. He can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)