1976 – The Year of the Dragon(S)

In this week’s edition of In Search Of West Indies Cricket, Roger Seymour looks at another season in which an elite batsman experiences a state of Nirvana. In the Sunday Stabroek of May 22, 2016, he explored Patsy Hendren’s 1929/30 season in the West Indies. Today, he turns the clock back just forty years.

A few years ago, I was in transit at Piarco International Airport, Trinidad, and by custom I descended to the lower level of the duty-free area (it was the good old days; you weren’t confined to the upper level) and meandered around from kiosk to kiosk. As I crossed the concourse from Rhyner’s De Music Shop I came to an abrupt halt. The image was riveting, almost real. There he was, still majestic, striding out to bat. It was a full length, black and white poster of Viv Richards, adorning the glass wall of a liquor outlet, in an advertisement for one of the world’s leading brands of scotch. I stood still for a few seconds, captivated by the incredible photography, as my mind reconciled the image with the memories of the photographs of the summer of 1976 (we had no live television coverage then). One could never be confused as to the identity of the person in the photograph. The face of a warrior entering battle, the noble stride, the bat held ready, Viv Richards, the Master Blaster, of 1976.

 

Disaster Down Under

Sir Vivian Richards, the Dragon
Sir Vivian Richards, the Dragon

December 31, 1975, Melbourne, the scheduled fifth day of the Third Test Match of a Six Test Series between Australia and The West Indies. The match had ended the previous day as the visitors lost, for the second time by eight wickets, to go 2-1 down in the series. The West Indies were a relatively young side and their resolve was being severely tested. The pace of the fast bowlers—Dennis Lillee, Jeff Thomson and Gary Gilmour—on the bouncy Australian wickets, was lethal and had lured all six of the top order West Indian batsmen into being caught off the outside edge, at least twice in the Tests. The foolhardy shot selection, poor catching and ground fielding, had all contributed to the losses. Captain Clive Lloyd had been very outspoken about the quality of the umpiring, and the number of bad decisions against the West Indies.

The players had a two-hour net session on the morning of the last day of the year, followed by over an hour in a television studio, looking at their dismissals, more often caused by hooking when not in the proper position and flashing the bat outside the off-stump. The tour committee of Manager Esmond Kentish, Assistant Manager Keith Walcott, Captain Lloyd, Vice-Captain Deryck Murray and senior player Lance Gibbs had hoped that the playbacks would reinforce that flirtations outside the off stump against the best fast bowlers in the world usually culminated in disastrous results.

The Fourth Test in Sydney, New South Wales was three days away, and the question of the opening pair was still to be settled. Three openers had been selected for the Tour – Roy Fredericks, Gordon Greenidge and Leonard Baichan. Fredericks had become a fixture at the top of the order since his debut in the Second Test at Melbourne in the 1968/69 Tour, whilst his partners therein on, seemed to bounce off musical chairs. On the previous winter’s tour of the Asian Sub-continent, Fredericks and Greenidge had opened the innings in four of the five Tests in India, whilst Baichan conducted the honours with Fredericks in the two Tests that had followed immediately after, in Pakistan. Murray had opened a Test innings on four occasions whilst Lawrence Rowe filled the breach with Fredericks for all five Tests in the Caribbean versus England in 1974. Greenidge had played in the two defeats and had had scores of 0, 0, 3, and 8.  The tour committee was reluctant to go with Baichan for reasons unknown, and selected Bernard Julien who had accompanied Fredericks in the innings victory in the Second Test at Perth.

The West Indies, invited to bat first, clawed their way to 355, despite having three batsmen forced to retire hurt. Julien had a thumb broken and courageously returned to get 46 not out, with Rowe’s 67 topping several good starts. At the end of the second day, the West Indies held the upper hand with Australia 164 for 4. On the fourth afternoon, WI succumbed by seven wickets, following a second innings collapse to 128 all out. The young Antiguan, Richards, had scores of 44 and 2, as another good start in the first innings failed to develop into a substantial knock.

On January 10 and 11, the West Indies beat Northern New South Wales by an innings and 19 runs. Rowe (101), Kallicharran (65) and Viv (64), were the main run scorers. The next day, WI opposed Australian Capital Territory & Southern New South Wales at Canberra in another two day fixture. Viv opened the innings with Greenidge. He hammered 93 in 138 minutes in the drawn match. It was the first time on the tour Viv had been promoted from his regular fifth position to open the innings.

On January 16, following a three hours and 20 minutes flight to Hobart, the West Indies engaged Tasmania in a first-class encounter. Invited to bat, the West Indies commenced with Baichan and Viv. Baichan contributed 30 in the opening stand of 124, as Viv accumulated 160. In the second innings, Viv partnered Fredericks, and was 107 not out, when West Indies declared at 194 for 2. Tasmania reached 224 for 6, in the drawn game.

In a 40-over match versus Tasmania at Launceston, on January 19, the West Indies triumphed by 117 runs. Fredericks and Greenidge appeared fourth and fifth respectively in the batting order, as Baichan and Richards went in first. Once again, Viv led the way with 99, as WI compiled 310.

The Tour Committee, frustrated with inconsistency at the top of the order and concerned with Viv’s inability to convert good starts into substantial scores, was responsible for the promotion of Viv to an opening batsman. Their hope was that the added responsibility would force Viv into concentrating harder on building an innings and not squandering good starts, whilst solving the opening dilemma. The committee decided to continue the experiment in the last two Tests.

Lloyd got his wish and umpires T Brooks and M O’Connell were appointed by the Australian Cricket Board (ACB) for the final two Tests. Earlier, the ACB had rejected the suggestion of Australian cricket scribe Phil Tresidder that two top English umpires be flown in for the last two matches.

In the Fifth Test at Adelaide, South Australia, January 23 – 28, Australia won by 190 runs to clinch the series 4-1. Keith Boyce (95 not out and 69), was Man of the Match. Kallicharran contributed 76 and 67, but it was the batting of the new opener, Viv, Fredericks’ fifteenth partner, that was the subject of the post-match conversation. His first innings (30) was followed by his second Test century (101). Faced with the mammoth target of 490 runs in two days less 75 minutes, Viv led the chase. In two hours on the fourth afternoon, Viv and Kalli raised hopes of a West Indian resistance, as they added 127, but it wasn’t to be. Viv’s knock lasted for three hours and included 17 fours.

The Sixth Test at Melbourne, Victoria, began on January 31, the start of the Chinese New Year, The Year of the Dragon. The lunar calendar determines the New Year, the inception of which varies from January 21 to February 20. The Chinese Zodiac is a 12-year cycle, with each year depicted by an animal. The Dragon, the only imaginary symbol of the dozen, is the fifth year. In Ancient China, the celestial Dragon represents an emperor and power. In today’s world it is the ultimate auspicious symbol, signifying success and happiness. The Dragon is the life of the party and the star of any group. The Dragon possesses natural charisma, boundless energy, is self-assured, vibrant, flamboyant, confident, fearless in the face of challenge. The Dragon is uninhibited, a natural born leader, the free spirit of the Zodiac. The Dragon is a creature of myth and legend.

The Test finished on February 5, as WI were comprehensively beaten by 165 runs. Scores:  Australia 351 and 300 for 3 declared; WI 160 and 326.  Viv opened and top scored in both innings, with 50 and 98 respectively. Baichan, selected for the first time in the series, batted first wicket down. Viv batted with the stamp of authority for two hours and 52 minutes and with Kalli, presented a glimmer of resistance on the fourth afternoon. Once they fell to rash shots, only Lloyd (91 not out) weathered the storm.

The Fifth West Indies team to visit Australia departed from Kingsford-Smith Airport, Sydney. The arduous trip had begun with a stop in Papua, New Guinea, before arriving in Adelaide on October 23, 1975. Rumours were rampant during the tour about strife in the West Indian dressing room. It was a sadder but wiser bunch that arrived at Piarco International Airport, Trinidad on February 10. They had been beaten by a mentally tougher team, not necessarily more talented, but one which applied itself harder to the task of the battleground of Test cricket. A priceless lesson had been learnt on the value of genuine, extra fast bowling.

Viv was the only batsman whose stock had risen during the tour. In 12 first-class matches, he compiled 1,107 runs at an average of 58.26, with four centuries. He had accumulated 848 runs, in all formats of the game, since the beginning of the year.

The young Jamaican fast bowler Michael Holding had emerged as a genuine frontline bowler, quite capable of supporting Andy Roberts. The Shell Shield Tournament had commenced on January 16, and future pacemen were been sought to add to the duo. The list of potential candidates included Barbadians Wayne Daniel and Gregory Armstrong and Guyanese Colin Croft.

 

Caribbean season

On February 21, Viv was in the Leewards side against Barbados at the Kensington Oval, for the inaugural season of the Gillette Cup, the first one day 50-over competition in the West Indies. He mustered 19 runs, as Barbados won by 31 runs. In the rain-affected game between India and the Leeward Islands at Plymouth, Montserrat, March 1 to 3, Viv was 27 not out in his only innings, when it was abandoned.

The Chinese believe that a person’s personality traits are determined by the year of his/her birth and the element assigned to that year. There are five elements in the cycle: wood, fire, earth, gold and water. Thus, a gold dragon will appear once every 60 years. Each element has a dominant effect over one other element in the cycle. For instance, water dominates fire.

On March 24, 1976, Isaac Vivian Alexander Richards celebrated his 24th birthday in the Year of the Fire Dragon. The element of water in Viv’s birth year, makes for the calmest of the Dragons.

 

First Test Match, Kensington Oval, Barbados, March 10, 11 and 13

The lone Dragon in the home side resumed battle with the best spin quartet in the world, Bedi, Prasanna, Chandrasekhar and Venkataraghavan. Viv’s Test debut had been in India during the 1974/75 Series and he had pounded out 192 not out in his third Test innings at Delhi, as WI won by an innings.

Fredericks and Rowe were the openers selected (for the entire series) and Viv was promoted to the number three slot, previously occupied by Rowe or Kalli. The Dragon made it his lair from thereon, until the First Test versus Australia, in March 1984, at Bourda, Georgetown when he shifted to fourth in the batting order. With the exceptions of four appearances by night watchmen, and Richie Richardson in the Fourth Test in Bombay, India in 1983, Viv batted first wicket down, whenever selected to don the maroon cap in Test matches.

The West Indies quickly shrugged off the disappointment of Australia to win by an innings inside of three days. Viv continued his excellent Test form and on his debut Test innings in the Caribbean, he batted magnificently for 142. He occupied the crease for four hours and 45 minutes, hitting 19 fours and one six, whilst adding a record 220 for the third wicket against India, at a run a minute, with Kalli (93).

 

Second Test Match, Queen’s Park Oval, Trinidad, March 24 to 29

The West Indies were lucky to escape with a draw. Invited to bat first, WI were quickly in trouble at 4 for 2, which deteriorated further to 52 for 4. The Dragon, ably assisted by Murray breathed life back into the innings with a stand of 122. Viv again batted with authority, staying at the crease for four hours and 50 minutes, whilst hitting 21 fours. Mis-stumped on 83 off Venkat, Viv rode his good fortune to a second successive century (130). India led by 159 runs on first innings, and WI’s early difficulties of 30 for 2, were further compounded six runs later, when Viv was forced to retire hurt with a strained thigh muscle after facing only five balls. He returned at the fall of the fourth wicket at 112, much to the confusion of the crowd, who were under the impression that Indian Captain Bedi had stipulated that he could only have resumed his innings at the fall of the ninth wicket. However, Bedi raised no objection and the threat of another big score was soon extinguished when Viv was run out, backing up too far on a cover drive by Lloyd for 20. With only Jumadeen to bat, Roberts joined Julien, at 194 for 8, 35 runs ahead with three possible overs plus the mandatory 20 remaining. They were still together with seven overs left, when Bedi led the Indians off the field, with WI’s lead on 54.

 

Third Test Match, Queen’s Park Oval, Trinidad, April 7 to 12

Torrential rains and flooding in Georgetown, Guyana forced the change of venue. India recorded one of the greatest victories in the history of Test cricket, chasing the formidable target of 403, and winning by six wickets. Gavaskar (102), Vishwanath (112), Amarnath (85) and Patel (49 not out) were the principal scorers. Forgotten in the hoopla, was Viv’s third century in as many matches. In another magnificent display, the Dragon hammered the spinners on their favourite Caribbean wicket for 177, the best of the three hundreds, as he shared century stands with Lloyd and Julien. In the second innings, he was dismissed to a catch at forward short leg for 23. It would be the last time under Lloyd’s captaincy that the West Indies would play three spinners in a Test match.

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