Saturday, March 10, 2012

live and let Viv

There's been much fond reminiscence in the media this week on the occasion of the great Sir Vivian Richards' 60th birthday, so it seems only fair to throw my own misty-eyed nostalgic maunderings into the pot as well.

I'm slightly too young to remember the legendary West Indies' tour of England in 1976, as I was only six at the time and in any case we were living in South Korea where you could get things like Sesame Street via the American forces' network, but not the Test match coverage, sadly. Anyway, this was the series where Tony Greig made his spectacularly ill-judged remarks about making the West Indies "grovel" prior to the series and was rewarded by Richards carting England around mercilessly for 232 at Trent Bridge, 135 at Old Trafford and 291 at the Oval, and West Indies winning the series 3-0.

So my first memory of seeing Richards bat "live" was for Somerset in the 1981 Benson & Hedges Cup final, where he made an unbeaten 132, the last 50 or so in partnership with his old mate Ian Botham, as Somerset cantered to victory. This was the golden age of foreign imports playing in the English county game, with Richards and Joel Garner for Somerset, Gordon Greenidge and Malcolm Marshall for Hampshire, Alvin Kallicharran for Warwickshire, Glenn Turner and Imran Khan for Worcestershire, Zaheer Abbas and Mike Procter for Gloucestershire and Clive Rice and Richard Hadlee for Nottinghamshire, plus no doubt many more that I've forgotten about.

The first time I saw him bat in a Test match was in 1984 at Edgbaston, where he carried on from his record-breaking feats in the preceding one-day series by making 117, mostly in partnership with Larry Gomes. I had to resort to listening on the radio to his fastest-ever Test century (a record which still stands, despite Adam Gilchrist's best efforts), also against England at Antigua in 1986. His form declined a bit in the late 1980s, but it's typical of the man that when he had to make some runs, in his last ever Test series, also in England in 1991, he made 376 at an average of 53 (and 60 in his last-ever innings at the Oval) to keep his overall Test average above 50.

Statistics schmatistics, though, and you can keep your Pontings and Laras and Tendulkars, with their superior Test aggregates and averages - great though they all are, Viv is still the most exciting batsman I've ever seen play. There may have been lower-order sloggers who hit the ball harder and further (though not many), but none of them made Test double-centuries or averaged 50. And none of them were as ineffably and effortlessly cool, either.

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