Dubai: It was on April 15, 1986, that the world watched in awe when ‘King’ Viv Richards recorded the fastest century in (terms of balls faced) in Test cricket at the St Antigua ground against England. His century came off just 56 balls and he remained unbeaten on 110. His full innings came off 58 balls with seven sixes and seven boundaries! It was a record that stood for 30 years before New Zealand’s Brendon McCullum broke it in 2016 against Australia reaching his ton in 54 balls.
While Richards’ innings lasted only 87 minutes, it is still one of the most unforgettable moments in cricket history since it was nothing but sheer demolition of a bowling attack. I was fortunate to visit this ground 21 years later while reporting the 2007 ICC World Cup, and people there even now proudly recall that knock. All those whom I’ve talked to excitedly pointed out to those areas where he hit those sixes, especially the one-handed six over long-on off John Emburey, and a powerful flat-six off Ian Botham that shot across the ground like a lightning. In fact, this ground became a Test cricket venue in 1981, and in that Test match too, Richards had hit a century against England.
I remember while asking around for directions to reach this venue, a local resident telling me: “Just ask anyone where St John’s Cathedral is located, or ask for Richards’ ground.” It is with such awe that people there remember Richards, whom many address as ‘King’.
Richards was born and raised in St Antigua and studied at St John’s Boys Primary School and later at Antigua Grammar Secondary School. Cricket fans readily show you the D’Arcy’s Bar and Restaurant in which Richards worked after leaving school.
During Richards’ visit to the UAE as mentor of the Pakistan Super League’s Quetta Gladiators, I got to talk to him on a number of occasions. He was also here as a commentator for a few of Pakistan’s home series, and during breaks, he would come and sit in the press box. Richards was also the Chief Guest at one of the Shyam Bhatia awards for excellence in UAE cricket. On all these occasions, I got to chat with him for hours.
In the 2003 World Cup, he was the chief selector of the West Indies team. While sitting in the pavilion of the Newlands ground, I asked him about his numerous destructive knocks and his fastest century for an interview with Gulf News. His reply was as casual as his batting style: “I think I had a good eye for the ball. I used to pick the ball early. Whoever has the ability to pick the ball early, I’m sure batting will be a joy for him.”
When asked whether all his knocks could be attributed to his rare talent, he said: “For me, by going for the shots, I used to sight the ball better. I’ve always told youngsters to assume the cricket ball like a marble. Wouldn’t one concentrate more if one has to hit a marble, which is smaller than a cricket ball?”
Once in 2017, after Richards had presented one of his blazers to the Bhatia museum, I asked about his arrogant and aggressive approach which resembled Indian skipper Virat Kohli’s. According to him, one must compete with arrogance. “People used to think that I am the most arrogant soul on earth. But when you compete you need to have a little arrogance about you. I have always felt that if I am going to compete I should have it. For me, the maroon (West Indies) cap is the proudest thing that happened to me as an individual, and I do believe Kohli feels the same.”
When asked whether he was disappointed that he was born before the T20 era, his response was: “We [West Indies] started Twenty20. They hadn’t a name for it. It wasn’t T20, but we used to go out and entertain, and that was the Caribbean way of playing. We used to hear folks in the Caribbean say, ‘you see the ball and hit the ball’. That is just what we did.”
Every bowler who has bowled to Richards has admitted that when he starts seeing the ball, it is bound to be a bad day for him (the bowler).
Fastest Test centuries in number of balls
54 BB McCullum New Zealand v Australia Christchurch 2015/16
56 IVA Richards West Indies v England St John’s 1985/86
56 Misbah-ul-Haq Pakistan v Australia Abu Dhabi 2014/15
57 AC Gilchrist Australia v England Perth 2006/07
67 JM Gregory Australia v South Africa Johannesburg 1921/22