Antigua's cricketing knight celebrates with a round of golf on the island's blissful Cedar Valley course while the cricketing world wishes happy returns to one of its most imperishable monarchs. Can it really be 21 years since that cathartic Test match finale at The Oval when an enraptured full house rose in farewell as, at the pavilion gate, Sir Viv Richards turned to doff his faded old maroon cap to all sides in courtly acknowledgement?
The landmark birthdays of heroes always serve to underline our own mortality and with today's three-score anniversary comes the stark personal realisation that it is more than half my lifetime ago since the eye-popping double-take that day I first set eyes on Richards 38 midsummers ago at Somerset's dear old Bath Festival in 1974 when the gangly young smiler, glistening with gaiety and adventure, clocked Yorkshire's Test bowlers Chris Old and Geoff Cope all over in a festive flurry of sixers. A new star had risen in the west.Mind you, I had gone prepared as fully a month before, in Viv's third first-class innings for the county, against Sussex and England's full-lick John Snow at Hove in May, in the Daily Telegraph, EW Swanton, of all people, had enthused: "Seeing the fondness of the young Antiguan for the hook, Snow now posted a second long-leg to him. Richards' answer was to hit him for 14 in an over including two of the sweetest hooks you ever saw dissecting the space between the two. He sees the ball very early and hits it mighty hard."
"Academic batting": not quite what you think of with birthday-boy Richards. Vengefully scary, more like. Isaac Vivian Alexander. What Christian names for an emperor. Well, he batted like one. His very strut to the wicket intimidated even the most certain of bowlers. By the time he had taken guard, then fixed them with an eye, many were already quivering wrecks. For Viv it was all about nobility and pride; most of all it was burning self-belief.
In Fire In Babylon, the documentary on Caribbean cricket's dominance of a few decades ago, Viv steals the show: "My bat was my sword. I'd take it up, put a piece of chewing gum in my mouth and back myself every time."