Sir Viv Richards: West Indies legend reflects on his career and influence on his 70th birthday

West Indies v England, first Test
Venue: Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, Antigua Dates: 8-12 March Time: 14:00 GMT
BBC coverage: Live text commentary on BBC Sport website & app; daily Test Match Special podcasts

Sir Vivian Richards is in reflective mood.

“As the days go by you may not look your age but certainly you do feel it,” he says.

He is 70, but certainly doesn’t look it. The death of legendary Australia leg-spinner Shane Warne, a man he describes as ‘joyous’, has moved him deeply.

But Richards has other reasons to reflect.

The impact of his batting went far beyond the runs he scored – 15,261, including 35 centuries, across 308 Tests and one-day internationals for West Indies. That’s only a statistical estimation of greatness.

Richards knows the way he played cricket, his poise and courage, was hugely influential, especially for black people.

“As a young man growing up, I was always reading about the struggles in America, the Black Panthers,” he says.

“I was conscious in that way, it was a message being sent. These were defenders of your race because of some of the stuff which was going on.

“I was pretty strong about that. Maybe that’s why some folks would look at me sometimes and say, ‘Wow, what an arrogant guy’ in the way he walked out and stuff like that.

“It isn’t arrogance. I just believe in human beings and that’s the most important thing.”

We meet in the north of Antigua, not far from where Richards grew up and only 15 minutes from the stadium which carries his name.

During the three-Test series between West Indies and England, that starts at the Sir Vivian Richards Cricket Stadium on Tuesday, the two sides will play for the new Richards-Botham Trophy.

His friendship with former England all-rounder and captain Lord Botham began in 1974 when they were team-mates at Somerset.

“He’s a guy who I’ve spent a great amount of time with in my life, sharing dressing rooms and being in opposition also,” says Richards of Lord Botham.

“Having the trophy with someone who you hold dear to your heart and you consider a friend – that is pretty good news in my opinion.”

Later, when they meet at the stadium, Richards and Botham embrace, banter and giggle together as if they were back in the flat they shared as young cricketers in Taunton.

Both men produced heroic displays for their countries over the years although, as Botham readily admits, West Indies utterly dominated England during his Test career.

Test cricket back then was, without doubt, the format that mattered. Yet some of Richards’ Test innings, like the 110 from 56 balls in Antigua in 1986, which featured one-handed sixes, practically invented T20 batting.

He smiles and explains: “Sometimes you become a little bit bored with just the general stuff and you try to be creative.

“This is what my game was always about, being as creative as possible, giving the best I can, believing in the talent you have.

“That is of paramount importance, for any young individual. If you have it, flaunt it.”

There’s an easy laughter which follows this answer as Richards fondly enjoys the memories.

But his understanding and passion for history is far deeper. Antigua was a British colony which used African slave labour on its plantations.

When we discuss the legacy of the British Empire it is not enough to simply stop at cricket.

“We, as a people, have given this world a lot,” adds Richards.

“And the generations who come through whatever period of colonialism, and who were responsible for that, should tell their generations and kids. Let them know exactly how some obviously gained their wealth.

“We played a huge part without being paid. So, we hear nowadays about reparations for slavery and that to me is a good call.”

At 70, Richards has a perspective far beyond cricket but then, he always did.

I wish him happy birthday and he accepts by extending his appreciation.

“Let me take this opportunity to thank all the individuals around the world who would have admired the way I’ve done things,” says Richards. “Even the haters, I do appreciate you all.

“Thank you so much, for my 70th.”


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.