The year was 1979, my father bought tickets for my brother and I to attend the Cricket World Cup Final between England and West Indies. My first live match at age ten was an unbelievable experience – we were at ground level on the grass and not in seats. We were positioned with all of the West Indies fans, accompanied by whistles, conk shells, food and tonnes of alcohol.
Ahead of the game I watched both England and West Indies warm-up in the practice nets. Call it luck, yet I stood behind on the outside of the net to the most gifted batsmen I had ever seen: Viv Richards. Amongst other kids, I jostled for position whilst our fathers drank rum and told stories about their cricketing days. Transfixed by Viv, every ball he received, appeared to be struck for four. I was just in awe at how he was able to hit the ball with such ease and grace.
The scenes in our corner of the ground when Viv scored his hundred will live with me forever: dancing, bell ringing, whistling, the place was electric! Those images planted the seed for me wanting to become a cricketer. West Indies went on to win their second World Cup and Viv was Man of the Match, scoring 138 Not Out.
Whether playing in the garden or at school, I told my peers to refer to me as Viv! Around the mid eighties I went down to the Oval cricket ground with a group of friends to watch Surrey vs Somerset. Surrey batting first with a notable contribution from Monty Lynch with 57. Viv swaggered to crease without helmet and in no time scored 93, winning the game for Somerset. Two shots made be gasp: hitting the ball onto the roof of the main pavilion stand; and flicking the ball from outside the off stump over the square boundary for six! Just Wow!
It seemed every time I watched Viv live, he scored runs. The gulf between Viv and every other batsman was huge and it struck me on the day, this guy was a genius.
Technically trying to bat like Viv got me into all sorts of trouble, because rather than developing my own strengths, I mirrored someone else’s. In my batting stance, I would cock out my bottom and watch the ball sideways rather than having my head fully round to view the ball with both eyes -although at the time I thought I was watching the ball with both 🙂
Having met Viv a number of times over the years I’m always struck by his aura and passion for the game. Today Viv, I salute you.