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A pure match winner, Barry Richards was an epitome of all-round batting perfection

By Harsh Thakor 

If apartheid had not curtailed his international Test career I would have backed Barry Richards to possibly bloom into the best batsmen of all time. Barry was the ultimate connoisseur of batting, manifesting perfection in heights unscaled. I could hardly name more complete batsmen, or more perfect a batting model.
Barry blended the explosive power of a bomber plane, with the methodology of an architect and creativity of a poet. I never saw a batsman as explosive and refined at the same time. Barry’s bat resembled a chisel and a sword rolled into one. He played the ball unusually late, never having had to reach for the ball. Barry was capable of executing any stroke to ball. He was as adept in playing straight batted shots to strokes square of the wicket or even when hooking a fast bowler. No one was more adept in making batting appear so ridiculously easy, with absolutely impeccable judge of length. It almost appeared that he was manufacturing strokes.
There was an element of mystery to Barry Richards who after giving deliveries the battering of their lives, would seem aloof as though his mind was diverted to another world or he was unsure of his very presence in the middle.

Batting Career

Apartheid curtailed Barry’s test career after he averaged 72.57 and 508 runs in 4 tests at home in 1969-70,against a top class Australian bowling attack containing Graham Mckenzie ,Alan Connolly and John Gleeson. His 270 was a masterpiece in a stand with Graeme Pollock, as well as his 140 of a mere 164 balls at Kingsmead.
Barry proved his great prowess against fiery pace bowling when scoring 356 against Western Australia in 1971-72, including 325 runs in a day. Very rarely has bowling been treated with as merciless disdain as Barry did that day, manifesting batting prowess in regions rarely ever transcended.. That season he aggregated 1538 runs averaging 109.86, towering Bradmanesque heights .In 1975 he score a blistering 90 for Hampshire facing Jeff Thomson at his fastest, although he retired hurt.
Till Viv Richards came on the scene, Barry Richards was without doubt the best batsmen on the world.
Barry blossomed like a lotus in Kerry Packer World Series Cricket fro 1977-79 , when he topped the averages at 79.14, and registered the highest score of 207.Pertinent that when scoring his 2 best knocks of 207 and 125n.o, he outscored the great Viv Richards. His unbeaten 125 steered the World XI home chasing a target on wearing wicket, with Barry illustrating the skill of a surgeon. When scoring both classics against the Australian X1, Barry arguably scaled batting virtuosity un surpassed in Australia before. Above all he won his side the games. Don Bradman in that period rated Barry as the best batsmen in the world, as well as Ray Robinson.
In 1st class Cricket Barry scored over 1000 runs 15 times, including 9 times in English seasons. He averaged 54.74, scoring 86 centuries, and 28,383 runs. Geoff Boycott may have statistically surpassed his averaging or 56 and scoring over 150 centuries and 48,926 runs. However the sheer virtuosity with which Barry compiled his runs placed him simply in another league. Bowling attacks were treated like cattle fodder. Even when carting the ball over the fence, Barry displayed articulate finesse. Barry tackled the likes of Michael Holding, Imran Khan and Richard Hadlee at their best. In his 1st season for Hampshire he scored 2395 runs in wet summer, including an innings of 240 against Warwickshire, with the next highest score a mere 56.In 1974 he registered a double hundred at Nottinghamshire when only 2 other players crossed 30.In the same season he scored 189 out o total of 249 for 6 against MCC at Lords. Barry registered scores of 96 and 69 facing Jeff Thomson at his fastest in 1975 and in is late 30’s punished hostile pace bowling of Sylvester Clarke in South Africa.


Barry would be my first choice for spot of opening batsman accompanied by Jack Hobbs, Len Hutton or Sunil Gavaskar in my All-time test XI. No opening batsmen ever could ever create the equivalent of a Tsunami, to turn game 360 degrees, till Virendra Sehwag came along. As a pure match winner, he had no equal as an opening batsman. We missed out deeply in not witnessing Barry playing on the turning surfaces of the sub-continent. Also unlike Gavaskar and Chappell brothers he did not prove himself against the Carribean pace quartet. However he did destroy the likes of Bishen Bedi and Derek Underwood in County cricket and pacers like Sylvester Clarke and Joel Garner. Noteworthy that Barry was prolific against top pace in bouncer prone World Series Cricket, without the protection of a helmet. Similar to Viv, Barry had scant care for batting records.
Graham Gooch, Doug Walters, Dennnis Lillee and Kim Hughes rate Barry Richards as the most perfect batsmen they ever saw. Lillee classed him as a personification of batting perfection. However many former cricketers have chosen Sunil Gavaskar and Gordon Greenidge in their all-time teams, as they felt Barry was not fully tested in an International Career. Barry won a mere 17 votes for place in all-time world XI compared to 26 votes to Greenidge and 58 to Sunil Gavaskar.I felt it did not give Barry his due and was unfair. David Gower and John Woodcock rate Barry ahead of Gavaskar, but Cristopher Martin Jenkins and Geoff Armstrong rated Sunny ahead. Armstrong hardly did justice to Barry, selecting him at 52nd place. Gower ranks Barry at 15th place, above even Hutton .Woodcock ranks him at 16th place. Sir Garfield Sobers felt Barry did not prove himself like Gavaskar, but Bradman selected Richards in his all-time team. Noteworthy that in 1979 Sobers rankedBarry as the third best batsmen in the world, behind Ian Chappell and Viv Richards. It is of course purely hypothetical how Barry would have fared in a proper International career.
It is debatable how Barry compared with Viv Richards in his time, but in my view for sheer imagination and ability to turn games,Viv won my vote. Dennis Lillee, Imran Khan, Ian Botham,Gavaskar and the Chappell brothers rate Viv the best bat of his era. Overall although Gavaskar had till then the best record since Bradman I rated Barry ahead by a whisker, respecting his ability to conquer bowling and turn complexion of matches.
Since the War, In terms of pure batting perfection I place Barry at the very top, contested by Sachin Tendulkar and Martin Crowe or possibly Greg Chappell. Barry was simply a Viv Richards and Sunil Gavaskar, rolled into one.
Amongst South Africans Graeme Pollock is virtually on par with Barry as a batsmen and arguably Jacques Kallis is a better cricketer, with his staggering all-round figures. Still respecting aesthetics Barry gets my nod as the best of all South African cricketers, a whisker above Dale Steyn,Kallis and Pollock.
Overall in my estimate Barry would rank amongst the 10 best batsmen ever and the 2nd best opening batsman of all, behind Sir Jack Hobbs. I give my verdict respecting cricketing aesthetics, over mere statistics. In county games no batsmen toyed with great bowlers like Dennis Lillee,Michael Holding, Derek Underwood or Bishen Bedi. Barry also topped batting averages in Kerry Packer cricket at around 79. Barry was simply a Viv Richards and Sunil Gavaskar, rolled into one. I would choose Barry in my 25 best cricketers of all time.
I cannot conceive a better opening pair of Barry Richards and Sunil Gavaskar. I feel they would have been more effective or impactful than even pair of Jack Hobbs sand Herbert Sutcliffe. It would blend the phenomenal concentration and technique of Gavaskar with the brilliant stroke making ability of Barry Richards.
The opening batsmen who most looked like a clone of Barry was his Hampshire partner, Gordon Greenidge.Gordon blended skill as a great technician with murderous brutal power to literally shave a cricket ball.
In my subjective view the cricket world simply missed a colossus who could have eclipsed all the batting records and scaled cricketing virtuosity at realms not transcended. Simply majestic to have seen Barry combat the great Carribean pace quartet, spinners like Shane Warne, pacemen like Imran Khan ,Wasim Akram and Richard Hadlee and play World cups. Still how can we forget the sins South Africa committed during apartheid, de-barring black or coloured people. Possibly South Africa was the best cricket team of the 1970’s but the nation received it’s deserved punishment of being isolated from International Cricket, when you recall atrocities of apartheid ,like Soweto massacre. What a spectacle it would have been to witness the intensity of a duel between South Africa with Australia or West Indies, but it would be overshadowed that the grief struck in people’s hearts sin the manner coloured people were tormented .
I recommend every cricket fan to read Heny Blofeld’s appraisal of Barry in his book ‘Crickets Great Entertainers.’ He felt Barry made the art of batting look easier than anyone. Few essays ever did more justice to the maestro. Also very laudable is the essay on Barry by David Gower in his book “50 Greatest cricketers of all time.”He had the ultimate gift of making it look an incredibly easy game. Time seems to slow down between the ball leaving the blowers hand and arriving at their end, as if Barry was pre-meditating striking the ball to the boundary.

After Retirement

After Barry’s retirement in first class cricket in the 1990’s South Africa came back into international cricket but sadly inspite of being form favourites for the world cups and looking likely to carry the title, South Africa faltered in the crunch times or at the brink. No doubt it prospered being at the top of the pedestal for a considerable while in test cricket, but still lacked that crucial ingredient of match-winning killer instinct, which characterised top Australian and West Indies teams or Pakistan at it’s best. As an administrator Barry was unable to knit South Africa into the world beating unit it was in his cricketing days, and at times it scaled rock bottom. Although an astute judge, Barry hardly spoke out enough against the injustices of apartheid or stressing on non marginalising of black people. Perhaps today South African cricket is facing a retribution of it’s past.
Possibly Barry has been over subjective or harsh as a commentator and not open or inviting. Barry still was an astute judge who ranked Graeme Pollock and Viv Richards as the best batsmen he saw, and Sachin Tendulkar just behind. Amongst bowlers he rated Dennis Lillee and Andy Roberts the best he faced .Barry selected Ian Botham to join Gary Sobers as an all-rounder in his all-time test team, playing alongside batsmen like Greenidge, Gavaskar, Graeme Pollock, Don Bradman and Viv Richards and with bowlers like Dennis Lillee and Andy Roberts Most rationally Barry expressed how greats like Imran, Greg Chappell ,Marshall, Miandad or Border just missed out, and could well have made it, admitting his choice was subjective. Sportingly Barry admitted on a given day .another XI, could have beaten this team.
Harsh Thakor is freelance journalist who has doe extensive research on history of Cricket.



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