PETER HAYTER

The Cricket Paper - - FRONT PAGE - Sir Viv Richards, Sir Curtly Am­brose, Sir Andy Roberts and Sir Richie Richard­son were speak­ing at a Wick­etz pro­gramme de­liv­ered by the UK’s lead­ing youth cricket and dis­abil­ity sports charity, the Lord’s Tav­ern­ers. To find out more, visit lord­stav­ern­ers.o

Sir Viv Richards still has that fa­mous old stare!

Eyes slightly nar­rowed, fix­ing you in a laser-gaze from which it is im­pos­si­ble to break free, teeth clenched tight be­hind tighter lips.

Dur­ing the best part of the two decades when Sir Vi­vian Richards was, with­out ques­tion, the finest bats­man on the planet and all the years since, this is the look he has em­ployed to con­cen­trate the mind of op­pos­ing bowlers, er­rant team-mates, un­help­ful um­pires, hope­less ad­min­is­tra­tors and clue­less media men alike.

Its mean­ing is sim­ple and to the point – I ad­vise you to pay at­ten­tion now, be­cause I am deadly se­ri­ous.

Prior to see­ing it again on the eve of the first Test of the In­vestec se­ries be­tween Eng­land and West Indies at Edg­bas­ton, I had en­coun­tered it at rel­a­tively close hand four times be­fore.

I was in­tro­duced to it on the out­field at Sabina Park, Ja­maica, in early 1989, just af­ter Eng­land had up­set the odds by win­ning the first Test match ever broad­cast live by Sky TV when, on the way to the post match Press con­fer­ence, I con­veyed a mes­sage from the pro­ducer re­quest­ing an in­ter­view with their lead com­men­ta­tor Tony Greig.

Never for­given, nor for­got­ten in those parts for his in­ju­di­cious prom­ise to make West Indies “grovel” prior to the 1976 se­ries in Eng­land, Greig was not likely to get a man-hug or a high-five from an old and re­spected ad­ver­sary. What I got in­stead, on his be­half, was the look and one sin­gle word. No.

The se­cond oc­ca­sion hap­pened dur­ing the fi­nal Test of the same se­ries on his home is­land of An­tigua, when the re­cip­i­ent was a na­tional pa­per re­porter whose story, which amounted in essence to Richards re­fus­ing to talk to him on his day off, had been splashed all over the front page back in the UK, then shown to him by fax shortly be­fore the start of play.

Just as Vic Marks, his long-time col­league at Som­er­set turned to ask if any­one knew why the West Indies cap­tain was not lead­ing his team onto the field that morn­ing, there he ap­peared at the back of the Press box, qui­etly sug­gest­ing to the hack in ques­tion where he might stick his por­ta­ble type­writer.You could hold the men­ace in that mo­ment in your hands.

Phil Tufnell was never the bravest against the kind of fast bowl­ing with which West Indies pace­men hur­ried up far more tech­ni­cally sound and less cowardly bats­men than he.

But Eng­land’s ec­cen­tric left-arm spin­ner is per­haps the only man in cricket his­tory to ad­mit to hav­ing been scared that one of their bats­men might do him phys­i­cal harm.

In his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, Tuf­fers re­calls what hap­pened in Richards’ last Test when, in the fi­nal match of the 1991 se­ries at the Oval, he pre­pared to bowl at the Masterblaster for the first time.

“There was noth­ing for it,” he wrote. “I sim­ply had to bowl the ball. I did. I gave it my best loop­ing, spin­ning, bal­lon-a-string. It was clev­erly flighted and drop­ping on a per­fect length... and Viv played it with his dark eyes closed. Then he looked at me from un­der that peaked West Indies cap, a strange pierc­ing look of con­tempt. ‘Is that the best you have, Philip?’ said the look. ‘Is that it? Is that what I walked all the way out here to bat against?’ And I thought to my­self, ‘Je­sus Christ almighty, this bloke is go­ing to whack me ev­ery­where’. For a se­cond I ac­tu­ally thought I was ac­tu­ally go­ing to faint.”

Those who know Richards well and have en­joyed that in­nate sense of fun and mis­chief which have made time spent in his com­pany a blast (and hav­ing been kid­napped by him and his great friend Sir Ian for their evil purposes on more than one oc­ca­sion I know whereof I speak) un­der­stand that he only uses the look when he needs to, or feels he has been pushed to it or when there is no al­ter­na­tive.

Which is why see­ing it come over his face while he took a break from tak­ing part in a coach­ing event down the road from Edg­bas­ton on Wed­nes­day made such an im­pres­sion.

He was re­spond­ing to the sad thought that, with some of their best play­ers ab­sent through their own choice of play­ing fran­chise cricket in­stead of for the West Indies, not­with­stand­ing their suc­cess in the last World T20, the West Indies he and his con­tem­po­raries had taken to the top of world cricket with such hon­our, dig­nity and fe­ro­cious unity of pur­pose were now putting out teams un­able to qual­ify for the Cham­pi­ons Tro­phy and ranked eighth among Test play­ing na­tions.

Ad­min­is­tra­tors dis­tracted by self­in­ter­est were one rea­son, but then there was this.

“It hurts. No West Indies in the Cham­pi­ons Tro­phy felt like the Pre­mier League with­out Chelsea or Arse­nal. I felt pretty low.

“When I was play­ing we may have been lead­ers in our time, but long be­fore us, from Sir Learie Con­stan­tine on­wards, there was a le­gacy and I do not be­lieve some of these in­di­vid­u­als in the cur­rent day un­der­stand what that means.

“Maybe we haven’t got the in­di­vid­u­als in the set-up at present to fil­ter through what some of this stuff is all about.

“When I was a player we had our dif­fer­ences, but what stood us out to such a de­gree was the fact that when you put on that ma­roon cap there was sense of pride about it. I want to see that again.”

As al­ways the look be­hind the words said: I ad­vise you to pay at­ten­tion now, be­cause I am deadly se­ri­ous.

There are those who think it is long past time those run­ning West Indies cricket and those who con­tinue to choose not to play for them did just that.

It hurts. No West Indies in the Cham­pi­ons Tro­phy felt like the Pre­mier League with­out Chelsea or Arse­nal

PIC­TURE: Getty Im­ages

Masterblaster: Sir Viv Richards had the power to in­tim­i­date

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