A Test match at Antigua. A Test match at the home of Sir Isaac Vivian Alexander Richards, in a stadium named after the legend. King, master blaster, Smokin’ Joe, no label sits on him, he is beyond tags, descriptions, epithets.
Not that he’s ever out of public consciousness but a recent tweet from another West Indies great, Brian Charles Lara, again revived memories of that famous Viv Richards swag. Lara put out a tweet with a picture of Richards pulling one with characteristic disdain with a story from former England cricketer Chris Cowdrey.
Cowdrey, as per the tweet, had been appointed England captain. All excited, he went out for the toss, impeccably dressed in whites and the England blazer. Richards came out wearing a Bob Marley
T-shirt, surfing shorts and flip-flops. Cowdrey, true to tradition, started reading out the team list for the opposing captain when Richards stopped him after four names and said: “Play who you want, Man. Ain’t gonna make any difference.”
The story, according to Cowdrey, is apocryphal, but did it make a difference? Judge for yourself. The Test was the fourth of the series in the summer of 1988 at Headingley, where England take on Australia in the third Ashes Test on Thursday. England were down 0-2, having drawn the first at Trent Bridge, led by Mike Gatting, who was sacked after the match over a barmaid scandal, but lost the next two. John Emburey, captain in the two lost causes, was axed and Cowdrey, the eldest son of the illustrious Sir Colin, was named skipper.
England, batting first, scored 201, Allan Lamb top scoring with 64 before retiring hurt. West Indies were in trouble with Neil Foster getting Richards for 18 and with Derek Pringle getting a five-for, the visitors were dismissed for a modest 275. With a lead of 74, the Windies speedsters — Marshall, Ambrose, Walsh and Benjamin — got into the act in England’s second innings and scuttled the home team out for 138. And the West Indies openers Haynes and Dujon got the 65 needed for a win to give their team a 10-wicket victory.
Did Cowdrey make a difference? Alas, not. He lasted 12 balls in the first innings without troubling the scorers, falling to Marshall, and was castled by Walsh in the second for a 36-ball five. He never played for the country again, and it would be his only Test as captain, but it was enough to put him in the record books as the second son to follow his father as skipper of England after the Manns — Frank and George. Graham Gooch took over the reins for the fifth Test of the series which has since come to be known as the Summer of Four Captains. Not that it made any difference either, with the West Indies winning the Test and the series 4-0.
All this is in the record books, which will also tell you that England batted at Headingley though Cowdrey lost the toss and Sir Viv, Tee, flip-flops and all, called right.
But what the record books don’t say was later revealed by Cowdrey in a delightful, albeit self-deprecating, story. The England captain said he was made to wait in his whites and blazer for about 20 minutes before Viv emerged. The great Antiguan won the toss, and asked Cowdrey: “What do you want to do, maan?”
“Bat…?” Cowdrey answered, not sure what to say.
“Okay maan, you bat.”
Viv bowled. And won.
He could do that too.
Swag. Doesn’t get any better.