Barry Richards: a classical master

A criticism often levelled at Barry Richards is that at times he found the game of cricket too easy and became bored. This criticism says much about the ability of the man – way above that of the average provincial or test cricketer.

A right-handed opening batsman, Richards performed with equal success in South Africa, England and Australia. He was part of the same South African Schools team that produced Mike Procter, and like his Natal teammate he too took up a contract with an English county, joining Hampshire.

Richards took to the county game like a duck to water, and together with West Indian star Gordon Greenidge formed an opening partnership to match any in cricket history. Together they terrorised opposition bowling attacks.

Wisden Cricketer of the Year

Richards scored a century before lunch nine times in his career! In 1968 he totalled 2 395 runs in the county championship and was named one of Wisden’s five cricketers of the year.

However, his most memorable achievement was reserved for Australia in 1970/71 where, playing in Perth for South Australia, he blasted an unbeaten 325 in a single day, on his way to his highest first-class innings of 356. Led by Australian test fast bowlers Garth McKenzie and Dennis Lillee and England spinner Tony Lock, it was no ordinary attack that Richards tore to shreds. It was his only season in Sheffield Shield cricket; not surprisingly South Australia won the title that year.

Unfortunately, Richards played in only four tests before falling victim to the apartheid policies of the South African government, with the country being banned from international cricket in 1970. He excelled in his only series as South Africa swept aside a powerful Australian team that included Bill Lawry, Ian Chappell, Doug Walters, Keith Stackpole, Ian Redpath, Ashley Mallett, Graham McKenzie and Johnny Gleeson by four tests to nil.

A big part in SA’s success

Richards played a big part in the Springboks’ success. In his first test he contributed just 29 and 32 as South Africa won by 170 runs at Newlands. In his second test he notched his first test century in just 116 balls, going on to tally 140.

Together with Graeme Pollock, who tallied a then-South African record 274, Richards destroyed the Australian bowling attack, and the hour after lunch when the two great players were together is remembered fondly by South African fans as one of the most spectacular displays of batting ever seen on home soil. After the Springboks totalled 622 for 9 declared there was no need for Richards to bat again as South Africa won by an innings and 129 runs.

In the third test in Johannesburg, Richards racked up 65 and 35 as South Africa won again, this time by 307 runs. In the fourth test, his last, Richards made 81 and 126 as Ali Bacher’s team recorded a massive 323 run victory. In the four-test series Richards tallied 508 runs in seven innings at an average of 72.57.

In 1971 during a provincial match, Richards was one of the players who staged a walk-off in protest againtst the government’s apartheid policies.

Superb in World Series Cricket

Denied a role on cricket’s highest stage, Richards joined Kerry Packer’s breakaway World Series Cricket in 1977. This gave him the opportunity to test himself against the world’s top players, and once again he showed his best when faced with the best, compiling 554 runs at the superb average of 79.

In 1983 Richards joined the Queensland Cricket Union as chief executive officer. With Richards in charge, the Australian state landed the Sheffield Shield title twice – a feat they had failed to achieve since their admission to the competition in 1926-27.

During his career, which lasted from 1964/65 to 1982/83, Richards scored 28 358 runs at an average of 54.74, including 80 centuries. He also captured 77 wickets, including a remarkable best analysis of 7 for 63.

One of SA’s cricketers of the 20th century

The former Natal and Springbok opening batsman was named as one of South Africa’s cricketers of the twentieth century at the end of the previous millennium.

To watch Richards in action was like attending a tutorial on how the game of cricket is meant to be played. He played his shots in classic mode, right out of the textbook, graceful and a joy to watch.

The highly-respected former Australian captain and television commentator, Richie Benaud, said of Richards: “No more elegant player has taken the field in our time.” Greg Chappell, another former Australian captain, said of the South African opener: “He has undoubtedly been the biggest influence on my career.”

Perhaps the highest compliment came from the greatest player ever, Sir Donald Bradman, who described Richards as “the world’s best-ever right-handed opener”. He backed that up by including Richards in his best ever team, published after his death. Enough said.

At the end of January 2009, Richards was inducted into the ICC Hall of Fame as one of the initial 55 players to be honoured.

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