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A man who lived in 'forbidden zone'

Once in several generations, along comes a man who captures the imagination. Pradeep Magazine celebrates Vivian Richards.

india Updated: Mar 04, 2007 01:13 IST

The eyes flashed like those of a cat on the prowl. Every now and then, those eyes would twinkle in anticipated delight, as if they had spotted their prey and were now sure that a sumptuous feast lay ahead.

But the eyes were of a man, the masculinity of whose body made him look like a heavyweight boxer. He would walk with an intimidating swagger that would leave his opponents smelling danger.

The cricket bat in his hand appeared like a toy in the hands of a giant. His rippling muscles conveyed raw power and yet, in a strange way, his walk had in it the grace of a ballet dancer.

Ivan Isaac Vivian Richards was no ordinary man. He was and still remains the greatest batsman of our generation and for many, the greatest ever. We have not seen Donald Bradman play, we have just marvelled at his averages and his dominance over bowlers.

None of us has watched Wally Hammond drive and few have seen Garry Sobers’s aquiline movements and raw power that combined to produce the strokes of a genius.

For some, Barry Richards is the last word in batsmanship but ask fans and ask those who played alongside him, against him and watched him literally destroy the most fearsome attacks in the world — even in their minds, there was and will be only one Richards.

Even to make a comparison with any other player is almost like questioning the existence of God.

Viv Richards’s exploits in the Test arena and in the shortened version of the game are now legendary. His smashing the fastest bowler on earth, Jeff Thomson, off the backfoot for a straight six; his wiping blood from his mouth after being hit by a bouncer and then hitting the next ball for a six are all stories that are now part of a mythical folklore.

His complete annihilation of an awesome Australian attack on just one leg, his last-ball six off a yorker, which he hit over square-leg in the 1979 World Cup final… these are memories that not even the flood of one-day matches shown on TV these days can erase.

They were all the strokes of a man who lived in that “forbidden zone”, where those that survived were those that broke the existing laws and created their own grammar and language.

Genius is an oft-abused word, more so in our times where even the smallest event is built as the greatest ever, only to be forgotten the next moment as being the most mundane.

Everyone is a genius these days and everyone is a commoner --- a man not worthy of a decent existence soon after. That giant guzzler called the idiot box feasts on reputations, builds them one day and chews and destroys them the next.

Had he been playing today, when wickets have become flatter; when the laws of the one-day game are wholly designed to favour batsmen; when bats have become so powerful that even a push speeds to the boundary in a flash; and hitting sixes has become child’s play, Richards would have been anointed the greatest cricketer ever to stride on to a cricket field.

The plethora of TV channels would, by now, have profiled the minutest details of even the relatives of his friends. His was the personality, the demeanor, the aggro and the arrogance that TV would have loved to feast upon.

His pride in being black and his public expression of taking delight in making the English “grovel” made him a true representative of a race that needed a powerful symbol of rebellion and triumph, much like Frank Worrell was a decade before Richards’s advent on the cricketing stage.

Once, his closest white friend, Ian Botham, refused to join the rebel tour of South Africa during the height of apartheid and the reason he gave was, “I couldn’t have looked Richards in the eye again.”

He is stuck in the collective conscience of India as the man whose catch Kapil Dev took in the 1983 final, a moment that turned the tide and helped India win the Cup.

But he is also the man who made his debut in 1974 at Banglaore and, in only his second Test at Delhi’s Kotla, made the ball disappear into the adjoining Ambedkar Stadium with such frightening regularity that the great Indian spin troika of Venkat, Bedi and Prasanna did not know where to hide.

Immediately after the 1983 World Cup triumph, India hosted West Indies for a Test and one-day series. In Amritsar, where the West Indies played a three-day practice game prior to the beginning of the Tests, a reporter asked Richards how losing the World Cup final to India felt.

Chewing gum and surrounded by the North Zone players (who obviously idolised him), Richards’s reply was simple: “Every dog has his day”. But that statement could not hide the hurt that loss had done to his pride.

India were decimated in that Test and one-day series, so much so that in the Kolkata Test at Eden, the crowd rained tomatoes at the Indian players after another loss. And the man who had played a major role in reminding the world that the West Indies’ World Cup loss was an aberration, was King Richards himself.