Viv Richards flicks

Flickin’ awesome: Viv Richards clips a ball to leg on his way to 189 in an ODI at Old Trafford, 1984

© PA Photos

 DECEMBER 2016
By Kamran AbbasiYou don’t take Viv Richards down. I’ve seen him hit by a bumper and the ball slide off him like a sponge thrown at granite. I’ve seen him bowled for a duck and still swagger off the pitch. In the mind of King Viv these are simply moments of odd luck in a bowler’s favour, for in his realm, in those royal 22 yards, an opponent is to be cut down with his SS Jumbo.When you are growing up and you see a man like Richards bat, you want to bat like him. When you are older, you realise you’ll never see a batsman like him again. We know about the swagger. Others swagger too, but it’s never been so natural or intimidating. We know about the gum-chewing smile, bum jutting towards square leg in a straight-kneed stance, head cocked towards the bowler atop shoulders that seem as broad as the body is tall. We know what follows is beautiful brutality with no empathy for a bowler’s impotence.

We hear much talk of modern batting, of switch hits and ramp shots. Richards didn’t need any of those. Richards’ style was to see ball, hit ball – anywhere. That isn’t to say he couldn’t play orthodox. His off-drive was quite upright but imperious; the ball might have been fired from a cannon. His pull was by arrangement with the bowler, who barely finished his action before Richards was swaying to the off side to thump him to the boundary. His on-drive was perfectly balanced, an exquisite blend of power and timing.

In defence, he’d pat the ball down as if it was the head of a docile kitten, to mock the lollipop deliveries of the world’s most fearsome bowlers. But a Richards defensive stroke was a grand anticlimax, an obscene waste of talent. Here was a man made for destruction.

Speed, spin, late movement, early movement, the ball took a hell of a beating. When the mood took him, Richards stepped back a pace or two to free his arms and drive expansively through the off side. Whether it was a four or six was a matter of whimsy. It was unstoppable. It was signature. Indeed, all his moves were. He had so many signatures that you’d need an autograph book to capture them.

I’ve seen Richards hit by a bumper and the ball slide off him like a sponge thrown at granite. I’ve seen him bowled for a duck and still swagger off the pitch

But the one that sticks with me is the way Richards played through leg. Yes, Richards was good off his legs. Fire one at his body and he flicked it away, as any world-class batsman might do, except with more venom. No, it isn’t that routine stroke that interests me. Richards did something else, something more breathtaking, something that established his supremacy early in an encounter.

Batting at No. 3, he faced the world’s best. Lillee and Thomson. Botham and Willis. Imran, Kapil and Hadlee. They spat venom and smelt blood. The pitches were rough, green or uneven. Richards didn’t wear a helmet. They wanted to humble the mighty West Indies. They wanted Richards and his West Indians to grovel. Richards would smile. He’d swagger. He’d chew gum. He’d prod the pitch. He’d pat a few heads of docile kittens.

The bowler felt on top, so chest-thumpingly on top that he’d deliver a ball of perfect length darting in at off stump. Instead of patting back down the line, instead of stepping back and driving expansively through the off side, which it was too early to do, Richards had a third way. He moved with an effortless grace, as if merely readjusting that straight-kneed stance. His front leg moved forward and across his stumps, more across than forward, covering them, a certain lbw – for any man but King Viv, that is.

Next, Richards delivered his stroke, his signature move. Across his straight-kneed front leg, in a feat of immaculate timing and rippling power, he’d flick his hands over the ball, a flick that began as a twitch of his mighty shoulder pivots and ended with a snap of wrists, plucking it from its off-stump trajectory and pistoling it into or over the leg-side boundary. The message was delivered. King Viv was seizing control of his kingdom.

Forward and across, with power and poise, from straightened knees and mighty shoulders, he felled the world’s best bowlers. They grovelled before him. If anybody else tried it, it looked like a slog, uncouth and uncultured. When Vivian Richards moved forward and across and flicked to leg, it was a shot of brutal beauty, a signature move to signal the demolition.

Kamran Abbasi is an editor, writer and broadcaster. @KamranAbbasi

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