For most of his playing days Sir Vivian Richards — The Great — occupied the throne as the king of batsmen. There he sat, unchallenged, and to those of us, his subjects, who doted on his every stroke, there was none in his class.
There was no opposition he feared, no bowler he couldn’t overcome. If the mood took him, he could hit any ball for four, and his dominance was so complete that, with just a modicum of circumspection, he could make a hundred any time he pleased.
That, at least, is what we believed as boys, very much in love with the great game and wholly entranced by Richards’ majesty and might as a batter.
Every bowler he faced, no matter how good, found themselves at the receiving end of his flashing blade at some point or other, and many, like Imran Khan, Dennis Lillee, and Ian Botham, consider him the best to whom they ever bowled. Stories abound of bowlers developing sudden niggles when they came face to face with the master, and many foolhardy trundlers, who thought themselves above their station, were harshly chastened trying to intimidate the Antiguan.
In reminiscing upon his long career and on the many wonderful gifts that the original “Master Blaster” bestowed upon the cricket-loving public, many fans are inclined to opine on which was his best performance. His 109 in 1987 that won the Test for the West Indies on a turning Feroz Shah Kotla in India was certainly a high-quality knock. His 145 at Lord’s in 1980 was also an innings of the highest class. Graham Gooch scored a hundred in that game as well, and I remember a line from the late Tony Cozier’s report on the game, “Yesterday Graham Gooch batted like a prince; today it was the king’s turn.” And then many will swear that his best was his 56-ball hundred in Antigua or his 291 at the Oval in 1976.
When asked what was the best innings he played, however, the West Indian legend mentions none of these. He didn’t go for any of the 114 first-class or 26 limited overs hundreds that he made over his long career. Instead, he astounded the interviewer and most of the listeners by selecting an innings of 61 he made at Sabina Park against India in 1983.
Considering the many great innings he played, why was that one of little over a half-century so special to him? I don’t know the answer to that; I can’t recall if he explained why. I can tell you, however, why it was special to me.
It was my first time at a Test match. A friend and I decided to cut afternoon classes in order to watch the final session of the last day of the game, despite everyone telling us we were in for an evening of boredom, though I failed to understand how an afternoon spent watching the likes of Michael Holding, Andy Roberts, Malcolm Marshall, Joel Garner, Kapil Dev, and Sunil Gavaskar could ever be called boring — whatever the state of the game.
The West Indies had replied to India’s 251 in the first innings by scoring 254. The entire fourth day was lost due to rain and the game seemed to be heading for a tame draw at tea on the last day, with India 168 for 6.
Roberts thought otherwise. His rousing post-tea spell that was liberally sprinkled with short balls — that threatened ribcage and throat — proved too much for the Indians. They quickly succumbed, leaving the West Indies with 172 to make and about 28 overs from which to make them.
Greenidge and Haynes added 46 before Haynes got out pushing hard for runs. His 34 was made off just 24 balls, and it was evident that he understood the urgency of the situation. Greenidge, on the other hand, was batting much too slowly for our liking, and we let him know. He had scored a painstaking 70 in the first innings, and it appeared that he had set out to play in like manner. The crowd, on the other hand, thought assault and battery was what was required and so were not disappointed when he was out for 42, scored, if memory serves, without a single boundary.
Clive Lloyd then decided to come in at three when we were expecting Richards. What we didn’t know at the time was that the great man was ailing and was laying on the physiotherapists table receiving treatment. Lloyd didn’t last very long, scoring only three. And now it was — in the words of Tony Cozier — the king’s turn.
He strode to the wicket like he owned Sabina Park and immediately started striking the bowling to all parts. His first scoring stroke was a huge six, which signalled the beginning of the onslaught. Strokes to almost every corner of Sabina Park served to whip the crowd into a frenzy. At one point it seemed that every fielder was manning the boundary ropes, yet Richards was still able to pierce the field. One straight hit landed in our section of the crowd, and my friend went berserk. He so lost control of himself that he strayed onto the playing area, and only returned to his senses after being reprimanded by an angry guard dog desperately pulling on his handler’s leash. He came within inches of being bitten.
Despite the reservations of our classmates, it turned out to be a grand occasion. Richards’ 61 came off only 36 balls with 5 fours and 4 sixes, and everyone present immediately knew that they had witnessed something truly special. He returned to the pavilion at 156/5 with 16 needed for an unbelievable victory. Without his awesome innings West Indies wouldn’t have won, and victory was still only achieved in the very last over with Jeffrey Dujon hitting a full toss for six in fast-fading light.
The next day we made sure everyone at school knew we were there.
Garfield Robinson is a Jamaican living in the US who writes on cricket for a few Indian and English publications. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or firstname.lastname@example.org.