Dubai: When Sir Viv Richards was voted as English county cricket’s greatest overseas player by BBC Sport users earler this week, it must have surely warmed the hearts of an old friend of his: Sir Ian Terence Botham.
‘King Richards,’ as he is rightfully called for the swagger he brought to the game, represented Somerset and Glamorgan in the English domestic game for a substantial part of his career - and still swears by the support he received from the great England allrounder during a major professional crisis back in the 1980s. Their enduring friendship - at a time when the world has again woken up to the scourge of racism following the George Floyd saga - had been an extraordinary one which rose above the colour bias.
Joining Somerset in 1974 as an youngster, Richards had been an integral part of the Somerset team alongwith Botham and Joel Garner, the ‘Big Bird’ of West Indies cricket. It was during the summer of 1986 (with Richards in his 12th year with them), in the aftermath of a rather poor season for Somerset which finished 16th in the championship and lost to Lancashire in the second round of the NatWest Trophy, rumblings began in the boardroom of the management as they decided to sack both Richards and Garner at one stroke. The late Martin Crowe of New Zealand was drafted in as an overseas replacement for Richards.
Botham, then a star allrounder in the team, saw a hand of their then captain late Peter Roebuck (who went on to become a respected cricket writer) to make the two West Indians the scapegoats for a collective failure and decided to leave the county in a show of solidarity with Richards - an unthinkable gesture in the current context. He went on to join Worcestershire the next season, while Richards came back to county cricket with Glamborgan a few years later in 1990.
It was clear that when Viv joined Glamorgan in 1990 he was an inspiration to their younger players. No doubt having been rejected by Somerset, a decision that hurt the proudest of men, he was determined to demonstrate that he could fulfil that role as a mentor and a motivator as well as a runscorer
An iconic picture of barebodied Richards and Botham in their swimming trunks during their Somerset days, idling at the beaches, still works as a reminder as to how sport as often risen beyond petty racism. Richards has often spoken about their days when the two shared an apartment for 12 years and always hung around together - like ‘‘ebony and the ivory’’, to quote the West Indian from his own interview.
Vic Marks, the former England off spinner and a teammate of Richards, Botham & Co then, summed up Richards’ journey from Somerset to Glamorgan aptly in his new book ‘Original Spin’: ‘‘It was clear that when Viv joined Glamorgan in 1990 he was an inspiration to their younger players. No doubt having been rejected by Somerset, a decision that hurt the proudest of men, he was determined to demonstrate that he could fulfil that role as a mentor and a motivator as well as a runscorer. As for the genial Joel, the only issue for a captain was his fitness. Increasingly the body was rebelling but in one-day cricket he was still formidable.’’
More than three decades later, the Viv Richards aura still seems to hold - if the vote counts of the BBC users in May are anything to by. He walked away with 43.2% of the final vote, finishing ahead of another former West Indies captain Sir Clive Lloyd (9.2%) and ex-New Zealand all-rounder Sir Richard Hadlee (8.5%).
What’s more, the Somerset county also ‘atoned’ for their move years later. Either side of the Ian Botham Stand in front of the River Tone in Taunton are the Viv Richards Gates and the Joel Garner Gates.