Saying a certain piece of batting or bowling or fielding is the greatest ever seen is a tricky business. There will always be room for discussion, debate and dissent, some of it supremely heated. There will be those who will hark back to older performances, those who will insist that newer players are better and several who will fluctuate between these two extremes. But complete agreement or almost complete agreement is a rarity.
One of these rarities is when it comes to talking of the greatest batting performance by a player in a one day international. There are many candidates – Javed Miandad’s amazing innings against India at Sharjah in 1986, those double centuries by Sehwag and Rohit Sharma (that 264 surely?), Tendulkar’s magnificent hand against Australia in 2009 (or that manic knock against Pakistan in the 2003 World Cup), Bevan’s crazy innings that won a lost cause for Australia against England in the 2003 World Cup, that amazing rescue act by Kapil Dev at Tunbridge Wells in 1983…
Mention Vivian Richards at Old Trafford on 31 May, 1984, however, and a respectful hush will descend. Yes, some will contend that there were better innings played, but the conviction would have gone.
It was that sort of knock.
A very troubled start
It was not a bright day at Manchester, but West Indies skipper Clive Lloyd won the toss and still elected to bat, a little unusual given his general preference to bowl first. Although his team had been shocked in the World Cup final almost a year ago by India, not too many doubted the West Indies’ reputation as being simply the best team in the world by some distance in every format of the game. They started every match as favourites, and this one was no different, with England still not having found adequate replacements for the players they lost to the Rebel tour to 1982 (the likes of Gooch, Emburey and Willey were banned until 1985).
Within a short time, however, the unofficial world champions found themselves in big trouble. Haynes and Greenidge had a mix up which resulted in Haynes being run out in the second over for 1, with the score on 5. Greenidge did not last long either and was caught behind off Botham for 9. 11 for 2, and Viv Richards, the man considered by many to be the best batsman in the world (although supporters of Sunil Gavaskar and Greg Chappell would grumble about that) , ambled out to bat, joining the man who pundits had predicted could be his heir apparent, Richie Richardson.
Batting seemed to get a little easier with Richards at crease. “King Viv” seemed in a good mood, extending a foot down the track and whipping Botham for four through the leg side, a stroke of mastery that left even the bowler smiling.
31 May 1984 saw Viv Richards smash England with 189 in the 1st ODI v England @ Old Trafford. In today’s world of herculean strike rates, 189 is an amazing score. This puts into context this innings when average strike rates were a world away & where team totals rarely topped 280! pic.twitter.com/UJTNOYFlrJ
— Dan Redford (@danredford70) May 30, 2021
“It’s really Richards v England”
But Richards’ colleagues seemed to be batting on a totally different surface. Richardson was never comfortable and was dismissed for 6, with the score on 43. Gomes hung around for a while but played 15 dot balls and hit a solitary boundary before being bowled by Geoff Miller. This theme of “Viv batting effortlessly, the others batting fitfully” was repeated with Lloyd at the crease. The normally asserted tall West Indian skipper was on home turf (he played for Lancashire, whose ground this was) but looked out of sorts, playing and missing a bit. Richards meanwhile continued to cut and pull at will bringing up his fifty off 59 deliveries.
He however, seemed in danger of running out of partners. A scratchy Lloyd was removed by Miller for 8, holing out to the square leg boundary. 89-5. And that became 98 for 6 when Jeff Dujon went first ball to the same bowler in his next over, attempting a sweep. And when Malcolm Marshall was run out brilliantly by David Bairstow (Jonny’s father!) trying a suicidal single, West Indies were 102-7 in 25.3 overs. Richards was batting on 65, but the scores of the seven batsmen dismissed were a phone number – 9,1,6,8,0,4.
“It is really Richards v England,” a commentator remarked, even as another said that Richards would have a good chance of being the man of the match, if he could get in some overs as well as the wicket was aiding spinners. Both were right, although neither really could have predicted what was about to happen.
Eldine Baptiste, who could bat a fair bit (he was mentioned as an all-rounder in the team sheet), came in next. And the next hour or so was the closest that the West Indies came to normalcy with both players mixing attack with defence and taking the score ahead, and then accelerating steadily. But with the score at 161, Gower got Botham back into the attack and he induced an edge from Baptiste with a surprising leg cutter. Bairstow made no mistake. Baptiste was gone for 26 and West Indies were 161-8. Five runs later, Garner was back in the pavilion, playing one back to Neil Foster who held on to the catch. 166-9 in 40.3 overs, and as this was a time when ODIs in England were 55 overs per innings, there were still 14.3 overs to go.
#OnThisDay in 1984: Viv Richards went to Old Trafford and got 189 runs in 170 deliveries against England, with many considering it to be one of the best ODI innings ever…#ENGvNZ | @windiescricket pic.twitter.com/54m3fOqqW5
— The Sportsman (@TheSportsman) May 31, 2021
The last wicket tango – Holding the fort with Michael!
Richards was on 96, and when Michael Holding ambled out to bat, not as elegantly as he used to run in to bowl, the only thing of interest seemed to be whether Richards would get his hundred. Holding scurried a single to get him on strike. Richards took a couple and then a single off the last delivery to stay on strike for the next over and then flicked Botham nonchalantly for a four to bring up his hundred. It had taken him 112 deliveries (very fast in those days when bouncers were allowed and there were no field restrictions), and he had contributed 103 out of a score of 173-9.
It had been an exceptional innings. And as the crowd rose to applaud, Richards seemed to hit some mental gear which moved the innings from being very good to downright, unbelievingly awesome.
For the next hour or so, England did not know what had hit them. For if Richards had been batting briskly before, he now exploded. Holding got a streaky boundary, edging Botham between Bairstow and first slip, but that was as close as England get to ending the innings as Richards cut loose. Stepping outside the leg stump to a delivery pitched on leg, he clubbed Foster for four over mid off. Pringle was flicked contemptuously for six and then it was Foster’s chance to get smashed over his head into the fence. The young English pace bowler tried to retaliate with a bouncer and was hooked effortlessly for four to bring up the 200 in the 44th over. As he stood scratching in disbelief, Foster summed up the despair of the English team – how did you bowl to Vivan Richards in this sort of mood! This was not slogging or desperate hitting but powerfully precise batting by a man who seemed to be in the mood for mayhem.
Another couple of sixes took him past his 150 in a mere 147 balls in the 49th over. West Indies were 229-9. The last wicket had so far added 56 runs, of which Holding had made five. But it was not over yet. Richards shifted yet another level now, and even Bob Willis took his share of a hammering as the West Indian legend cut loose. It rained boundaries, and such was the change in the mood, that even Michael Holding walked down the track to hit Willis for four.
Kapil Dev’s record of the highest scored in ODIs was duly overtaken in the 54th over, and the last over began with Richards batting on 177 out of 260-9. He belted three more boundaries, including one off the last delivery from Botham to end the innings.
#OTD in 1984, Viv Richards rescued his team from 166-9 to 272-9 in the first game of the Texaco Trophy against England, scoring one of his best knocks -189 off 170 balls (21 fours and five sixes).
Only one other batsman from the team (Eldine Baptiste) could reach double figures pic.twitter.com/0uYpHeG59H
— Wisden India (@WisdenIndia) May 31, 2021
A monumental effort from King Viv
A little more than an hour ago, the West Indies had been 166-9. They had finished on 272 for 9. Viv Richards and Michael Holding had added 106 runs for the last wicket in 87 deliveries -0 the first time there had a century stand for the last wicker in ODs. Of these 106 runs, Holding had contributed 12. Such had been Richards’ mastery and rotation of the strike that the last West Indian batsman had had to face only 27 of the 87 deliveries bowled during his time at the crease. Richards had faced the other 60, and taken 93 runs off them!
Against an attack comprising two bowlers (Willis and Botham) who were amongst the successful in English cricket history, on a wicket where only two other batsmen had got into double figures, and the second highest score was 26, Isaac Vivan Alexander Richards had plundered 189 not out. He had faced 170 deliveries in all, hit 21 fours and five sixes.
He had contributed a staggering 69.48 per cent of the runs scored by his team, which remains to this day the highest contribution made by a single player in percentage terms to a team’s total in a completed ODI innings – Rohit Sharma’s 264 against Sri Lanka was out of a total of 404 and contributed 65.3 per cent, just for context.
What makes the innings unbelievable to this day is that Richards scored these runs on a wicket that was not “flat” by any description and against an attack that was well-suited to the conditions. Willis, Botham, Foster, Pringle and Miller were not exactly pushovers and after all, had reduced the rest of the West Indies batting line up to a shambles. In fact, remove Richards’ score and the West Indies would have been 83-8 off 18.2 overs, with ten of those runs coming from extras.
The West Indies would go on to win the match, and of course, the Test series that followed 5-0, but for many, the most memorable moment of that English summer was Viv Richards batting at Old Trafford on 31 May, 1984.
There have been many great innings in ODI cricket. But there are unlikely to have been better ones. They didn’t call him “King Viv” for nothing.