Viv Richards © Getty Images
Viv Richards had a field day with the ball at Delhi against India in the Nehru Cup 1989 © Getty Images

October 23, 1989.Viv Richards brought off a spectacular win for West Indies over India in the Nehru Cup. Curiously, he did the star turn with his off-breaks. Arunabha Sengupta relives the day that saw the master batsman end with a haul of six wickets.

The celebrations

The image persists even after a quarter of a century.

The aura of the King, the majesty and the arrogance — holding us transfixed as the drama went through its final act. Viv Richards stood victorious, supremacy shining through his smile, through his posture, the only man in the cricket world who had the license to emit that degree of audacity without being branded insolent.

Yet, it was not the mighty Stuart Surridge that decimated the attack that day. It had indeed flashed for a brief and blistering while, with the familiar fusion of fury and finesse. He had scored quick runs for his team, but it had been a relatively brief innings.

He had performed the most magical of turnarounds with the ball, unprecedented, unexpected and almost unreal. Yet, neither was it the sight of the six wickets against his name that held us rapt on that well remembered day.

The image that sticks to the memory is of what took place when the stumps were struck the final time by the apparently innocuous off-break, when the last of the Indian batsmen trudged back in a state of shock and humiliation.

It was then the King broke into that exhibition of joy, the kind of which has seldom been seen before or since. His great arm whirled round his shoulder in ecstatic fervour, in the direction opposite to the way it had sent down the damaging deliveries, as if rewinding after all the unaccustomed heroics with the ball. It went round and round and round, like a frantic windmill, until the euphoria was nothing a blur of jubilation.That one act of elation was imprinted on an entire generation who saw the game.

The following afternoon, on a busy Tuesday, as the bell rang to announce lunch break, the school grounds filled up with multiple matches played with makeshift wickets, all kinds of balls, and varying degrees of seriousness. And every major and minor feat that day was celebrated with dozens of boyish arms whirling around in unison, trying desperately to emulate this enthralling war dance of the man who was established as a universal hero.

It was not easy. Like most of the acts of the great man, even this routine of joy required a degree of skill beyond the realms of most. Many shoulders ended sore, many rotator cuffs were strained. And thus was the moment carved further onto the lasting memory of that era.

String of losses

The unbridled delight of Richards just underlined how much the win meant to him and his team. They were the mighty West Indians, to whom defeat was an alien concept. Yet, they had been going through an unusual slump.

Before arriving in India for the Nehru Cup MRF World Series, they had lost three straight matches at Sharjah— two to Pakistan and one to India. This had been followed by a nightmarish start to their tournament campaign.

At Rajkot, the Sri Lankans, considered small fry in the cricketing seas, had drowned them with some steady bowling and sensible batting. Desmond Haynes, Richie Richardson, Richards himself and others, great names all, had been restricted to 170. And then Asanka Gurusinha had negotiated the firepower of Curtly Ambrose, Ian Bishop, Courtney Walsh and Winston Benjamin with considerable aplomb.

Two days later, at Madras, Malcolm Marshall had joined the bowling line-up, only for Steve Waugh to launch into Ambrose and Walsh. Richards had been bowled by Merv Hughes for just 5 and West Indies had suffered an embarrassing 99-run loss.

The side had come to Delhi in the wake of five consecutive losses, equalling their worst ever losing spree till then. Richards wanted a win, wanted it desperately.

The battle

However, soon it looked likely to become six in a row. The Indian team, under their new captain Krishnamachari Srikkanth, had thwarted a stiff Sri Lankan challenge in the previous match. After putting the Caribbean team into bat, they went about their task with spirit, bowling tightly and fielding with considerable keenness.

West Indies were never allowed to get away. Wickets fell at regular intervals. Even when Richards and Richie Richardson added 66 in good time, the grip was never relaxed. The West Indian captain struck Arshad Ayub for a huge six in his 42-ball 44 before failing to beat a throw from the in-field.

As long as Richardson was there, a big total looked on the cards. But, with the score on 168 for 5, he hit one back to Ayub. Kapil Dev and Chetan Sharma went through their final overs with discipline, causing considerable difficulty to the tail-enders. In the end, with the match shortened to 45 overs-a-side, West Indies were restricted to 196 for 9.

Of course, it was never going to be easy against Ambrose, Benjamin, Walsh and Marshall. After an uncharacteristically hesitant start, Srikkanth edged Marshall for 10. Navjot Sidhu, distinctly unhappy against the scorching pace, was sent back by Walsh for 9. But, the Indian batting coasted on an amazing innings by Raman Lamba.

A bunny against the West Indian pacers during the 1987-88 series, Lamba was perhaps going through his best phase in the international arena.During this spellbinding innings, he gave all the indications that he had indeed mastered extreme pace. The loss of Srikkath and Sidhu did not seem to bother him. The ball was struck imperiously, gaps were found with élan, the best of the West Indian fast bowlers were made to look less than threatening.

Mohinder Amarnath provided him some rewarding company. India were cruising at 91 for 2, when Richards himself came on.

Six for 41

West Indies did have in their ranks a googly bowling late order batsman by the name of Robert Haynes, but Richards was not about to risk him against the Indian batting. He proceeded to send down his off-breaks and almost immediately had Amarnath driving uppishly straight into the hands of the sublime Augustine Logie in the covers.

For a while it did not seem to matter. Mohammad Azharuddin looked in fine fettle, and Lamba was driving and cutting with extraordinary poise. He had reached 61 from just 80 balls and the score read 115.Walsh pitched up, outside the off-stump, moving it away. Lamba drove a little too loosely, a little too away from the body. Jeff Dujon pouched it behind the stumps.

Ravi Shastri came in, accompanied by an element of calm assurance. Runs were milked with a risk free, mature approach.

At 143 for 4 India looked very much the favourites, when Richards struck again. Azharuddin, playing with that slanted bat of his, drove one back and the skipper held on to it. The run a ball innings of the Hyderabadi maestro came to an end. By now, India were starting to rue the absence of Dilip Vengsarkar from the line-up, out due to some mysterious illness.

Yet, with Kapil and Shastri at the crease, the runs came at a gallop. Kapil slammed a boundary and Shastri, using the long handle to excellent effect, lofted Richards for a huge six. The Indians batted right to No. 11, and the ask was just another 39 runs from 48 deliveries. This was when Richards began the 38th over of the innings.

That was the over that changed everything.

Shastri aimed for the stands again, and skied the ball to Robert Haynes. Manoj Prabhakar, a batsman of considerable ability, came in at 158 for 6. Two runs later, Kapil tried to turn one to the leg and Desmond Haynes plucked it at square leg. The very next ball fooled the plucky little Kiran More, the pad was struck and the finger went up. Richards had picked three in an over.

Eight months earlier, at Dunedin, Richard Hadlee had captured 5 for 38 against Pakistan. That had made him the oldest man to get five wickets in an ODI, at the age of 37 years 218 days. Viv Richards now had 5 and he was older by 12 days. This was his second 5-wicket haul. The previous had been achieved, by curious coincidence, at Dunedin in 1987 — a match in which he had also blasted 119.

Richards still remains the oldest man from a Test playing nation to claim five wickets in a limited-overs international. The oldest ever to achieve the feat in all ODIs is Canada’s slow left-arm bowler Sunil Dhaniram. He was 39 years and 256 days old when he claimed 5 for 32 against Bermuda in King City in 2008.

Coming back to the match at Delhi, the Richards over had reduced India from 158 for 5 to 160 for 8.

Chetan Sharma would go on to score a hundred in the very next match, but till then his batting credentials were not too robust. He had crossed 20 on just one occasion in previous 55 matches. Hence, Prabhakar was not very sure about the scheme to adopt. In all this confusion, he succeeded in running himself out at 165.

Arshad Ayub, the last man, was no mug with the bat either. He had struck a solid half century in the Test at Calcutta when West Indies had visited in 1987-88. His highest in First-Class cricket was 206 not out, and he had hit 174 in a Ranji Trophy final.

However, nothing could stop Richards on that day. His off-spin turned, went past Ayub’s blade and the stumps were struck. India all out 176. Victory to the West Indies by 20 runs. And what came next became a tale of celebration embossed in the memories of all who saw the game that day.

There had been Ambrose, Walsh, Marshall and Benjamin, as deadly a pace attack as any ever assembled. And the match had been won by the off-spin of Viv Richards. His figures read 9.4-0-41-6. Needless to say, he would never better those numbers in his career.

What followed?

There was obviously no other contender for the Man of the Match award. This match essentially turned the West Indian fortunes. They soon beat Pakistan by six wickets and England by 26 runs to reach the semi-final. At Bombay, they met India again and routed them by 8 wickets to reach the title round.

They were defeated in a heart stopping final by Pakistan. Given the bowling heroics of Richards, the end was somewhat ironical. Wasim Akram went down on his knee and swung the same Viv Richards into the Eden Gardens crowd to win the thriller with one ball to spare.

Brief scores:

West Indies 196 for 9 in 45 overs (Richie Richardson 57, Viv Richards 44; Chetan Sharma 3 for 46) beat India 176 in 41.4 overs (Raman Lamba 61; Viv Richards 6 for 41) by 20 runs.

Man of the Match: Viv Richards.

(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 here.)